Burundi: Fall of the Monarchy (1962 - 1966)

Updated April 2010

In 1962 Urundi was formally separated from Ruanda-Urundi, become Burundi and was given independence as a monarchy on 1 July 1962 (Bayefsky.com 1992; Bentley & Southall 2005, 42). The independence Constitution, adopted in November 1961, gave the king extensive executive power, while legislative power was shared by him with Parliament (Bayefsky.com 1992). The king, Mwambutsa IV, presided over an ever fractious country and his own divide-and-rule strategy, aimed at balancing Hutu and Tutsi representation in the four successive governments he formed between 1963 and 1965 , exacerbated matters further, engendering fear amongst the Tutsis and a sense of disappointed expectations amongst the Hutus (Institute for Security Studies 2005; Bentley & Southall 2005, 42). The result was a growing spiral of communal violence and a growing alienation of all the protagonists from the monarchy itself (Institute for Security Studies 2005).

The ruling Unite pour le Progrès National (UPRONA), without the leadership of the charismatic Prince Rwagasore, split into ethnic based factions, reflecting the deep seated ethnic suspicions and fears that polarized Burundian society at large; trade unions, student organization and other organs of civic society were similarly riven (Kimber 1996; Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152). In the meanwhile the Tutsis deepened their control over organs of state by monopolizing key posts in the civil service and the military (Bentley & Southall 2005, 41; Oketch & Polzer 2002, 95; Institute for Security Studies 2005).

In January 1965 the King replaced a Tutsi with a Hutu prime minister only to see the new incumbent assassinated three days later and, alarmed by the deteriorating situation, the King called fresh legislative elections in May 1965 (see 1965 Parliamentary elections results for details; Bentley & Southall 2005, 42; Oketch & Polzer 2002, 95). Despite the fact that Hutu candidates won 23 of the 33 seats, King Mwambutsa appointed a Tutsi, Leonard Biha, as Prime Minister (Bentley & Southall 2005, 42). This decision led to an attempted coup by Hutu politicians, supported by Hutu soldiers and policemen, which was vigorously suppressed by troops led by the Tutsi head of the territorial guard, Captain Michel Micombero (Bentley & Southall 2005, 41, 42; Oketch & Polzer 2002, 95). About 500 Tutsi civilians were massacred by Hutus in retaliation, and Micombero unleashed a bloody purge of Hutus from the security forces, the elimination by massacre of the small Hutu educated elite that was not able to flee into exile and widespread killings of Hutu peasants throughout the country (Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152; Bentley & Southall 2005, 42; Oketch & Polzer 2002, 95, 96).

Mwambutsa fled to the Congo and dispatched his son to govern as regent, but in July 1966 the latter abrogated the Constitution, deposed his father, claimed the throne as Ntare V and appointed Captain Micombero as Prime Minister (Bentley & Southall 2005, 42; Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152). However, in November 1966 Micombero abolished the monarchy, proclaimed Burundi a republic and declared himself president; Ntare V fled to West Germany (Bentley & Southall 2005, 42; Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152). The outcome of all this was the domination of the Tutsi controlled UPRONA and military and, through these organs, of Burundi (Oketch & Polzer 2002, 96).

References

BAYEFSKY.COM 1992 "Core reports: Burundi", [www] http://www.bayefsky.com/core/hri_core_1_add_16_1992.php [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).

BENTLEY, K & SOUTHALL, R 2005 An African peace process: Mandela, South Africa-Burundi, Cape Town, HSRC Press.

MTHEMBU-SALTER, G 2008 "Burundi: Recent History" IN Frame, I (ed) Africa South of the Sahara 2008, London and New York, Routledge.

INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES 2005 "Burundi: Political System and history", [www] http://www.iss.co.za/AF/profiles/Burundi/Politics.html (offline 10 Mar 2010).

KIMBER, C 1996 "Coming to terms with barbarism in Rwanda and Burundi" IN International Socialism 73, December, [www] http://pubs.socialistreviewindex.org.uk/isj73/kimber.htm [opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010)

OKETCH, JS & POLZER, T 2002 "Conflict and Coffee in Burundi" IN Lind, J & Sturman, K (eds) Scarcity and Surfeit: The ecology of Africa's conflicts, Institute for Security Studies, [www] http://www.iss.co.za/pubs/Books/ScarcitySurfeit/Chapter3.pdf [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 10 Mar 2010).