Melchior Ndadaye

Last updated
Melchior Ndadaye
Melchior Ndadaye speaking to RTNB at Bujumbura airport.jpg
President Ndadaye in 1993
4th President of Burundi
In office
10 July 1993 21 October 1993
Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi
Preceded by Pierre Buyoya
Succeeded by François Ngeze
Personal details
Born(1953-03-28)28 March 1953
Nyabihanga, Ruanda-Urundi
Died21 October 1993(1993-10-21) (aged 40)
Bujumbura, Burundi
Cause of deathMurder
Resting place Bujumbura
Political party Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU)
Burundi Workers' Party (UBU)
Spouse(s) Laurence Ndadaye
Alma mater National University of Rwanda
Conservatoire national des arts et métiers

Melchior Ndadaye (28 March 1953 – 21 October 1993) was a Burundian intellectual and politician. He was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi after winning the landmark 1993 election. Though he moved to attempt to smooth the country's bitter ethnic divide, his reforms antagonised soldiers in the Tutsi-dominated army, and he was assassinated amidst a failed military coup in October 1993, after only three months in office. His assassination sparked an array of brutal tit-for-tat massacres between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, and ultimately sparked the decade-long Burundi Civil War.


Early life

Melchior Ndadaye was born on 28 March 1953 in the commune of Nyabihanga, Ruanda-Urundi. The son of Pie Ndadaye and Thérèse Bandushubwenge, he was the first of ten children in a Hutu family. He attended primary school in Mbogora and in 1966 enrolled at the normal school in Gitega. Following the 1972 Ikiza, in which the government of Burundi targeted and massacred educated Hutus, he fled to Rwanda. He enrolled at the Groupe Scolaire Officiel in Butare to complete his secondary studies, graduating in 1975. He then enrolled at the National University of Rwanda to take up pedagogical studies, earning a license degree in 1980. [1] Ndadaye lectured at the Lycée pédagogique in Save, southern Rwanda, from 1980 to 1983. [2]

Early political involvement and return to Burundi

Ndadaye speaking at a FRODEBU rally following his electoral victory in 1993 Melchior Ndadaye speaking at a FRODEBU rally.jpg
Ndadaye speaking at a FRODEBU rally following his electoral victory in 1993

Ndadaye became involved in politics while in Rwanda, and in 1976 founded the Mouvement des Étudiants Progressistes Barundi au Rwanda (BEMPERE), a progressive movement for exiled Burundian Hutu students. [2] In December 1979 Ndadaye and other Burundian exiles founded Burundi Workers' Party (Umugambwe wa'Bakozi Uburundi, UBU) a revolutionary socialist political party. [3] From 1982–1983 ideological divisions arose in UBU, and in 1983 Ndadaye left the organisation and returned to Burundi. [2]

In July 1984 Ndadaye married Laurence Nininahazwe, with whom he had three children. From that year until 1986 he worked at the Centre Neuro-Psychiatrique Kamenge in Bujumbura. From then until 1988 he directed the Coopératives d'Épargne et de Crédit in Gitega. In 1989 he returned to Bujumbura and became head of Meridian Bank Biao's credit service. He then took up study with the Institut Technique de Banque at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers in Paris, securing a diploma in higher banking studies in 1992. [2]

Leader of FRODEBU

In August 1986 Ndadaye and other former UBU members, seeing the growing international preference for democracy and peaceful electoral processes, founded a new underground political movement, the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU). [3] He subsequently became the party's president. In 1988 he was named first secretary of the Gitega branch of the Union des Travailleurs du Burundi, a labor union affiliated with the ruling Union for National Progress (UPRONA) party. That year Burundi became beset by ethnic violence, and on 23 October he criticised the government of President Pierre Buyoya in a meeting called by the governor of Gitega Province. As a result, he was imprisoned for two months in Rumonge. [2] In February 1991 Ndadaye became one of the twelve founding members of the Iteka League, a human rights association. [4] In March Buyoya appointed a 35-member Constitution Commission to study the country's ethnic and political problems and draft a new basic law. Ndadaye was the sole member of the political opposition to serve on it. The body produced a 145-page report titled, "The Democratisation of Institutions and Political Life in Burundi." Ndadaye resigned in August, citing the commission's lack of diversity, and omissions and undemocratic provisions in the report. [5]

