Jean-Baptiste Bagaza

Last updated
Jean Baptiste Bagaza
Jean Baptiste Bagaza - 1978.tiff
Bagaza in 1978
2nd President of Burundi
In office
1 November 1976 3 September 1987
Prime Minister Édouard Nzambimana (1976–78), then position abolished
Preceded by Michel Micombero
Succeeded by Pierre Buyoya
Personal details
Born(1946-08-29)29 August 1946 [1]
Rutovu, Ruanda-Urundi
(modern-day Burundi)
Died4 May 2016(2016-05-04) (aged 69)
Brussels, Belgium
Political party Union for National Progress (UPRONA)
Party for National Recovery (PARENA)
Spouse(s) Fausta Bagaza
Military service
AllegianceFlag of Burundi.svg  Burundi
Conviction(s) Conspiracy against former president Pierre Buyoya
Imprisoned atMpanga Prison (1997)

Jean-Baptiste Bagaza (29 August 1946 4 May 2016) was a Burundian army officer and politician who ruled Burundi as president and de facto military dictator from November 1976 to September 1987.


Born into the Tutsi ethnic group in 1946, Bagaza served in the Burundian military and rose through the ranks under the rule of Michel Micombero after his rise to power in 1966. Bagaza deposed Micombero in a bloodless coup d'état in 1976 and took power himself as head of the ruling Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progrès national, UPRONA). Despite having participated in the genocidal killings of 1972, he introduced various reforms which modernised the state and made concessions to the country's ethnic Hutu majority. His regime became increasingly repressive after the regime became consolidated in 1984, especially targeting the powerful Catholic Church. His rule lasted until 1987 when his regime was overthrown in a further coup d'état and he was forced into exile. He returned to Burundi in 1994 and became involved in national politics as the leader of the Party for National Recovery (Parti pour le Redressement National, PARENA). He died in 2016.


Early life and military career

Bagaza was born in Rutovu, Bururi Province in Belgian-ruled Ruanda-Urundi on 29 August 1946. His family were ethnic Hima, part of the wider Tutsi ethnic group. [2] [3] After studying in Catholic schools in Bujumbura, he enlisted in the army of the newly independent Kingdom of Burundi. He was sent to Belgium in 1966 where he studied at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels until 1971. [3] He earned a sociology degree. [2] He returned to Burundi in 1972 and was appointed adjunct chief of staff of the Burundian military, largely because of his family's connections to the dictator Michel Micombero who also came from Rutovu. Bagaza was involved in Micombero's genocidal killings of ethnic Hutu in 1972, [3] though the "extent or nature of his involvement" remain unclear. [1]


Bagaza overthrew Micombero in a military coup on 1 November 1976. [1] The constitution was temporarily suspended by a military junta, the 30-member Supreme Revolutionary Council, which declared Bagaza president on 10 November 1976. [3] He was thirty at the time. [2] Bagaza initiated a number of reforms after taking power, attacking corruption and making modest reforms to improve conditions for Hutus who had been targeted under the Micombero regime. [3] He earned respect for his work ethic, as he "drove himself to work at 7:30 a.m. each day" instead of travelling in large cavalcades as most regional politicians did at the time. [2] Some Hutu refugees were allowed to return from exile in Zaire and Tanzania where they had fled during the genocide. [3] Bagaza granted a few government posts to Hutu, [2] appointing two Hutu ministers in his first cabinet. [1] Burundi's feudal system of land tenure, known as the Ubugererwa , was abolished in 1977. [3] Some Tutsi-held land was transferred to Hutu farmers. [2] However, Bagaza ensured that the Tutsi remained economically and politically dominant. [3]

A programme of economic modernization was begun to allow the emergence of small-scale capitalist agriculture, involving the construction of two new hydroelectric dams which still form the basis for Burundi's energy infrastructure. [3] He also initiated road building programs, expanded the availability of drinking water, and developed a port on Lake Tanganyika. His infrastructure investments helped to shape Burundi's export ecenomy which came to rely on coffee, tea and sugar. [1] Internationally, Bagaza successfully maneuvered between different political factions, securing economic aid from the West, the Eastern bloc, China, and Arab states. [1] [2]

Location of Burundi in Central Africa Burundi in its region.svg
Location of Burundi in Central Africa

