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|2nd Prime Minister of Burundi|
28 September 1961 – 13 October 1961
|Preceded by||Joseph Cimpaye|
|Succeeded by||André Muhirwa|
|Born||(1932-01-10)10 January 1932
|Died||13 October 1961(1961-10-13) (aged 29)
Louis Rwagasore (Kirundi: Ludoviko Rwagasore; 10 January 1932 – 13 October 1961) was a Burundian prince and politician who served as Prime Minister of Burundi from 28 September 1961 until his assassination two weeks later. Within Burundi, Rwagasore's reputation enjoys nearly-universal acclaim, and his assassination is commemorated annually with large ceremonies. He remains relatively unknown internationally in comparison to other leaders of independence movements in the Great Lakes region.
Born to the Ganwa family of Burundian Mwami Mwambutsa IV in Belgian-administered Ruanda-Urundi in 1932, Rwagasore was educated in Burundian Catholic schools before attending university in Belgium. After he returned to Burundi in the mid-1950s he founded a series of cooperatives to economically empower native Burundians and build up his base of political support. The Belgian administration took over the venture, and as a result of the affair his national profile increased and he became a leading figure of the anti-colonial activists. He soon thereafter became involved with a nationalist political party, the Union for National Progress (UPRONA). He pushed for Burundian independence from Belgian control, national unity, and the institution of a constitutional monarchy. Rwagasore sought to bring UPRONA mass appeal across different regions, ethnicities, and castes, and thus under his leadership the party maintained a leadership balanced between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis, though the latter were usually favoured for more important positions.
The Belgian administration disliked UPRONA and initially attempted to stifle Rwagasore's activities, placing him under house arrest in 1960 during municipal elections. International pressure led the administration to back down, and the following year UPRONA won an overwhelming majority in the legislative elections. As a result, Rwagasore became Prime Minister of Burundi on 28 September 1961. Two weeks later he was assassinated by a Greek national at the direction of leaders of a rival political party with the possible support of the Belgian Resident in Burundi. Rwagasore's death derailed his attempts to build national ethnic cohesion and facilitated the growth of Hutu-Tutsi tensions in the country. It also fractured UPRONA, as his former lieutenants engaged in a power struggle to succeed him as the party's leader.
Louis Rwagasore was born on 10 January 1932 in Gitega, Ruanda-Urundi, to Mwami (king) of Burundi Mwambutsa IV and Thérèse Kanyonga. He was the Mwami's oldest son. Ethnically, he was a member of the Bezi clan of the Ganwa, a group of people of aristocratic status often associated with the Tutsis. The frequency of matrimonial alliances among the Baganwa related Rwagasore to numerous chiefs in Urundi. He began attending school at the age of seven, going to Catholic institutions in Bukeye, Kanyinya, and Gitega. In 1945 Rwagasore enrolled in the Groupe Scolaire d'Astrida. He studied there for six years, and in 1951 went to Antwerp to study at the Institut universitaire des Territoires d'Outre-Mer. He was a poor student, but after one year at the institute he enrolled at the Catholic University of Leuven, where after three years of study he earned a degree in political economy.
Rwagasore returned to Urundi in December 1956. In April 1957 he was hired by the Belgian administration to oversee studies of economic, agricultural, and administrative concerns. On 12 September 1959 he married a Hutu woman, Marie-Rose Ntamikevyo, in Usumbura. They had two daughters, both of whom died in infancy.
CCB and foundation of UPRONA
In June 1957 Rwagasore founded a series of cooperatives, known as the Traders' Cooperatives of Burundi (Coopératives des Commerçants du Burundi, CCB),[a] with the goal of empowering native Burundians to control their own commerce and thus building his personal support among Swahili traders of Usumbura. The CCB quickly ran into financial trouble, in part due to mismanagement, and the following year he requested credit for the cooperatives from the Conseil Supérieur du Pays.[b] Though the Belgian administration informed the council that it disapproved of the cooperative, Rwagasore convinced the body to support him. The Belgian administration then intervened to take over the CCB. In the ensuing struggle Rwagasore's national profile dramatically increased and he became a leading figure of the anti-colonial activists. The CCB was ultimately merged with an administration cooperative. As a result of the affair he forged connections with Tanganyikan nationalist Julius Nyerere, who provided him with advice and financial assistance.[c]
Some time thereafter Rwagasore became involved with a nascent political party, the Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progres National, UPRONA).[d] He took virtual control over the movement, though his familial connection to the Mwami disqualified him from holding any party offices and he officially served UPRONA only as an advisor. The party initially was initially strongly identified with the interests of the Bezi lineage of Ganwa and support for traditional institutions, but this dynamic fell apart after Rwagasore came into conflict with his father.[e] In an attempt to distract Rwagasore from politics, the Belgian administration designated him head of the Butanyerera chiefdom (an area in Ngozi Province) in February 1959.
