Burundi: First Republic (1966 - 1976)

Updated April 2010

The period of government by Michel Micombero, who proclaimed himself President, Prime Minister, Minister of Defence and leader of the ruling Unite pour le Progrès National (UPRONA), was marked by the accelerated purging of Hutus from the army and the state and the consolidation of the Tutsi elite's dominance in the economy and higher education, and specifically domination by Tutsis from the Bururi province (Mthembu-Salter 2002, Kimber 1996; Bentley & Southall 2005, 43). In 1969 a bloody purge of remaining Hutus from the military followed an alleged Hutu coup attempt (Bentley & Southall 2005, 43). This increasing marginalization of Hutus led to growing popular discontent. Similarly, another alleged coup attempt provided the opportunity to imprison rival Tutsi leaders from Muramvya province (Institute for Security Studies 2005).

Worse followed in 1972 when a Hutu insurrection and massacres of Tutsis resulted in widespread reprisals throughout the country on Hutus by the army, which was by now wholly Tutsi controlled (Oketch & Polzer 2002, 97; Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152). Figures vary widely, but about 150 000-200 000 Hutus are believed to have been killed, and 150 000-300 000 fled the country, mainly to the DRC (Nkurunziza & Ngaruko 2002, 17-19; Mthembu-Salter (2008, 152) gives at least 100 000-200 000 dead, 200 000 refugees). What little remained of the Hutu intelligentsia had been killed or driven into exile (Nkurunziza & Ngaruko 2002, 17-19). Catherine Barnes (cited in Oketch & Polzer 2002, 97) observed that:

The fact that the government was able to complete what the UN Genocide Convention refers to as a 'genocide in part' without any sanctions, domestic or international, had significant implications for the future development of both politics and Hutu-Tutsi relations in Burundi and the region as a whole.

Micombero attempted to suppress dissent and create a show of national unity by imposing a one-party state (UPRONA), under his centralised direction, on Burundi; in reality, however, Burundi was effectively under military rule (Bayefsky.com 1992). This facade masked deep regional divisions within the Tutsi ruling elite and the army, and especially among the ruling Bururi Tutsis, as they struggled for control over state incomes and resources (Nkurunziza & Ngaruko 2002, 5). From independence onwards the Burundian economy had been in a downward spiral. The withdrawal of Belgian expertise and capital and the loss of access to markets in the Congo and Rwanda shrank the commercial base of the economy, while growth and investment was strangled by social conflict and the use of the state by ruling factions as a means for private wealth accumulation (Nkurunziza & Ngaruko 2002, 5). Moreover, Micombero presided over a ramshackle government that channelled resources into a growing but ineffectual and economic unproductive bureaucracy and military that was parasitic on the declining economy (Nkurunziza & Ngaruko 2002, 5; Bentley & Southall 2005, 43).

The expanding state bureaucracy and army not only consumed resources unproductively, but became sites of conflict over access to resources and patronage power between Tutsis regional factions, specifically between the ascendant of the Hima clan from the southern Bururi province and the previously dominant Banyaruguru clan who were increasingly marginalised (Bentley & Southall 2005, 43; Oketch & Polzer 2002, 96). In 1976 Micombero's violent, divisive and inept rule provided the justification for a successful military coup in November 1976 led by Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who promised to end the military rule and to create a democracy sensitive to social justice (Bentley & Southall 2005, 43; Mthembu-Salter 2008, 152).


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