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History, Independence and Violence

Micombero, Trusteeship Council, multiparty system, successful coup, National Salvation

As African political consciousness increased, the Hutu grew more vocal in protesting inequalities. In 1959 ethnic antagonisms in Rwanda erupted into violence. The Rwandan Tutsi king fled the country, and an exodus of some 200,000 Tutsi followed, many of whom went to Burundi. At the insistence of the UN Trusteeship Council, Burundi became an independent constitutional monarchy under Mwami Mwambutsa IV on July 1, 1962, and was admitted to the UN in September. However, political rivalry between Hutu and Tutsi threatened regional stability. Fearing a Hutu revolution similar to Rwanda’s, the Burundian Tutsi reacted brutally. In 1963 thousands of Hutu victimized in Burundi took refuge in Rwanda. The Burundian power structure remained in Tutsi hands, despite a Hutu majority in the legislature after 1965. Accusing Mwambutsa of intriguing to strengthen his position, a group of Hutu police attempted a coup in October 1965. Loyalist police led by Captain Michel Micombero, a Tutsi, thwarted the rebels, but the mwami fled the country. In July 1966 he was declared deposed by his son, Mwami Ntare V. Four months later Micombero led a successful coup, declared Burundi a republic, appointed himself president, and established a National Revolutionary Committee to help stabilize his regime and develop the economy. In April 1972 a Hutu uprising led to widespread massacres claiming at least 100,000 lives, mainly Hutu. Ntare, who was under house arrest, was also killed. The uprising was quelled, but unrest continued, and thousands of Hutu refugees found haven in nearby countries.

Micombero was ousted in a bloodless coup in November 1976. The ruling Supreme Revolutionary Council subsequently named Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza as president, but peace between the ruling Tutsi and the Hutu majority remained precarious. A new constitution in 1981 declared Burundi a one-party state. Coming into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, Bagaza became more authoritarian, persecuting clergy and forbidding masses. This policy led to an erosion of support, and in 1987, while on a foreign visit, he was overthrown by Major Pierre Buyoya, who ruled as head of the Military Committee for National Salvation. Suspending the constitution, freeing political prisoners, lifting restrictions on churches, and touring the country in an effort to unite the people, he quickly consolidated his power and dealt with political tensions. Stability was threatened again in 1988 when the Tutsi-led army engaged in massacres of Hutu that left at least 5,000 dead. Buyoya responded by appointing a Hutu prime minister and including Hutu in the cabinet. He controlled the military and planned a return to democratic, civilian rule. A new constitution providing for a multiparty system was ratified by referendum in March 1992. An unsuccessful coup attempt the same month reportedly was organized by Bagaza, in exile in Libya.

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