Wedged between Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda in east-central Africa, Burundi occupies a high plateau divided by several deep valleys.
The original inhabitants of Burundi were the Twa, a Pygmy people who now make up only 1% of the population. Today the population is divided between the Hutu (approximately 85%) and the Tutsi, approximately 14%. While the Hutu and Tutsi are considered to be two separate ethnic groups, scholars point out that they speak the same language, have a history of intermarriage, and share many cultural characteristics. Traditionally, the differences between the two groups were occupational rather than ethnic. Agricultural people were considered Hutu, while the cattle-owning elite were identified as Tutsi.
Burundi was once part of German East Africa. Belgium won a League of Nations mandate in 1923, and subsequently Burundi, with Rwanda, was transferred to the status of a United Nations trust territory. In 1962, Burundi gained independence and became a kingdom under Mwami Mwambutsa IV, a Tutsi.
The constitution ratified in 1992 established a plural political system that was suspended after a military coup in 1996. In 1998, it was replaced by a transitional constitution that enlarged the National Assembly and created two vice presidents. The president, who is elected for a maximum of two five-year terms, is both chief of state and head of the government. The legislative branch is the unicameral National Assembly, which has 121 members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. Current president Pierre Nkurunziza was re-elected for the second time in 2010 with more than 91% of the votes and sworn in for his second term on 26 August 2010.
The capital city, Bujumbura, is the populous and most industrialized city. It is located on the north shore of Lake Tanganyika, and its port is the country’s largest. Cement, textiles, and soap are manufactured there, and it is home to one of the country’s two coffee-processing facilities.
Ninety-two percent of the population lives in a rural setting, mostly in family groupings too small to be called villages that are scattered throughout the highlands. A number of market towns draw inhabitants of surrounding rural zones to buy, sell, and trade agricultural products and handicrafts.