The 1991 constitution made provisions for multiparty politics, and on 3 May 1992 FRODEBU went public. On 18 April 1993 a FRODEBU congress nominated Ndadaye as its candidate of choice for the upcoming presidential election. [2] He advocated disbanding the Tutsi-dominated armed forces and recreating the army and gendarmerie based on equitable recruitment from every collines, thus ensuring more ethnically balanced forces. [5]

The elections, held in June 1993, saw Ndadaye, endorsed by FRODEBU and three other predominantly Hutu parties, the Rally for the People of Burundi (RPB), People's Party (PP), and the Liberal Party (PL), face up against the ruling Tutsi-dominated government under Buyoya.[ citation needed ] In the 1 June presidential election, Ndadaye won 64 percent of the vote, whereas Buyoya only garnered 32 percent. In the subsequent parliamentary elections on 29 June, FRODEBU won 71.4 percent of the vote and earned 80 percent of the seats in the National Assembly. [6] The poll was certified by international observers as being free and fair, and none of the candidates contested the poll. It was followed by success for his party in the legislative elections held later that month, winning 65 of 81 seats. After surviving a failed coup attempt on July 3, Ndadaye was sworn in as President of Burundi on July 10, 1993. The victory made him both the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi. [7] In his inaugural address he promised to create a "new Burundi". [2]


Ndadaye greeting Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi at Bujumbura airport, 1993 President Ndadaye shaking hands with Prime Minister Kinigi at Bujumbura airport.jpg
Ndadaye greeting Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi at Bujumbura airport, 1993

Ndadaye took a cautious, moderate approach as President, and attempted to resolve the deep ethnic divide in Burundian society. He named Sylvie Kinigi, a Tutsi, as the Prime Minister, and gave one-third of the Cabinet posts and two regional governorships to Buyoya's Union for National Progress (UPRONA). He freed political prisoners, granted freedom of the press, granted amnesty to exiled former dictator Bagaza and moved slowly to address the entrenched disadvantage of the Hutus that had resulted from many years of minority Tutsi rule to avoid exacerbating tensions.

Despite his cautious approach to the presidency, some of his actions nevertheless provoked tensions in the community. He questioned contracts and concessions approved under previous Tutsi governments, which threatened the economics of the powerful Tutsi elite and army. He began reforms to the military, shifting the national police to a separate command and changing the admission requirements for the military and police so as to reduce the entrenched Tutsi dominance. The dominance of FRODEBU caused problems at a local level, as Ndadaye's Hutu supporters took over many positions previously held by Tutsis in the public service, and botched the resettlement of refugees returning after the 1972 massacres in such a way as to leave many Tutsi families homeless. The issues were exacerbated by the newly-free press, who began reporting in such a way as to inflame ethnic tensions.[ citation needed ] He appointed Lieutenant Colonel Jean Bikomagu as Army Chief of Staff. [6]

Internationally, Ndadaye attended the signing of the Arusha Accords—a peace agreement designed to end the Rwandan Civil War—on 4 August. [2] His relationship with Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was tenuous. In September he went to the United Nations headquarters and addressed the General Assembly. On 18 October he attended a summit of Francophone countries in Mauritius. [8]



On 19 October 1993, an army officer approached the wife of Minister of Communications Jean‐Marie Ngendahayo and informed her that personnel in the army headquarters were plotting against the president. [9] At 15:00 on 20 October, Major Isaïe Nibizi, the officer responsible for presidential security, informed Ndadaye's chef de cabinet of suspicious military movements. [10] Later that afternoon, Ndadaye hosted a cabinet meeting in Bujumbura to mark the first 100 days of his presidency (which had passed two days prior) and discuss what his government had accomplished in comparison to its campaign promises. [11] At the conclusion of the meeting Ngendahayo requested to speak in private with Ndadaye. In the president's office, Ngendahayo raised concerns about Ndadaye's safety. Instead of informing the president about the vague threat his wife had learned of, he told him that he felt it strange that UPRONA, the Tutsi-dominated opposition party, was denouncing the government's popular policy of allowing thousands of Burundian refugees to return to the country before the commune elections in December. Ngendahayo stated that he thought this would cost UPRONA the elections, and thus the only reason they would oppose the policy is if they planned to take power via an assassination and a coup. He also requested that Ndadaye further consider a previous report declaring his personal security to be inadequate. Ndadaye instructed Ngendahayo to bring him the Minister of Defence, Colonel Charles Ntakije. [12]

