The Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu peoples have occupied Burundi since the country's formation five centuries ago. Burundi was ruled as a kingdom by the Tutsi for over two hundred years. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Germany and Belgium occupied the region, and Burundi and Rwanda became a European colony known as Ruanda-Urundi.
Political unrest occurred throughout the region because of social differences between the Tutsi and Hutu, provoking civil war in Burundi throughout the middle twentieth century. Presently, Burundi is governed as a presidential representative democratic republic. Sixty-two percent of Burundians are Roman Catholic, eight to ten percent are Muslims and the rest follow indigenous beliefs and other Christian denominations.
Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. It has the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low gross domestic product largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS. Burundi is densely populated, with substantial emigration. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi's natural resources. Some of Burundi's main exports include coffee and sugar.
Kinigi was born in 1953, and is a member of the Tutsi ethnic group. Her husband, with whom she had five children, was a member of the Hutu ethnic group. Kinigi graduated from Burundi University, having studied economic management, and worked in the Burundi civil service. She eventually became a senior advisor in the Prime Minister's office, focusing on economic policy.
When Melchior Ndadaye was elected President of Burundi in 1993, he appointed Kinigi as his Prime Minister. This was part of an effort to build unity between Burundi's two ethnic groups — Ndadaye was a Hutu, and wished to decrease Tutsi hostility to his administration by appointing a Tutsi as Prime Minister. Kinigi stated that reconciliation between the two ethnic groups would be her highest priority.