In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Burundi

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections
  • Narratives
  • Precolonial Period
  • Colonial Period
  • Democratization and Institutional Reform
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African Studies Burundi
Patricia Daley
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0127


The modern state of Burundi is one of the few African states that have retained its territorial integrity from the precolonial period to today. The country lies within what is known as the Great Rift Valley, bounded by Lake Tanganyika to the south, Tanzania to the east, Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and Rwanda to the north. Burundi is geographically small, covering an area of 27,834 square kilometers. Its population of eight million inhabits some of the most densely settled areas in Africa. Burundi’s population is predominantly rural and agricultural; only 8.2 percent live in urban areas. The people of Burundi are diverse, although the focus has been on the broad categories of Hutus, Tutsis, and Twas, in order of numerical size—the same ethnic group composition as its neighbor Rwanda. There are clan, regional, and class differences among the population that have shaped the complexity of its politics. All groups speak the same language, share the same culture, and live together on hills (collines). However, successive episodes of genocidal violence (1972, 1988, and 1993) and civil war (1993–2009) have led to increased segregation and a sizeable proportion of its citizens in exile. These events have dominated scholarship on the country and have colored its international reputation.

General Overviews

There is a vast body of literature on Burundi in French, emanating from France and Antwerp and Louvain in Belgium. Gahama and Thibon 1994 provides a comprehensive account of the socio-political development of eastern Burundi. Literature in English has grown since the 1990s but is still dominated by Réne Lemarchand, whose texts Lemarchand 1970 and Lemarchand 1994 on Burundi and Lemarchand 2009 on the Central African region, are considered some of the most authoritative on those periods. The approach of Daley 2008 is distinctive in that the author uses a feminist lens to understand what she terms a genocidal (militarized, ethnicized, and masculinized) state in Burundi. Uvin 2009 provides insights into the concerns of ordinary people postwar, and Watts 2008 is a good introductory text, covering history, culture, and politics, written in an accessible style.

  • Daley, Patricia O. Gender and Genocide: The Search for Spaces of Peace in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008.

    This study covers Burundi’s history from the colonial period to 2006 using a feminist framework that addresses the rise of a racialized and militarized state in Burundi and its relationship to the episodes of genocidal violence. It covers the Arusha peace negotiations, the interim government, refugees, and humanitarianism, and the regional context.

  • Gahama, Joseph, and Christiàn Thibon, eds. Les regions orientales du Burundi: Une périphérié à l’épreuve du développement. Paris: Karthala, 1994.

    A comprehensive documentation of the environmental and the social history of eastern Burundi, covering topics such as the physical geography, the peasantry and agricultural development, demography, education, and social change under the missionaries.

  • Lemarchand, René. Rwanda and Burundi. London: Pall Mall, 1970.

    This seminal text is a detailed study of Burundi covering the late precolonial period up until the end of the 1960s. Its coverage of Burundi’s history and society is comprehensive. Its account of the tumultuous period of Burundi’s history in the 1960s is unparalleled in the literature covering the country for that period.

  • Lemarchand, René. Burundi: Ethnocide as Discourse and Practice. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson, 1994.

    Lemarchand brings his earlier work up-to-date by examining ethnicity and state society relations in Burundi from the genocide of 1972 to the transition to democratic elections. An epilogue covers the 1993 elections but not the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye. It is by far the most authoritative text covering that period.

  • Lemarchand, René. The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.

    Contains three chapters on Burundi examining the historical roots of violence, and comparing and contrasting the causes of violence in Burundi and Rwanda.

  • Uvin, Peter. Life After Violence: A People’s Story of Burundi. London: Zed Books, 2009.

    An analysis of interviews that Uvin and his research assistants conducted with numerous social groups in Burundi in the mid-2000s, containing useful insights of the social changes produced by the war, in particular, on how gender relations have shifted since the war, especially in relation to the youth.

  • Watts, Nigel. Burundi: Biography of a Small African Country. London: Hurst, 2008.

    This book is not only a narrative account of the author’s stay in Burundi in the 1990s but also a discussion of the post-1993 violence, drawing on interview material from some of those who experienced the events. Watts provides a good starter text for someone new to Burundi.

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