Central Africa / Elections and Democracy

#BurundiSyllabus: Context for the Current Crisis

The political crisis in Burundi has been rapidly unfolding these past weeks, and subject to much speculation by outside commenters attempting to understand what is happening and why. The situation in the country has both immediate and deeper historical causes, and this “syllabus,” modeled after the #FergusonSyllabus and Baltimore Syllabus, is an attempt to shed some light on that context.

Burundian demonstrators protest in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 as a top general announces the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza. (AFP photo)

Burundian demonstrators protest in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 as a top general announces the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza. (AFP photo)

As a historian, I find that often what is missing from our analysis of events like these is a grounding in broader historical context, both of the local community and wider region. This syllabus is an attempt to begin to address that context, as well as provide some guidance toward reliable sources of information in the region. Wherever possible with the academic literature, I’ve endeavored to find sources that do not link Burundi with Rwanda, since the countries have very different historical trajectories and, as René Lemarchand has effectively argued, were not “twin kingdoms,” even prior to Belgian colonialism. I have included Jean-Pierre Chrétien’s excellent regional history here in order to place Burundi’s history in a larger regional context, but have generally tried to avoid tying the countries together. As has been the case with Rwanda for the last few decades, most of the more recent scholarship about Burundi has centered on its postcolonial mass violence and political transition. This is a helpful perspective for understanding the current political crisis. But I would hope that such events would also spur an interest by scholars in the deeper past as well, to seek continuities in society and politics that are older than colonialism. I have included Lemarchand’s Rwanda and Burundi for this reason, since it is one of very few texts that contains information about the monarchical period prior to colonialism. This list is only a beginning; please leave suggestions for further sources in the comments. Particularly welcome are Kirundi sources, both historical and contemporary. Please use the hashtag #BurundiSyllabus for discussion and suggestions on social media.

Contributors to this syllabus include Severine Autesserre (@SeverineAR), Yolande Bouka (@yolandebouka), Neela Ghoshal (@NeelaGhoshal), Erin Jessee, (@ErinJessee), and Laura Seay (@texasinafrica).

Current Crisis and Breaking News:

Iwacu-Burundi (the site has been suspended because of the current crisis, but it’s an excellent source)

The Monkey Cage Blog at the Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/category/burundi/

Peter Fabricius, “Burundi’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,” http://www.issafrica.org/iss-today/burundis-self-fulfilling-prophecy, 14 May 2015

Institute for Security Studies, http://www.issafrica.org/search/?query=burundi

Human Rights Watch (which has been consistently working in Burundi for many years), http://www.hrw.org/africa/burundi

Jean-Benoît Falisse, “Burundi: Reflecting on Ten Days of Unrest in Bujumbura

Rapport : Éviter l’embrasement au Burundi

Constitutional Court Ruling from 4 May 2015

International Crisis Group, Burundi Reports (These go back to 1998, so an excellent record of significant events.)

Cyrus Samii (Politics, NYU)

Nina Wilen, “Burundi Crisis: The Military’s Central Role,” Security Sector Reform Resource Center

News sources (African and International)



@Mr_Burundi (KRis Nsabiyumva)

@TEDDYMAZINA (Teddy Mazina)

@RolandRugero (Roland Rugero)

@ThierryU (Thierry Uwamahoro)

@Zuebarbie (Zuwaina Salim)

@FabriceMan (MANIRAKIZA Fabrice)

@abakunzi (Iwacu-Burundi)

@yolandebouka (Yolande Bouka)

@ISSAfrica (Institute for Security Studies)

@stephrschwartz (Stephanie Schwartz)

@ProfCaraJones (Cara Jones)

@soniarolley (Sonia Rolley)

@jpremylemonade (Jean-Phillippe Remy)

@kudupadraic (Padraic)

@bertingelaere (Bert Ingelaere)

@BChemouni (Ben Chemouni)

@SamanthaMI (Samantha M.I.)

@desirenim (Désiré Nimubona)

@AfricasACountry (Africa Is a Country)

@BBCAfrica (BBC Africa)

@CrisisGroup (International Crisis Group)

Historical Context:

Chrétien, Jean-Pierre. 2003. The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History. New York: Zone Books.

Curtis, Devon. 2013. “The International Peacebuilding Paradox: Power Sharing and Post-Conflict Governance in Burundi.” African Affairs: The Journal of the Royal African Society. 112 (446): 72-91.

Gilligan, Michael J., Eric N. Mvukiyehe, and Cyrus Samii. 2013. “Reintegrating Rebels into Civilian Life: Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Burundi”. Journal of Conflict Resolution. 57 (4).

Lemarchand, René. 1970. Rwanda and Burundi. New York: Praeger Publishers.

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

Lemarchand, René. “Burundi 1972: Genocide Denied, Revised, and Remembered,” in Lemarchand, René. 2011. Forgotten Genocides: Oblivion, Denial, and Memory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ould Abdallah, Ahmedou. 2000. Burundi on the Brink, 1993-95: A UN Special Envoy Reflects on Preventive Diplomacy. Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press.

Samii, Cyrus. 2013. “Perils or Promise of Ethnic Integration? Evidence from a Hard Case in Burundi”. American Political Science Review. 107 (3).

Samii, Cyrus. 2013. “Who wants to forgive and forget? Transitional justice preferences in postwar Burundi”. Journal of Peace Research. 50 (2).

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

Watt, Nigel. 2008. Burundi: Biography of a Small African Country. London: Hurst & Co.

If you’re looking to help, please consider supporting a local organization that is already working on the ground. (Thanks to @ProfCaraJones for the link.)

Sarah E. Watkins is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she also serves as a Lecturer in the Departments of History and Feminist Studies. She tweets @sarahewatkins

One thought on “#BurundiSyllabus: Context for the Current Crisis

  1. Pingback: Trying to understand the protests & attempted coup-iny in Burundi | Lesley on Africa

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