People, Religion & Language

The Republic of Burundi
People, Religion & Language


There are three major ethnic groups which are the Hutu or Bantu (85%), Tutsi or Hamitic (14%) and Twa or pygmy (1%). In the past, major tensions have arisen between the different groups, but today they coexist peacefully, sharing a common language and overall culture.

The female population accounts for 50,896% of the total population. At birth the sex ratio is estimated at 1,03male(s)/female.


The religious makeup of Burundi is composed of a vast majority of Christians with about 60% of Catholics and 15% of Protestants and Anglicans. Then about 20-25% of the population adheres to traditional indigenous beliefs and religion; and finally there is a minority of an estimated 5% of Muslims. The Burundian traditional belief had one God, Imana and a sort of high priest, Kiranga. They also believed in the spirit of ancestors. Names such as Imana are still in use today to designate figures of the Christian religion, thus integrating traditional terms into modern day Christianity.

In October 2001, the state promulgated the Transitional Constitution providing for Freedom of religion. This freedom is overall respected and there exists an amicable relationship between the religious groups.


Kirundi and French are the official and national languages of Burundi. Kirundi, also called Rundi, is a Bantu language spoken by about 4.5-8 million speakers, most of them living in Burundi, but also in Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa. Since the 40’s there is a standardised spelling system of Kirundi that is widely used.

Next to those two languages many Burundians speak Swahili along the Tanganika Rivers and in the Bujumbura area. Swahili is the language of East African Trade. English is also progressively emerging as a replacement to French; however it is not an official language.

Such “linguistic homogeneity” for an African state is rare and, to a certain extent, characterizes Burundi.

The literacy rate of the total adult population is 67.2% (2010 estimates) and 77% of the total youth population aged 15-24 years old. The difference between men and women is almost inexistent amongst the youth today but still remains considerable in the adult population (73% for men and 61% for women). However, as notable with the youth, the gender difference in literacy has rapidly decreased in a generation. Moreover, the greatest achievement of the government since the end of the war was in 2005 through the offering free primary school education. This later made education compulsory and demonstrated genuine political support in this sphere. The proportion of children in school increased from 59% in 2005 at the time the measures were adopted, to 96% in 2011.

Although access to school in terms of distance, the number of children per teacher and the facilities remain as challenges, the government is showing remarkable political will in taking charge of education. This was the promise of the government when elected, and they did certainly transform their will into successful action. The overcrowded classes show the effect of that measure. The new challenge the government has been facing is to find a solution to these overpacked classes and to improve the retention of the pupils. In terms of secondary education, the number of students has doubled between 2005 and 2011 and the transition rate keeps growing. With regard to higher education the nation counts 30 institutions in total, including the University of Burundi. These improvements have been acknowledged, for example by a report from the UN Secretary-General which claims that Burundi is in the top countries which made the greatest steps in education.