Under Rwagasore, UPRONA pushed a program of modernisation, committing neither to a return to the feudal system nor a complete societal transformation. He used symbols of the monarchy to communicate his message and often emphasised his princely status at public appearances, but he stressed that UPRONA would support the monarchy "only insofar as this regime and its dynasty favoured the genuine emancipation of the Murundi people". He believed that only a constitutional monarchy could maintain legitimacy and that it should yield power to a civilian government. While conscious of socioeconomic problems, he primarily focused on issues relating to Burundian independence, popular legitimacy of the monarchy, and national unity. He advocated a foreign policy of nonalignment in the ongoing Cold War.
Rwagasore sought to transform UPRONA into a mass party with broad-base appeal across different regions, ethnicities, and castes. Wary of the growing Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Ruanda, he sought to counteract tensions by bringing members of both groups into UPRONA's leadership. Formal party positions at both the national and local levels were usually evenly divided between Hutus and Tutsis, though the latter tended to occupy the most important offices. The party enjoyed some cohesive success in Usumbura, but never truly cultivated a mass political base, especially outside the capital. UPRONA's internal rules set devolved responsibilities to the central committee, but in practice the party operated at the whim of Rwagasore; it retained relatively weak organisational capability and was held together by his charismatic leadership. His populist tendencies and personal popularity led many of the original chiefs who had supported UPRONA, including founding member Léopold Biha, to leave the party and engage in their own political activities. Rumours that the Mwami would pass the throne on to his younger son, Charles Ndizeye,[f] facilitated criticisms by UPRONA's rivals that the party was simply a mechanism for Rwagasore to achieve power. In response, he issued a tract which said, "[I]f I do not become Mwami, will that prevent me from fighting for you, from being a great leader for you?"
To protest colonial rule, Rwagasore encouraged boycotts of European goods and refusal to pay taxes. The Belgian administration was wary of Rwagasore's nationalism, which it perceived as extremist, and supported the creation of a rival party, the Christian Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Chrétien, PDC), a grouping seen as more moderate and which rejected immediate independence. Despite ideological differences, the rivalries between the two parties were primarily fueled by the intra-nobility conflicts, as the Bezi and Batare lineages backed UPRONA and PDC respectively. The two lineages had long struggled for control of the country.[g] In 1959 Batare leader Chief Pierre Baranyanka questioned whether Mwambutsa's marriage to Kanyonga was legitimate according to custom in an attempt to challenge Rwagasore's place in the line to the throne. Even though UPRONA had distanced themselves from the Bezi, Rwagasore was still perceived as leader of the Bezi nobility by the time of the elections.
1960 and 1961 elections
Rwagasore attended the independence celebrations of the Republic of the Congo in June 1960. In anticipation of Urundi's first municipal elections in November 1960, he issued pamphlets which called for people to "shake off foreign domination and slavery". Shortly before the contests were held, the administration placed him under house arrest on 27 October with the pretext that he was violating a previous agreement by Burundian political parties stipulating that persons within two degrees of familial relationship to the Mwami be barred from political activity. In reality, the administration hoped the arrest would weaken UPRONA and generate a more preferable outcome in the elections. The PDC won a plurality of the offices in the contest, and in early 1961 the administration established a transitional government under Joseph Cimpaye with some PDC ministers but none from UPRONA. Rwagosore was released after the elections on 9 December 1960. Subsequent international scrutiny, particularly from the United Nations, led the Belgians to withdraw themselves from national politics. The UN created a Commission for Ruanda-Urundi and it liberalised the political sphere, thus allowing Rwagosore to resume his activities. Thereafter he was allowed to engage in politics unhindered by the Belgian administration.