Ntakije told Ndadaye that a coup was being planned by the 11th Armoured Car Battalion, which was going to attack the Presidential Palace at 02:00 on 21 October. When asked how he would respond, Ntakije said he would gather trusted officers and organise an ambush if the battalion left its camp. [9] Ndadye inquired about the status of Sylvestre Ningaba, a former army colonel who had been arrested in July for attempting a coup, and asked if he could be relocated to a different prison so the putschists could not obtain his help. Ntakije said that this would not be possible due to the objections of prison officials to transferring detainees at nighttime, but he assured the president that he would station an additional armoured car at the Presidential Palace for extra security. Ndadaye spoke about training possibilities for the Presidential Guard before dismissing both ministers for the evening and going to the palace. [13] When he arrived he told his wife, Laurence, about the coup plot, but was mostly assured by what Ntakije had said to him. [14] Writing on Ndadaye's willingness to return to the palace despite the threat, journalists Gaëtan Sebudandi and Pierre-Olivier Richard asserted that the president was probably convinced that the coup would be easily foiled, just like the plot on 3 July. [15] Krueger wrote, "That a president as intelligent as Ndadaye's associates found him to be would so readily accept such scant preparations for his protection seems, in retrospect, remarkable to an outsider...However, in a capital perpetually nervous with rumour, it becomes exhausting to take seriously every reported threat. Moreover, Ndadaye may have had a kind of che sarà, sarà, fatalistic attitude that could come to a person who, having overcome numerous life threatening challenges, was unwilling to run away from the position and responsibilities he had so recently assumed." [13]

Attack on the Presidential Palace

At around midnight on 20 October, putschists of the 11th Armoured Car Battalion departed from Camp Muha in over a dozen armoured cars and took up positions around Bujumbura. Within an hour they surrounded the Presidential Palace. They were joined by hundreds of soldiers and gendarmes from the other eleven military camps in Bujumbura, including members of the 1st Parachute Battalion and a few personnel from the 2nd Commando Battalion. They prepared to attack the palace, which was only guarded by 38 soldiers of the Presidential Guard and two armoured cars. Shortly before 01:00 on 21 October, Ntakije called the president and told him that armoured cars had left Camp Muha for an unknown destination and advised him to leave the palace immediately. [10] Ndadaye then attempted to reach Captain Ildephonse Mushwabure, the commander of the palace guard, by phone, but when he did not answer he went into the palace gardens. [16] At 01:30 the putshcists fired a single shot, and shortly thereafter at least one armoured car blasted a hole in the grounds wall and began bombarding the palace with cannon fire. Laurence Ndadaye took her three children into an interior room and sheltered them under tables, while the president was disguised in a military uniform by his guards and placed in one of their armoured cars in the garden, where he remained for the next six hours. [17]


At about 7:30, Laurence Ndadaye and her children left the palace and reached one of the two cars on the grounds, which would not start. They quickly reunited with President Ndadaye, who was in the other armoured vehicle. The family considered scaling the perimeter wall to go to the neighbouring Meridian Hotel, but found that the palace was completely surrounded by putschists. [18] At Captain Mushwabure's direction, Ndadaye decided to be taken with his family to Camp Muha. At 7:30 they left in their armoured car, and were trailed by the putschists' vehicles. Upon arriving at the base at 8:00, their car was surrounded by putschists of the 1st Battalion. [19] Ndadaye was taken by Army Chief of Staff Bikomagu to a meeting with other senior officers of the army. [20] About an hour later he returned with Secretary of State for Security Colonel Lazare Gakoryo, having reached a verbal agreement with the officers. Ndadaye reentered the armoured car with Gakoryo to finalise their understanding on paper, but when the secretary of state exited the vehicle soldiers began shouting for the president to come out. Once he did, Bikomagu quieted the crowd and Ndadaye appealed to the soldiers to negotiate peacefully with him. [21]

