What is the Capital of Burundi?

Gitega is the capital of Burundi. Situated in the heart of the country, Gitega is also its second-largest city.

A map displays a region with places like Gitega and Bujumbura, bordered by water, with a compass rose on top right.
Gitega, the political capital of Burundi

Gitega is home to several notable attractions, including the Gitega National Museum, which holds a variety of traditional Burundian artifacts.

Where is Gitega?

Burundi location on the world Map
Burundi’s location on the World Map

Gitega is located in central Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa. Geographically, it’s situated in the high plateau region of the country and has a relatively cool climate.

It’s roughly positioned at coordinates 3.4271 °S latitude and 29.9246 °E longitude. It’s surrounded by hilly and mountainous terrain, characteristic of Burundi’s landscape. Its central location makes it relatively accessible from different parts of the country.

Gitega serves as the capital of Burundi and it’s also the administrative center of its own province, Gitega, which is one of the 17 provinces in the country.

History of Gitega

Gitega, which became the capital of Burundi in 2019, carries a rich historical significance that goes back many centuries. It was initially the seat of the Burundian monarchy, where the Mwami (king) resided, lending it a strong cultural significance that continues to this day.

The city’s past is intrinsically tied to the Kingdom of Burundi, which existed until the late 19th century when European powers began their colonization of Africa.

The Germans arrived first, and Burundi became part of German East Africa. After World War I, Burundi, along with Rwanda, was handed to Belgium, becoming part of the mandate of Ruanda-Urundi. During this colonial period, the significance of Gitega waned, and the coastal city of Bujumbura gained prominence.

Independence Memorial in Burundi
The Independence Memorial in Burundi stands as a tribute to the brave individuals who battled for liberty.

After gaining independence from Belgium in 1962, Bujumbura remained the capital of the new Republic of Burundi. However, the Burundian government announced in 2007 a plan to return the capital to Gitega to fulfill the promise made at the time of independence and to decentralize power. This plan took over a decade to implement, but in December 2018, President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree making Gitega the country’s political capital.

Bujumbura highlighted on the map of Burundi.
Bujumbura used the be the capital city of Burundi until 2018. Today it’s still the biggest city and economic center.

Despite its past challenges, Gitega has maintained its cultural significance. While undergoing development, the city still carries a great deal of its historical heritage, marking an exciting contrast between the conventional and the modern.

Features of Gitega

Gitega presents a fascinating mix of traditional and contemporary elements reflecting its historical significance and growing political importance.

Geography and Climate of Gitega

Aerial view of Gitega
Aerial view of Gitega

Gitega is centrally located in the high plateau region of Burundi, characterized by hilly and mountainous terrain. The city sits at an altitude of over 1,500 meters above sea level. Its geographical location affords it a moderate climate, in contrast to the warmer lowland areas of Burundi. The city experiences two wet seasons: the primary rainy season from February to May and a shorter one from September to November. The dry periods are from June to August and December to January.

Population and People of Gitega

Gitega locals performing traditional dance to the rhythm of Karyenda drum
Gitega locals perform a traditional dance to the rhythm of the Karyenda drum, a vital symbol in Burundian society that was traditionally played at royal courts and significant occasions.

Gitega has a population of above 135,000 inhabitants. The people of Gitega, like most of Burundi, are predominantly of the Hutu ethnic group, with Tutsi and Twa minorities. The majority of the population speaks Kirundi, and French and English are also recognized as official languages.

Economy of Gitega

Gitega’s economy, like the rest of Burundi, is primarily based on agriculture. This includes both subsistence farming and the cultivation of cash crops like coffee and tea. The move of the political capital to Gitega has also spurred development in the city, increasing construction and service sector jobs.

Despite these developments, Burundi remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Economic growth is hampered by limited access to credit, land scarcity, overreliance on subsistence agriculture, and ongoing political instability.

Due to its new role as the political capital, efforts continue to diversify the economy, improve infrastructure, and attract investment, particularly in Gitega. However, progress may need to be faster, given the country’s challenges.

Things to Do and Places to See in Gitega

1. National Museum of Gitega

The National Museum of Gitega
The National Museum of Gitega

The National Museum of Gitega, also known as the Burundi National Museum, is one of the country’s vital cultural institutions. Located in the heart of Gitega, it offers a rich display of Burundian historical and cultural artifacts.

The exhibits cover a wide range of areas, from archaeology to ethnography, and provide valuable insights into the Burundian people’s history, traditions, and way of life. The museum plays a vital role in preserving Burundi’s heritage and promoting understanding of its culture.

2. Gishora Drum Sanctuary

GItega drums in Gishora Drum Sanctuary
In Burundian culture, drumming extends beyond being a mere musical performance, serving as an integral part of ceremonial rituals.

The Gishora Drum Sanctuary is located just outside Gitega, in the small town of Gishora. The site is renowned for preserving Burundi’s most important cultural symbol: the drum. Drums were traditionally used at royal courts and for important occasions like planting and harvest seasons.

Visitors can see historic drums at the sanctuary, learn about their significance in Burundian society, and witness spectacular drumming performances. The Gishora Drum Sanctuary is an important place for anyone interested in experiencing the vibrant cultural traditions of Burundi.

3. Try Local Cuisine

Ugali dish
Ugali is an integral part of various African cultures. In certain regions, a meal is often deemed incomplete without Ugali.

Take the chance to try Burundian food. Some local dishes you could sample include “Ugali” (a type of dough made from maize, cassava, or sorghum flour), “Ibitoke” (cooked bananas), and different varieties of stews.

4. Explore the Traditional Art and Craft

Burundi has a rich tradition of arts and crafts. Look out for handcrafted items like drums, baskets, and pottery, which also make for unique souvenirs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What currency is used in Burundi?

The currency of Burundi is the Burundian franc (BIF).

What is the best time to visit Gitega?

The best time to visit Gitega depends on what you’re interested in. If you prefer to avoid the rainy season and enjoy warmer temperatures, the dry period from June to August is a good time. If you want to witness the lush green landscapes following the rains, the period after the primary rainy season (May to June) would be ideal.

What is traditional food like in Gitega?

Gitega, like the rest of Burundi, has a traditional diet that includes staples such as beans, corn, and cassava.

Is it safe to visit Gitega?

While Gitega is generally considered safer than some other areas in Burundi, political instability in the country as a whole can occasionally lead to security concerns.

How can I get around in Gitega?

The most common means of transport in Gitega are minibusses and taxis. You can also hire a car with a driver. Walking is also possible within the city, as it’s less expansive than many other capital cities. Always ensure to have reliable and up-to-date maps or GPS if you’re exploring independently.

Final Thoughts

Gitega, as the political and cultural heart of Burundi, offers a unique glimpse into the soul of this East African nation. With its rich history, charming landscapes, and vibrant traditions, such as the iconic drumming rituals, Gitega presents a compelling, albeit less trodden, path for the adventurous traveler.

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