Before there was the Burundian state, the lands of the future Kingdom of Burundi were inhabited by various tribes and ethnic groups. The two largest groups were the Tutsi people and the Hutu people. According to the archeological evidence we have today, the Tutsi ethnic group managed to establish their dominance over the Hutu people sometime around the 17th century and laid the foundations of the new Kingdom of Burundi.
When was the Kingdom of Burundi Founded?
The exact date of the foundation of the actual kingdom is unknown but historians believe it was officially founded in 1680. The ruling monarch, otherwise known as king, was from the Tutsi ethnic group and held the title mwami. The name of the first mwami was Ntare I Rushatsi and he managed to expand the original territories of the kingdom by conquering neighboring lands and regions. By the mid-1800s, the Kingdom of Burundi had expanded to modern-day Western Tanzania and Southern Rwanda.
Unfortunately, the historical data for the Kingdom is insufficient like with most pre-colonial African Kingdoms and states.
Organization of the Kingdom
Although the kingdom had its mwami who was the ruling monarch, the organization was decentralized. Like the modern-day Republic of Burundi, the kingdom was divided into states. Each official state had its royalties which were a constant issue throughout the 200-year history of the kingdom. There were constant civil wars and conflicts over the succession which eventually resulted in the loss of territories. By the time Burundi became part of German East Anglia in 1890, the mwami Mwezi IV Gisabo was ruling not more than half of the original territories that were part of the kingdom during its peak.
How did Burundi become a German colony?
The Kingdom of Burundi did not accept the German advances during the Scramble for Africa without some resistance. King Mwezi IV Gisabo was against European influence and tried to ban all European clothing and products. He also refused to grant access to the missionaries and administrators that visited the country throughout the years during his rule. Naturally, through the use of armed force, the Germans managed to destroy the resistance but failed to convince the king to accept their suzerainty.
By this time, the victory of the Germans was inevitable but they did not want to spare any pointless resources or blood. They succeeded by backing up one of the sons-in-law of king Mwezi IV who revolted against his power. It was only then that the king agreed to the suzerainty and Burundi became part of German East Anglia.
It is interesting that things for the kingdom did not change much even after the Germans took over Burundi. The foreign presence was not large and did not interfere with the rule of the king. Unfortunately, the Europeans brought various disastrous diseases that affected the African natives. In less than a decade, entire regions in the Kingdom lost more than half of their populations as well as livestock.
Belgian Administrative Authority & Independence
Africa was one of the focal points of World War I and thus, Burundi fell under the rule of the Belgians in 1916 when they conquered the region. However, the Belgians were officially mandated with these territories in 1923, in addition to modern-day Rwanda. Both modern-day countries were combined under a single name – Rwanda-Urundi.
Burundi remained under Belgian administrative authority until 1962 when it gained its official independence. It became a constitutional monarchy and soon joined the United Nations. In 1966, after a series of coups, Burundi became a republic and to this day is officially known as the Republic of Burundi.