192-PART GUIDE TO THE WORLD: PART 29 BURUNDI

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The Independent Travel
OFFICIAL NAME

Republic of Burundi

OFFICIAL LANGUAGES

Kirundi and French

POPULATION

6.4 million

SIZE

27, 834 square kilometres - even smaller than Belgium, which is very rare for an African country.

BEST MONUMENT

None to speak of, though the capital Bujumbura's Musee Vivant could loosely be construed as a monument to Burundian village life. The museum is actually a reconstructed village, complete with basketware, pottery and drum displays. A natural highlight in the south is the vast expanse of Lake Tanganyika.

NATIONAL DISH

Staple East African fare prevails - thick, stodgy mealie-meal porridge, or whatever meat is available.

CLIMATE

Pretty sweaty around Lake Tanganyika all year round, though respite can be found in the more mountainous north. The rainy season descends between October and May, with a dry interlude in December and January.

MOST FAMOUS CITIZEN

Probably Venuste Niyongabo, Burundi's only ever Olympic medallist, who struck gold in the 5,000 metres in Atlanta.

BEST MOMENT IN HISTORY

As for many African nations, winning independence. In Burundi's case, it was the Belgians who packed their bags, in 1962.

WORST MOMENT IN HISTORY

The country's past is chequered with bloodlettings between two local tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi. The violence most recently spilled over from neighbouring Rwanda in 1994, though the terrible slaughter did not match that of 1972, when 200,000 Hutu were killed in three months.

ESSENTIAL ACCESSORY

A good-quality rucksack, which many consider preferable to an overnight bag. The rigours of African travel soon sort out the good stuff from the junk.

WHAT NOT TO DO

Take an evening stroll in the Buyenzi or Mburiza areas of Bujumbura. There is a fair chance that you would be caught in one of the frequent gunfire exchanges between the Tutsi army units and the Hutu militia.

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