Burundi is a fascinating place. It’s one of the few nations that survived the transition from pre-colonial polity to Westphalian state with its original territory mostly intact, which could be a history lesson all by itself; its pattern of ethnicized access to resources and resultant political violence is just as heartbreaking as Rwanda’s; it’s utterly beautiful. (Check out the second photo here.) And it’s an excellent case study in the ways in which our Western gaze towards Africa is pulled towards the topics we find it easy to understand: natural resources & wildlife, unusually large-scale or savage violence, apartheid, piracy. Lacking much by the way of resources and unique fauna, its civil war somehow deemed less interesting than the Rwandan genocide, and (happily) free of “whites only” signs and pirates, Burundi is turned into a blank spot on our imagined map of Africa. This came through quite clearly when I was researching post-conflict ethnic reconciliation in Burundi for my independent study last semester. There’s nowhere near the richness of the literature on Congo or Rwanda, although it seems that there’s a promising crop of young researchers like Cara Jones, Meghan Lynch & Cyrus Samii who have ongoing projects in the country. That said, there are still a few good books to start with.
- I haven’t read this yet, but The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History by Jean-Pierre Chretien looks like it contains a great overview of pre-colonial Burundi.
- Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide, by Rene Lemarchand. Published in 1996, it covers the period from colonization to Melchior Ndadaye’s death in 1993, at the start of the civil war. Lemarchand is one of the foremost Burundi scholars around, and it’s a lucid take on the way in which the country’s ethnic divide grew steadily deeper and more violent over the course of the 20th century.
- The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa, also by Lemarchand, collects several of the author’s recent essays on Burundi. Not nearly as thorough as his earlier book, but useful for getting up to speed on Burundian politics through the 2005 elections.
- I relied heavily on two articles in writing my paper: “Ethnicity and Political Violence: The Challenge to the Burundi State” [PDF] by Patricia Daley, and “Making Peace after Genocide: Anatomy of the Burundi Process” [PDF] by Howard Wolpe. The former is a readable overview of the Burundian civil war, whilst the latter analyzes the drawn-out peace negotiations that finally ended the war in 2005.
- Life After Violence: A People’s Story of Burundi, by Peter Uvin, is my favorite book on the country. After the war’s end, Uvin interviewed several hundred ordinary citizens about daily life in contemporary Burundi. He’s a thoughtful chronicler, and it’s great to see the opinions of average Burundians taken seriously.
- Burundi: Biography of a Small African Country, by Nigel Watt, offers up a less academic take on the country’s history, also peppered with extensive quotes from Watt’s Burundian friends.
- Marc Sommers has passed along two reports on the experiences of young people in Burundi and Rwanda which look quite interesting.