Joseph Biroli

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Joseph Biroli-Baranyanka (28 May 1929 – 15 January 1963) was a Burundian politician. He was the first Burundian to receive a university education.


Early life

Joseph Biroli was born on 28 May 1929. [1] Ethnically, he was Ganwa of the Batare clan, and was a son of Pierre Baranyanka, [2] a paramount chief with close relations to the Belgian colonial administration in Ruanda-Urundi. [3] He attended primary school in Kayanza before enrolling at the Groupe Scolaire d'Astrida. [1] In 1949 he was admitted to the Institut universitaire des Territoires d'Outre-Mer in Antwerp. He performed well as a student [4] and graduated in July 1953 with a diploma in colonial and political sciences. He then secured a degree in economics at the Catholic University of Leuven in September 1956 before working as a scholar at St Antony's College, Oxford and participating in an international seminar at Harvard University in 1957. [1] This made him the first Burundian to receive a university education. [5] He then worked for the European Economic Community. [4]

Political career

Biroli supported a political union between Ruanda and Urundi. [6] In 1960 Biroli's brother, Jean-Baptiste Ntidendereza, co-founded the Christian Democratic Party (Parti Démocratique Chrétien, PDC). Biroli subsequently became the party's president. [1] The PDC's main rival was the Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progres National, UPRONA) led by Prince Louis Rwagasore, a Ganwa of the Bezi clan. Biroli and Rwagasore personally held significant dislike for one another. [4] The former was more favorable to the Belgian administration and the PDC, unlike UPRONA, rejected calls for immediate independence and instead focused its platform on socioeconomic reform. [7] 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. [8] One of Biroli's other brothers, Charles Baranyanka, joined UPRONA and became a diplomat. [9]

As PDC president, in September 1960 Biroli led the Burundian delegation to a conference held in Brussels to discuss the decolonisation of Urundi and the organisation of elections. [1] In November Urundi hosted communal elections. Rwagasore was placed under house arrest, hampering UPRONA's campaign, and the PDC emerged as the victor, winning 942 of 2,876 local offices. [10] In December Biroli went to New York City to address the United Nations General Assembly. Upon his return he announced his dissatisfaction with the attitudes of the Afro-Asian countries, feeling they were too hostile towards Belgium. Following events in Ruanda, the UN General Assembly recommended the postponement of general elections in Urundi. Biroli attended a conference in Ostend in January 1961 and joined the other Burundian delegates in opposing this move, though Belgium acceded to the UN's wishes. [1] In May Ntidendereza replaced Brioli as PDC president, and the latter became head of the party's public relations. [11]

For the 1961 legislative elections, UPRONA concentrated its entire election campaign on Rwagasore, using his charisma to rally substantial support. The PDC had assumed a certain victory due to its success during the November 1960 municipal elections and began its election campaign late. [12] To oppose UPRONA it formed a cartel with other parties, termed the Common Front (Front Commun). [1] [13] The elections were held 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. [13]


On 13 October 1961 Rwagasore was assassinated by a Greek national. [13] Within three days the police had arrested the Greek, Ioannis Kageorgis, 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, Ntidendereza, and Biroli. 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. [14]

For his role in the plot, Biroli was initially sentenced to life in prison. [1] On 30 June 1962, one day before Burundi's independence, Kageorgis was executed. [14] 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. [15] 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 in Gitega stadium before thousands of people. [16] [1] With the PDC's loss in the legislative elections and the execution of Ntidendereza and Biroli, the party ceased to be a viable political force. [17]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Huybrechts, A. (1977). "Biroli (Joseph)". Biographie Belge d'Outre-Mer (in French). Royal Academy for Overseas Sciences.
  2. McDonald 1969, p. 16.
  3. Lemarchand 1970, pp. 332, 336.
  4. 1 2 3 Lemarchand 1970, p. 335.
  5. Russell 2019, p. 61.
  6. Weinstein 1976, p. 90.
  7. Lemarchand 1970, pp. 335–337.
  8. Philipp 1978, p. 580.
  9. Russell 2019, p. 218.
  10. Lemarchand 1970, p. 338.
  11. Weinstein 1976, p. 235.
  12. Philipp 1978, pp. 580–581.
  13. 1 2 3 Lemarchand 1970, p. 340.
  14. 1 2 Poppe 2015, p. 159.
  15. Lemarchand 1970, p. 341.
  16. Lemarchand 1970, pp. 341–342.
  17. McDonald 1969, p. 78.

Works cited