Burundi

Hey, Fanatics! It’s another long-overdue post of The Flag Review, and for that, I apologize. Two weeks per post is quickly becoming more than a month. However, I am in the process of working on another series, which I hope to release soon (exciting!). Keep an eye out for it. 

Today’s review is actually a request from a reader; we are heading back to the continent of Africa to examine and review the flag of the Republic of Burundi.

Burundi is a nation located in central Africa. It is bordered by Rwanda to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west and Tanzania to its east and south. Burundi’s western border partially sits on Lake Tanganyika, one of the largest lakes in the world.

Burundi’s history as a nation predates it’s time as a colony. The country was originally a kingdom, formed sometime in the late 17th century. It was in the 1800’s that Germany colonized the country and established Ruanda-Urundi. After Germany’s loss in World War One, the colony was handed over to Belgium. It wasn’t until 1962 that Burundi finally gained independence from its colonizers and became a sovereign nation.

The flag of the Republic of Burundi

Unfortunately, throughout its time as an independent country, Burundi has seen a great deal of bloodshed. This has mainly been due to conflicts between the two main ethnic groups that live in Burundi, the Hutu and Tutsi (a third, much smaller group, the Twa, which also live in the nation; we will return to them later). There is an ongoing debate in academia about the definition of the two groups, with some arguing that the ethnic differences are actually nominal, but were exacerbated by colonial rule for political gain.

The well-known Rwandan civil war and genocide of perceived Tutsi people in the 1990’s left hundreds of thousands of Rwandans dead and millions more displaced. However, the conflict between these two groups was not limited to Rwanda; like Rwanda, the tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi in Burundi has been historically high. In its years as an independent nation, Burundi has seen multiple coups (one attempted coup as recently as 2015), a presidential assassination and violent clashes between its Hutu and Tutsi populations. Currently, these tensions have subsided, but the country is still struggling with unrest and widespread poverty.

Where there is turmoil, however, hope is never far away, and I believe the message of hope is wonderfully expressed in the flag of Burundi.

The flag starts with a white cross, also known as a saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross (think of the flag of Scotland). On the outsides of the saltire, the flag breaks into four sections; the top and bottom sections are red, representing the blood from Burundi’s fight for independence, and the hoist and fly sections are green, representing hope for the nation. The center of the flag features a white circle (white, representing peace). Inside the circle are three red, six-sided stars, outlined in green, in the formation of an equilateral triangle. The stars are said to represent Burundi’s motto, “Union, Work, Progress”. However, it is also believed each star is for one of the main three ethnic groups in Burundi, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa.

I had some difficulty finding an official source on the dimensions of the flag. Christopher Southworth on Flags of the World (fantastic site; I highly recommend you check it out for all things vexillology) provided some helpful details on this subject. He was able to calculate the dimensions of the flag based on historical decrees from the government of Burundi. The flag comes out to about 3:5. This, according to Southworth, is a change from the country’s flag between 1966 and 1982, which was the same design, but with a proportion of 2:3. Between 1962 (Burundi’s colonial independence) and 1966, the flag of Burundi was slightly different, consisting of the same saltire and red and green edge as the current flag, but instead of three stars, the center contained an image of a drum.

A fantastic flag, in my humble opinion. Burundi follows the most important rule of flag design: simplicity. I’m a broken record at this point, but a clean design is a well-recognized design. One also doesn’t often see the saltire in state or civil flags. In fact, no other African nation utilizes the saltire. The color green used in the flag is almost a dark neon, which is not necessarily my favorite, but with only three colors in use on the entire flag, the green isn’t overbearing and actually works quite nicely with the red and white. My biggest criticism would have to be the green borders around the stars; from a distance, the border can get lost, making the red of the star seem darker than the red on the top and bottom of the flag. However, I think the message of the stars is more important. The stars represent unity for the nation: the idea that people of different groups can coexist peacefully. Violence has plagued Burundi for many years, but the flag conveys an optimistic message of a peaceful future: a future expressed well by their motto: “Union, Work, Progress”.

Thank you for reading!


Sources

BBC. (2019, April 4). Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26875506

Central Intelligence Agency. (2021). Burundi. The World Factbook 2021. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/burundi/flag

Daley, P. (2006). Ethnicity and political violence in Africa: The challenge to the Burundi state. Political Geography, 25(6), 657-679. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2006.05.007

Kaneza, E. W. (2017, July 20). Burundi’s president goes abroad for 1st time since coup plot. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/056a65f0480a47018866debb27ce814b

Lake Tanganyika. (n.d.). Zambia Tourism. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.zambiatourism.com/destinations/lakes/lake-tanganyika/

National Symbols. (n.d.). The Presidency Of The Republic of Burundi. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.presidence.gov.bi/le-burundi/symboles-nationaux/

Southworth, C. (2003). Burundi – Flag Construction Sheet. Flags of the World. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.fotw.info/flags/bi_const.html