For the 1961 legislative elections, UPRONA concentrated its entire election campaign on Rwagasore, using his charisma to rally substantial support. Rwagasore traveled across the country to introduce his party's candidates. In course of the elections, he was able to collect a broad political coalition; even though most of it was pro-monarchical, he also voiced support for the leftist ideas of Patrice Lumumba from the neighboring Congo. This earned him the support of a small group of radical anti-monarchist Tutsi intellectuals. In the end, Rwagasore's coalition included representatives of the Tutsi oligarchy, conservative Hutu évolués, radical youth groups, urban factions, and large sections of the rural population. In general, UPRONA presented itself as strongly pro-monarchy, with the slogan "God, Fatherland, Mwami" being prominently used. The PDC had assumed a certain victory due to its success during the November 1960 municipal elections. It began its election campaign far too late, and also used the alternate slogan "God and Fatherland" which seemed to many Burundians to be deliberately critical of the monarchy, costing it substantial grassroots backing.
Burundi hosted legislative elections on 18 September 1961. With approximately 80% voter turnout, UPRONA won 58 of 64 seats in the Legislative Assembly, and Rwagasore was declared prime minister designate. On 28 September his 10-member government of national unity secured the confidence of all but one of the deputies in the Legislative Assembly and was sworn-in. In his inaugural address, Rwagasore promised that his government would look "into the real problems of the nation, especially the economic problems, the problems of the land and of the social emancipation of the population, the problems of education and so many others, to which we will find our own solutions." His government was generally welcomed by Burundians, although some Hutu UPRONA members were felt they were underrepresented. The government did not have any control over matters of defence, foreign affairs, or technical assistance—these competencies being reserved to the Belgian Resident—though Rwagasore proclaimed his wish to reduce the role of the colonial administration in Burundi to one of consultative aid. His government pledged to incorporate opposition party members into the administration and supported a political union with Ruanda and Tanganyika. He also promised to address Hutu interests. However, UPRONA's victory caused considerable unrest among the nobility, with the Batare lineage perceiving Rwagasore's success as a takeover by the Bezi. Existing hostilies between the nobility escalated as a result of the elections. As a measure of reconciliation, Rwagasore appointed a Mutare as Director of Tourism.
Murder and criminal investigation
On 13 October 1961, Rwagasore was assassinated while dining outdoors with friends and his cabinet members at the Hotel Tanganyika in Usumbura. He was killed by a single gunshot wound to the throat, fired from approximately 60 feet (18 meters) away from a group of bushes. In the ensuing confusion the assassin jumped into a waiting car and escaped. A witness described the car to the authorities, and an investigator was able to connect the vehicle to a group of people he had seen in the capital earlier that day. Within three days the police had arrested a Greek national, Ioannis Kageorgis—who had fired the shot—and three Burundian accomplices: Antoine Nahimana, Henri Ntakiyica, and Jean-Baptiste Ntakiyica. The latter three were all members of the PDC. The group quickly admitted responsibility for the murder and incriminated three other persons in their plot: Michel Iatrou, Jean-Baptiste Ntidendereza, and Joseph Biroli. The former was a Greek national, while the latter two were high-ranking members of the PDC, with Ntidendereza having previously served as a minister in government. The investigators concluded that Ntidendereza and Biroli planned the assassination. Iatrou denied this, while Ntidendereza initially implicated himself in the conspiracy before later recanting his testimony.
On 2 April 1962 a Burundian tribunal composed of Belgian judges sentenced Kageorgis, Nahimana, and Ntidendereza to death for their role in the murder. Two others accused of minor roles in the affair, Pascal Bigirindavyi (a Burundian) and Liverios Archianotis (a Greek), were given prison sentences. On 7 May the Court of Appeal affirmed Kageorgis' sentence but commuted the other death sentences to 20 years of penal servitude. On 30 June, one day before Burundi's independence, Kageorgis was executed. Following independence Burundi established a Supreme Court with retroactive competence, and on 27 October it ruled the previous trials to have violated the right to judgement by a jury established by the new constitution and ordered a retrial. On 27 November the lower court found Ntidendereza, Biroli, Nahimana, Iatrou, and Ntakiyica guilty and sentenced them to death. The defendants' final appeal to the Supreme Court was denied, as were the attempts of the Belgian government to convince the Mwami to offer clemency, and on 15 January 1963 all five were publicly hanged.