Bagaza's regime introduced a new national constitution in 1981 which consolidated Burundi as a one-party dictatorship under the Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progrès national, UPRONA), which he re-organised under his own leadership. In the election of 1984, he was re-elected president with 99.6 percent of the national vote. [4] After the election, Bagaza organized a military operation against the Catholic Church in Burundi, [3] regarding it as a threat to his power. The Church was increasingly targeted as the regime became increasingly repressive. Foreign missionaries were expelled and attempts were made to break its influence over the public and education. Bagaza banned Catholic media and church services, closed Church-run literacy centers, and ordered the arrest and torture of Church figures. [2] He also tried to implement other "eccentricities" such as restricting bar openings and officially limiting the time as well as money Burundians were allowed to spent for traditional betrothal and mourning ceremonies. Bob Krueger argued that these policies ultimately alienated too many Burundians and led to Bagaza's deposition. [1]

Deposition and involvement in democratic politics

A military coup broke out in September 1987, led by Major Pierre Buyoya, while Bagaza was abroad in Quebec, Canada. Buyoya successfully deposed Bagaza's regime and established himself as president. [1] Bagaza himself went into exile in neighbouring Uganda and later in Libya where he lived until 1993. [5] Opposed to the empowerment of Hutu through the 1993 elections, he reportedly played a major part in the coup d'état against Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first democratically elected president. The putschists killed Ndadaye, but failed to maintain control. Power was consequently returned to a civilian, democratic government. [6] [7] Bagaza subsequently denied any involvement in the putsch. [1] [8] Despite the coup's failure, he returned to Burundi where he founded the Party for National Recovery (Parti pour le Redressement National, PARENA). [9] [10] PARENA was described as a Tutsi "extremist party". [2] He was a senator for life as a former head of state. [11] [12] At the time, Bagaza was known for his extreme views, including general opposition to any power-sharing agreements with Hutu factions such as the Front for Democracy in Burundi (Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, FRODEBU). He eventually began to advocate the division of Burundi into a "Tutsiland" and a "Hutuland". [10]

On 18 January 1997, Bagaza was placed under house arrest for gathering weapons for a plot against President Buyoya. [3] [10] Two months later, the house arrest was changed into a prison sentence, though he was quickly released. [13] Bagaza was subsequently involved in the peace talks which were supposed to end the Burundian Civil War. As he and PARENA as a whole tended to be opposed to the implementation of power-sharing deals with the Hutu rebels, the government placed Bagaza under house arrest and banned PARENA from November 2002 to May 2003. In 2005, there were rumours that radical followers of Bagaza were organising a rebel group known as "Justice and Liberity United Front". Tensions abated when PARENA accepted ministerial position in the newly formed coalition government. In 2010, Bagaza ran as PARENA's candidate for the 2010 presidential election, but withdrew when the Burundian opposition boycotted the elections. He stepped down as head of PARENA in March 2014, and was succeeded by Zénon Nimbona. Bagaza remained the main opposition leader in the Burundian Senate, and joined the opposition boycott of the 2015 elections. [10] He died in Brussels, Belgium on 4 May 2016 at the age of 69 of natural causes and was buried in Bujumbura on 17 May 2016. [2] [9] He was survived by his wife Fausta and four daughters. [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Chan, Sewell (2016-05-04). "Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, Deposed Leader of a Troubled Burundi, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Langer, Emily (5 May 2016). "Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, ousted Burundian president, dies at 69". The Washington Post. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Young 2010, p. 146.
  4. Brooke, James. "Rule by Minority Persists in Burundi". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  5. "Former Burundi president dies in Belgium". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  6. Lansford 2017, p. 220.
  7. "Leader of Burundi Reportedly Killed in a Coup by an Ethnic Rival". New York Times. 22 October 1993. Retrieved 7 November 2019.
  8. "Burundi's President Killed in Coup". Africa Report. 38 (6). November 1993. p. 6.
  9. 1 2 "Burundi pays final tribute to former president Bagaza". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Lansford 2017, p. 227.
  11. "POST TRANSITION SENATORS' LIST". (in French). Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  12. "The Senate composition". (in French). Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 12 November 2016.


Political offices
Preceded by
Michel Micombero
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
Pierre Buyoya