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Burundi, or in official circles, the Republic of Burundi, is a landlocked country located in Eastern Africa, with a total land area of nearly 11,000 square miles. Situated in what is called the Great Lakes region of Africa, Burundi is bordered by Rwanda to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west and Tanzania to the east and south. Although the country is considered landlocked because it does not border an ocean, nearly the entire southwestern portion of Burundi borders Lake Tanganyika. The capital and most significant city economically is Bujumbura.
With a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita of only $410, Burundi is one of the five poorest countries in the world. This can partially be attributed to the country’s prolonged civil wars, but can also be explained by government corruption, poor access to education and the deteriorating effects of HIV/AIDS—over 500,000 people have been displaced due to the disease.
With a population of 10.2 million, Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with an average of 367 people per square mile. Emigration is very high in the country, mostly due to the civil wars and AIDS, and the majority of people are subsistence farmers living in the country’s rural areas. Ethnically, 85 percent of the population is of Hutu heritage, and the remaining 15 percent is made up of those of Tutsi (14.5%) and Twa/Pygmies (0.5%) origin. Burundi has two official languages, Kirundi and French, the former more commonly spoken among the people and the latter used for official business and communication with other countries. Seventy-five prevent of the population is Christian, of which 85 percent are Roman Catholics, followed by Protestants and Anglicans combining for the remaining 15 percent. Twenty percent of the country adheres to traditional indigenous religious beliefs, and less than 5 percent practice Islam.
The culture of Burundi, which has been hindered by years of civil unrest between the Hutu and Tutsi, is based on local traditions, with strong influences from its neighboring countries, particularly Tanzania. Farming is the main industry in the country, and as such, the local cuisine consists of dishes made mostly from sweet potatoes, corn and peas. Meat, because of its high price, is consumed only once or twice a month. Football is the main sport and the favorite pastime among Burundian children, and crafts are the most important art form. Baskets and other items are woven throughout the country and used for farming and to sell to visiting tourists.
Education in Burundi
Education in Burundi is overseen by the national government and is free and compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13. The system consists of primary schools (the only compulsory level), secondary schools and one university. Primary and secondary education in Burundi consists of reading, writing and mathematics in the early grades, followed by a slightly broader curriculum for students in grades 4-6 and for the small percentage who move on to secondary school. While the government pays for most of the educational expenses through grade 6, there is an inequitable distribution of resources that tends to favor children in the south and central regions of the country. Girls, who are heavily discriminated against in the country, have less access to schools than boys.
Like other activities in the country, the availability and quality of education in Burundi has been adversely affected by the civil wars. Nearly 25 percent of the primary schools have been leveled, and many teachers have been senselessly killed. Teacher training is next to impossible due to a lack of financial resources, and it is difficult at best to find instructors willing to teach in the war-torn areas of the country. Collectively the events caused by war, corruption and discrimination have led to a very low literacy rate among Burundi adults, with the latest figures showing that only about half of the men and a quarter of the women in the country can read.
Map of Burundi