Michel Micombero

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Michel Micombero
Burundi - Michel Micombero postage stamp.jpg
Micombero, pictured on a postage stamp in 1967
1st President of Burundi
In office
28 November 1966 1 November 1976
Preceded by Ntare V, as king
Himself, as prime minister
Succeeded by Jean-Baptiste Bagaza
8th Prime Minister of Burundi
In office
11 July 1966 28 November 1966
Monarch Ntare V
Preceded by Léopold Biha
Succeeded byHimself, as President
Personal details
Born26 August 1940
Rutovu, Ruanda-Urundi
(modern-day Burundi)
Died(1983-07-16)16 July 1983 (aged 42) [lower-alpha 1]
Mogadishu, Somalia
Political party UPRONA
Adèle Nzeyimana
(m. 1965)
Alma mater Royal Military Academy
University of Somalia

Michel Micombero (26 August 1940 16 July 1983) was a Burundian politician and army officer who ruled the country as its first president and dictator for the decade between 1966 and 1976.


Micombero was an ethnic Tutsi who began his career as an officer in the Burundian army at the time of Burundi's independence in 1962. He studied abroad and was given a ministerial portfolio on his return. He rose to prominence for his role in helping to crush an attempted coup d'état in October 1965 by ethnic Hutu soldiers against the country's monarchy, itself Tutsi. In its aftermath, in 1965 and 1966, Micombero himself instigated two further coups against the monarchy which he perceived as too moderate. The first coup forced the incumbent king into exile, propelling Micombero to the role of prime minister. The second abolished the monarchy itself, bringing Micombero to power as the first president of the new Republic of Burundi.

Micombero ruled Burundi as a military dictator from 1966. He led a one-party state which centralised the country's institutions and adopted a neutral stance in the Cold War. Dissent was repressed and, in 1972, an attempt to challenge Micombero's power led to genocidal violence against the Hutu population in which around 100,000 people, mainly Hutus, were killed. His regime finally collapsed in 1976 when he was ousted in a coup d'état by another army officer, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who installed himself as president. Micombero went into exile in Somalia where he died in 1983.


Early life, 1940–1962

Micombero was born in Rutovu, Bururi Province in Belgian-ruled Ruanda-Urundi on 26 August 1940. His parents were peasants of Hima ethnicity, part of the wider Tutsi ethnic group. [2] Micombero studied at Catholic mission schools in Burundi and, in 1960, joined the military which was being formed ahead of Burundi's planned independence in 1962. [2] As part of his training, he was sent to study at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels, Belgium in April 1960 to train as an officer. [2] [3] In March 1962 he was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. [3] At the time of the independence of the Kingdom of Burundi in July 1962, he held the rank of captain. [2] In November he was made assistant commander-in-chief of the Burundi National Army (Armée Nationale Burundaise). [3]

Independence and seizure of power, 1962–1966

Location of Burundi in Central Africa. By 1966, it was bordered to the north by Rwanda and to the east and west by Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo respectively. Burundi in its region.svg
Location of Burundi in Central Africa. By 1966, it was bordered to the north by Rwanda and to the east and west by Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo respectively.

In early post-independence Burundi, the Tutsi-dominated monarchy of Mwambutsa IV attempted to balance the interests of Tutsi with those of the Hutu majority. In 1963, Micombero joined the ruling Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progrès national, UPRONA) party which, though dominated by Tutsi, also tried to attract Hutu members. [2] In June, Micombero was named State Secretary for Defense, making him head of the military at the age of 23. [2] In September he appealed to the National Assembly to merge the civilian National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie nationale) into the army to head off "antagonistic" tendencies between the two forces, but this was never carried out. [4]

In October 1965, a group of ethnic Hutus, drawn largely from the National Gendarmerie, attempted to overthrow the Burundian monarchy. Their attempt was unsuccessful but Mwambutsa IV fled into exile. Micombero led the repression against the coup's perpetrators. [2] [5] On 9 November 1965 he married Adele Nzeyiman, a Ganwa daughter of a subchief. [6] In July 1966, a second coup d'état brought the king's son, Ntare V, to power. [5] On 8 July Ntare declared the dismissal of Prime Minister Léopold Biha and the suspension of the constitution. The following day he asked Micombero to form a government. On 12 July Micombero presented his government to Ntare with himself as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. [7] Tensions between the soldiers in the government and the monarchy emerged in August and led to a reshuffling of the cabinet in September. On 7 November Ntare attempted to broadcast a decree dismissing the government, but was turned away from the radio station by soldiers. Three weeks later, while Ntare was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on a state visit, [8] a military coup d'état abolished the monarchy and a republic was proclaimed on 28 November. [2] As a colonel, Micombero took power as the country's first President on 28 November 1966. [2]

Dictatorship, 1966–1976

Burundian delegates at the Soviet-sponsored 1973 World Festival of Youth and Students in East Germany. Micombero managed to navigate between communist and Western powers during the Cold War. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-M0804-0748, Berlin, 10. Weltfestspiel, Demonstration.jpg
Burundian delegates at the Soviet-sponsored 1973 World Festival of Youth and Students in East Germany. Micombero managed to navigate between communist and Western powers during the Cold War.

As President of Burundi, Micombero ruled through UPRONA as a one-party state. His ideology of "democratic centralism" brought all the country's institutions and media under the regime's control. [2] His regime combined ideas from the socialist ideology of Tanzania with other doctrines from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu's regime in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as Zaire after 1971). [2] As a Cold War leader, he was able to play off both Communist and Western powers against one another. [2] Micombero became increasingly paranoid after suffering an injury in a road accident in 1967. [2] He was widely believed to be an alcoholic. Various plots against the regime were discovered and unrest remained; [2] notable attempts at deposing him were prevented in 1969 and 1971. [5] His base of support became increasingly restricted to Tutsi in the northern and central regions of Burundi. [2]

In April 1972, a rebellion broke out among the Hutu at Rumonge in the south at the encouragement of the Tanzanian regime and spread rapidly. [2] In subsequent ethnic violence, as many as 1,000 Tutsi were killed. The response of the Micombero regime was to launch a campaign of genocidal violence against the Hutu in the region in which 100,000 people are thought to have been killed. The deposed king Ntare, said to have led the rebellion, was himself murdered. [2] In 1973, after further violence, Mobutu was forced to intervene to prevent Tanzanian invasion. [2] Following the end of the crisis, Micombero introduced a new constitution allowing him to run for a further seven-year term. He also laid the foundation for the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries the same year, along with the governments of Rwanda and Zaire. [2]

In November 1976 opponents, led by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, led a successful coup d'état against Micombero's regime. Micombero himself was arrested and a second republic was declared under the dictatorship of Bagaza which would last until 1987. [2] Although a Tutsi and a participant in the killings of 1972, Bagaza made concessions to the Hutu majority and made some progress towards modernising the Burundian state until he too was deposed in 1987.

Exile and death, 1976–1983

Micombero was exiled from Burundi in 1977. [2] He took up residence in Somalia, then ruled by dictator Siad Barre who was a close friend. He gained a degree in economics from the University of Somalia in 1982. [1] He died of a heart attack at the Madina Hospital in Mogadishu in 1983. [9] [1]

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  1. According to the obituary published in The New York Times two days later, Micombero died on 16 July 1983. [1] His entry in the Dictionary of African Biography gives 6 August 1983 instead. [2]



Political offices
Preceded by
Léopold Biha
Prime Minister of Burundi
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
Ntare V Ndizeye
(As king)
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste Bagaza