Flag of Burundi: New Age Classic

Flag of Burundi

New Age Classic

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this intro… I really like the flag of Burundi. It has a combination of classic elements that create a unique design, especially when compared to other African flags. But as we will see, it took some trial and error to get it just right.

German East Africa Flag
Flag of German East Africa.

The flag of Burundi is a relative “new-comer” in the world of national flags. However, the country and surrounding lands were under a few flags prior to Burundi’s independence. National flags as we know them today were first introduced to Burundi in 1891 when the country was a part of the colony of German East Africa. The colony was represented by the flag of the governor: a historic German black, white, and red tricolor defaced with an uncrowned German eagle. This lasted until 1919 when Germany was defeated in World War I and the Treaty of Versailles forced the division of German East Africa into three separate territories. Ruanda-Urundi, the territory that contained modern day Burundi, was given to Belgium. Unlike the Germans, Belgium did not give the territory a specific flag (boring), meaning the area was represented by the Belgium tricolor.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, Ruanda-Urundi and several other Belgian controlled areas were named United Nations trust territories and Belgium promised to prepare these countries for independence within a few decades. However, the independence timeline was sped up significantly by independence movements in the Belgian Congo during the mid 1950s, which spread to Ruanda-Urundi by the late 1950s.

Burundi flag (1962-1966)
Flag of Burundi (1962-1966).

It is widely reported, although not confirmed, that pro-independence Burundians used a green, white, and red tricolor defaced with a karyenda between 1961 and 1962. A karyenda is a drum said to have divine powers and also stood as a symbol of the Burundi monarchy. When Burundi gained independence in 1962 as a monarchy (and split with the Kingdom of Ruanda), the karyenda remained a key part of the new design: a white saltire splitting a red and green field with a karyenda and sorghum plant (Burundi’s chief agricultural product) in a central white disk. The shape and color of the karyenda and sorghum were not standardized, so several variants of the flag exist.

Burundi flag (1966-1967)
Flag of Burundi (1966-1967).

When the Burundian monarchy was deposed on Nov. 28, 1966, a new flag variant was released a day later on Nov. 29 that removed the royal symbolism of the karyenda. This is a very quick redesign as far as national flags go, with many taking months and even years before any designs become official. But believe it or not, there was an official flag released on Nov. 28 that stood as a placeholder before the new flag was released! This one-day old flag featured a blank white disk. Kudos for Burundi for not having a “flagless” gap!

The sorghum plant must not have been very popular as it was replaced four months later with the current design. The three stars have dual meanings: each stands for a word of the national motto Unité, Travail, Progrès (French for unity, work, progress) and each represents the three ethnic groups who live in Burundi (Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa). While the overall design remains unchanged, the aspect ratio of the flag changed from 2:3 to 3:5 in 1982.

As you have probably noticed, we haven’t really talked about the main saltire design of the flag. That’s because there is very little information on it. As far as I have been able to find, no one person or group is named as the designer. It’s possible that Burundians were inspired by the saltire of the Spanish Netherlands’ Burgundy Cross flag, which Belgium was a part of. But that’s only a theory. There is, however, information available on the meanings of the flag’s colors: white stands for peace, green for hope and future development, and red the struggle for independence.


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