There was immediate concern in Burundi following the killing that the Belgian administration shared responsibility for Rwagasore's murder. When Belgian Governor-General of Ruanda-Urundi Jean-Paul Harroy went to the hospital to pay respects to the corpse of the late prime minister, Rwagasore's mother confronted him in a hallway and slapped him. A United Nations commission noted complaints from UPRONA leaders which accused the administration of being complicit in the murder, with additional accusations of culpability lodged against Brioli's and Ntidendereza's father, Chief Baranyanka. The body also received complaints that the PDC leaders were given favourable treatment in prison. The commission's report was ultimately dismissive of such concerns and affirmed the findings of the original criminal investigation.
Generally, little academic attention has been paid to the details of the murder. Political scientist René Lemarchand wrote, "That the assassin, [Ioannis] Kageorgis, was a mere tool [...] that the crime was the result of a political conspiracy organised by Biroli and Ntidendereza, and that the ultimate aim of this conspiracy was to create disturbances throughout the realm that would then be exploited by the PDC to its own advantages—these are well-established facts. However, the PDC leaders might have not resorted to such drastic action unless they had been actively encouraged to go ahead with their plans by certain Belgian functionaries." Harroy wrote in his 1987 memoirs pertaining to concerns of Belgian support for the assassination that, "To deny this seems unreasonable." In regards to the concrete motives of Biroli and Ntidendereza, political scientist Helmut Strizek and researcher Günther Philipp argued that Rwagasore's assassination was probably inspired by the Bezi-Batare rivalry.
The PDC's European secretary, Sabine Belva, testified during the appellate trial that the Belgian Resident in Urundi, Roberto Régnier, hosted a meeting shortly after the September elections and had asked "whether the elimination of Rwagasore had been considered, as a means of solving the political problem." Belva stated that she reported this to Ntidendereza. In court, Régnier denied making such remarks. The Belgian judges determined in their verdict that these comments were only "jokes which were expressed lightly" and thus not worthy of serious investigation. Some lower-ranking officials in the Belgian Residency were dissuaded from testifying during the proceedings by the Belgian Foreign Ministry, which threatened to have them dismissed from their posts. A separate investigation conducted by the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office—as Kageorgis had requested a pardon from the Belgian King on the grounds that others played a greater role in the murder—obtained the depositions of several Belgian civil servants. Hubert Léonard, an official in the Residency, testified that on 21 September 1961 Régnier had stated in a meeting, "Rwagasore must be killed!" Confronted with this, Régnier admitted to the Brussels Office that he had said such. The evidence gathered by the Brussels Public Prosecutor's Office was not made public, though portions of it were shared with the Burundian courts once they reopened their investigation following independence. Belgian Foreign Minister Paul-Henri Spaak threatened to suspend bilateral aid to Burundi for renewing the inquiry, causing consternation to the Burundian government, though this never occurred. Historian Ludo De Witte surmised, "Burundi wanted the skin of those who murdered Rwagasore, at the risk of upsetting Brussels, but Spaak resigned himself to it and did not question Belgium's 'development aid' [...] In return, Bujumbura kept the Brussels Public Prosecutor's report under wraps and avoided accusing the Belgians."
In 1972, the Burundian government issued a document in an attempt to deflect responsibility for the massacres of the Ikiza. The document included an accusation that Régnier had organised Rwagasore's murder. The matter of the assassination was thereafter ignored by the government for many years, though in 2001 some Burundian parliamentarians called on the Belgian government to open an official investigation into the killing. On 14 October 2018 the Burundian government officially accused Belgium of being the "true backer of the assassination of Rwagasore" and declared that it would set up a "technical commission" to investigate the killing.
André Muhirwa, Rwagasore's brother-in-law, succeeded him as Prime Minister of Burundi. Citing the distraction of "recent events", Muhirwa declined to offer a government program and the Legislative Assembly sat in session aimlessly for the next few months. Rwagasore's death derailed his attempts to build national inter-ethnic cohesion and facilitated the growth of Hutu-Tutsi tensions; the latter came to eclipse the internal Ganwa rivalries in national politics. The assassination also fractured UPRONA, as Rwagasore's former lieutenants struggled to succeed him as the party's leader; figures of Ganwa aristocracy eventually succeeded in claiming control of the organisation. UPRONA subsequently used Rwagasore's image to promote itself while disregarding his vision for the party, ultimately becoming a vehicle for exclusionary, Tutsi-elitist, single-party rule. There is a strong belief among some Burundians that Rwagasore's murder created a political void with long-term implications for the country and contributed to its later instability.