Soldiers began closing in on the president, and Bikomagu instructed them to let his family go since they were "of no interest" to them. He directed a driver to take the family away, and at Laurence's direction, the soldier brought them to the French embassy, where they were allowed to take refuge. Bikomagu then pointed at President Ndadaye and said to the putschists, "He is the one you were looking for. Here he is. Do what you want with him." [21] They placed Ndadaye in a jeep and drove him to the 1st Parachute Battalion's camp nearby, closely followed by Bikomagu, Gakoryo, and Major Nibizi. [21] The president was taken to an office where ten junior officers—specifically assigned to the task—killed him. A coroner's report later found that Ndadaye was held by a cord around his neck while the soldiers bayoneted him 14 times. Half of the wounds penetrated his thorax and the subsequent bleeding filled up his lungs, killing him. [22] The soldiers then dug a mass grave in the centre of the camp, where they buried Ndadaye, President of the National Assembly Pontien Karibwami, Vice President of the National Assembly Gilles Bimazubute, Minister of Home Affairs and Communal Development Juvénal Ndayikeza, and Director of Intelligence Richard Ndikumwami. After several hours the soldiers realised that international opinion would strongly disapprove of such treatment of the bodies, so they exhumed them and allowed family members to collect them. [23] Ndadaye was reburied on 6 December [24] in a ceremony in Bujumbura alongside other officials killed in the coup. [25]


Ndadaye's casket lowered into his grave Burial of Melchior Ndadye.jpg
Ndadaye's casket lowered into his grave

Ndadaye's death sparked severe ramifications across the country. The attempted coup rapidly failed, as Francois Ngeze, the civilian politician installed as temporary head of state, refused to support the coup leaders and called for Prime Minister Kinigi, who had survived the coup and was in hiding at the French embassy to assume control, a move soon backed by key military chiefs. Kinigi was thus appointed as acting president while a resolution to the constitutional crisis caused by the assassination of both the president and the president of the assembly was found. The United Nations Security Council condemned the assassination and coup, and was soon followed in doing so by the United Nations General Assembly. Many thousands of civilians, on both sides, were killed in the resulting carnage, with estimates varying but generally agreed to be above 100,000. The ongoing violence developed into the decade-long Burundi Civil War.[ citation needed ]

A United Nations investigation into Ndadaye's murder, the result of which was released in 1996, accused the army command of being responsible for the assassination and of being complicit in the resulting massacres by Tutsi troops. It did not name specific figures as being responsible, but Buyoya, Ndadaye's predecessor as president, has long been suspected of having some role in the assassination.[ citation needed ]

In 1999, as part of attempts to end the civil war, an array of arrests were made of those suspected of involvement in the Ndadaye assassination. Five men, including the alleged ringleader, army officer Paul Kamana, were sentenced to death, and 74 others received sentences ranging from one year to twenty years. Most of the high-ranking officials charged, however, were acquitted, in a verdict condemned by Ndadaye's supporters.[ citation needed ]

In Burundi, Ndadaye has been posthumously remembered as a martyr for democracy and a national hero. [26] Ndadaye Day is observed annually on 21 October to commemorate his death. [27]

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  1. Akyeampong & Gates 2012, p. 415.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Akyeampong & Gates 2012, p. 416.
  3. 1 2 Waegenaere, Xavier (April 1996). "À la Mémoire de Cyprien Ntaryamira". Ijambo (in French) (14). Archived from the original on 10 April 2008.
  4. Nindorera, Eugene (3 June 2021). "Evolution du contexte général entre 1991 et 2021". IWACU (in French). Retrieved 4 June 2021.
  5. 1 2 Boyer, Allison (March 1992). "Burundi: Unity at Last?". Africa Report. 37 (2). p. 37–40.
  6. 1 2 Watson, Catherine (September 1993). "Freed From Fear". Africa Report. 38 (5). pp. 58–61.
  7. "Challenger Wins Burundi Election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  8. Akyeampong & Gates 2012, pp. 416–417.
  9. 1 2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 4.
  10. 1 2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 7.
  11. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 1–2.
  12. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 3–4.
  13. 1 2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 5.
  14. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 6.
  15. Sebudandi & Richard 1996, p. 25.
  16. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 7–8.
  17. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 8.
  18. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 18–19.
  19. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 19.
  20. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 19–20.
  21. 1 2 3 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 20.
  22. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 20–21.
  23. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 21.
  24. Burundi President Slain 1993, p. 38.
  25. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 38.
  26. Akyeampong & Gates 2012, p. 417.
  27. Falola & Jean-Jacques 2015, p. 131.

Works cited

Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Buyoya
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
François Ngeze