Burial and official commemoration
Rwagasore was buried on 18 October 1961 at the plot of Vugizo in Bujumbura. Burundi was granted independence in 1962, and in his official speech marking the event, Prime Minister Muhirwa paid extensive tribute to Rwagasore and credited him for pushing the country towards sovereignty. From 1962 to 1963 a monument was constructed at Rwagasore's burial site, featuring a mausoleum and three arches with a black cross. Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium was also constructed to honour him. The government funded these projects by releasing a series of postage stamps bearing his image in February 1963. That year the government declared 13 October a public holiday and renamed a hospital and avenue in Bujumbura in commemoration. His image was also used to adorn public buildings, while the first printings of the Burundian franc included banknotes with his visage.[h] Two more postage series featuring Rwagosore were later released; one in 1966 pairing his image with that of assassinated United States President John F. Kennedy, and another in 1972 celebrating the 10th anniversary of Burundian independence. Numerous schools and roads in Burundi have since been named for him, as was the sole aircraft of the country's first state airline, and the Legislative Assembly created the Order of Prince Louis as a national order of merit.
In 1966 Captain Michel Micombero launched a military coup, overthrowing the monarchy and transforming Burundi into a republic with himself as its president. UPRONA subsequently became the only legal political party. Micombero referred to himself as the "successor" and sometimes "little brother" of Rwagasore. Throughout his tenure the late prime minister was frequently honoured in public ceremonies, and his portrait remained prevalent in public places. In 1976 Micombero was overthrown and replaced by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza. Bagaza tried to present himself as a moderniser, and Rwagosore's reputation thus competed with him. As a result, he deemphaised mention of Rwagosore and suspended celebration of the 13 October holiday. In 1987 Bagaza was overthrown by Major Pierre Buyoya. Following ethnic violence in 1988, Buyoya declared a policy of national unity, and used Rwagasore as a symbol of this. Under Buyoya's tenure, more portraits of Rwagasore were hung in public places, the mausoleum was renovated and a UPRONA-sponsored Rwagasore Institute was created to promote national reconciliation.
In the 1990s Burundi underwent a democratic transition which included the reestablishment of multi-party politics. The end of UPRONA's monopoly on power led to a decline in public celebration of Rwagosore. One of the key nascent opposition parties, Front for Democracy in Burundi (Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, FRODEBU), made reference to Rwagasore in its official publication but avoided all associations of him with UPRONA. FRODEBU won the parliamentary and presidential elections in 1993. The new president, Melchior Ndadaye, did not attend any official commemorations for Rwagasore in October. Ndadaye was assassinated in a coup attempt later that month, plunging Burundi into a crisis which evolved into a civil war. During this time Rwagasore was usually invoked only by politicians in self-serving fashion or by newspapers calling for reconciliation.
In the late 1990s the belligerents in the civil war partook in peace talks. The resulting Arusha Accords praised the "charismatic leadership of Prince Louis Rwagasore and his companions" who had kept Burundi from "plunging into a political confrontation based on ethnic considerations". The implementation of the accords and further negotiation eventually resulted in the election of Pierre Nkurunziza as president in 2005. During his tenure, he attended annual celebrations of Rwagasore in October and frequently mentioned him in his speeches. His government also repaired several monuments to the late premier and erected a new one jointly honoring him and Ndadaye at a roundabout in Bujumbura. In 2019 he renamed Rwagasore Stadium, but stated that the planned parliament building to be built in Gitega would bear Rwagasore's name.
After his death, historian Aidan Russell wrote that Rwagasore's reputation was quickly transformed into that of a "hero and martyr" and that he was the subject of a "competitive hagiography". Within Burundi, his reputation enjoys nearly-universal acclaim, with his speeches often quoted in political discussions and his surviving political opponents and their descendants offering praise of him. His assassination is commemorated annually with large ceremonies. Historian Christine Deslaurier wrote that "it is the martyrological dimensions of his anti-colonialism that have established a consensus around his mythical figure, more than his political and social thought."
Rwagasore's widespread popularity in Burundi stands in contrast to the divided feelings toward most other domestic historical figures. He remains relatively unknown internationally, with his career overshadowed by those of Nyerere and Lumumba and his assassination eclipsed by the Congo Crisis and the contemporary ethnic violence in Rwanda.
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