Sylvie Kinigi

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Sylvie Kinigi
Sylvie Kinigi at Bujumbura airport, 1993.jpg
Kinigi in 1993
President of Burundi
In office
27 October 1993 5 February 1994
Preceded by François Ngeze (Acting)
Succeeded by Cyprien Ntaryamira
Prime Minister of Burundi
In office
10 July 1993 7 February 1994
President Melchior Ndadaye
Preceded by Adrien Sibomana
Succeeded by Anatole Kanyenkiko
Personal details
Born1953 (age 6768)
Mugoyi, Bujumbura Rural Province, Ruanda-Urundi
Political party Union for National Progress
Alma mater University of Burundi

Sylvie Kinigi (born 24 November 1953) is a Burundian politician and banker who served as Prime Minister of Burundi from 10 July 1993 to 7 February 1994, and acting president from 27 October 1993 to 5 February 1994, the first and to date only woman to hold these positions in Burundi.


Early life and education

Sylvie Ntigashira was born on 24 November 1953 in Mugoyi, Bujumbura Rural Province, Ruanda-Urundi. [1] Ethnically, she is Tutsi. [2] Her father was a merchant, while her mother farmed and maintained their home. The third of six children, Ntigashira was allowed to attend school while the oldest daughter in the family helped their mother. [3] She was given a primary and secondary education by nuns in the Ijenda parish. She then studied at the University of Burundi under the Faculty of Economic Sciences, graduating in 1979 with a degree in banking and credit. In 1990 she earned a Diplômes d'études supérieures from the Centre de Formation de la Profession Bancaire in Paris. [1]

In 1973 Ntigashira married a Burundian academic, Firmin Kinigi, [1] who had taught her in school, and had four [3] or five children with him. [1] He was ethnically Hutu. [4] Her husband supported her desire to further her education and career and the family hired a maid to take care of their house and children. [3] He died in 1992 [5] or 1993. [1]


Early political and government work

Urundi became independent from Belgium as Burundi in July 1962. The country quickly fell under the political domination of Tutsis at the expense of the Hutu majority ethnic group. Kinigi believed that democracy was introduced too rapidly in Burundi without proper preparation, leading to political organising along ethnic lines and the heightening of ethnic tensions. [2] Burundi's government became controlled by Tutsi military officers, who ruled for approximately 30 years. [3] Politically, Kinigi was closely affiliated with the Union pour le Progrès national (UPRONA), Burundi's only legal political party, and was an active member of the Union des Femmes Burundaises, a subgroup of UPRONA, serving as a member of its central committee by 1987. [6] In that capacity she lobbied for legislative changes and government measures to benefit women. [3]

In 1990 Kinigi was hired by the Bank of the Republic of Burundi to direct its department of research and statistics, [1] while also teaching courses at the University of Burundi. [3] In 1991 she left the job [1] when President Pierre Buyoya appointed her Special Consultant in the Office of the Prime Minister, [4] making her responsible for the implementation of Burundi's structural adjustment program. [1] In that capacity she conducted negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and foreign donors. [5] Impressed with her work, Buyoya subsequently appointed her Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning. [4]

Prime Minister of Burundi

In the summer of 1993 Burundi underwent a democratic transition. [5] The country hosted free elections, which were won by UPRONA's rival, Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU). The new FRODEBU President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, offered Kinigi the position of Prime Minister of Burundi in his new government. She reportedly considered the offer for some time, but eventually decided to accept it, reasoning that she was not more politically inexperienced than the army officers which had previously ruled the country. Furthermore, she was personally acquainted with Ndadaye, having studied alongside him at Parisian institutions and even sat on a committee that judged his academic performance. She was also an acquaintance of Léonard Nyangoma and Cyprien Ntaryamira, two FRODEBU politicians who Ndadaye wanted to become ministers in the new government. [6] FRODEBU hardliners were angered by her appointment, seeing her assumption of the premiership to be a betrayal by Ndadaye. [7] The government ultimately comprised two-thirds Hutu and one-third Tutsi members. Kinigi was one of two women ministers. [5] The government was sworn-in on 10 July. [8] Kinigi wished to pursue economic development while she was prime minister, but thought that this could not be achieved until ethnic tensions were reduced. Thus, she declared that ethnic reconciliation would be her highest priority. [5]

Prime Minister Kinigi greeting President Melchior Ndadaye at Bujumbura airport in 1993 President Ndadaye shaking hands with Prime Minister Kinigi at Bujumbura airport.jpg
Prime Minister Kinigi greeting President Melchior Ndadaye at Bujumbura airport in 1993

On 21 October President Ndadaye and several other officials were killed by Tutsi soldiers in a coup attempt. [9] Kinigi and other senior government figures took refuge in the French embassy. [5] She was the highest-ranking civilian official to survive the coup attempt. [10] From the embassy she continued to issue directives on government policy. [11] After a few days, Kinigi managed to gather together 15 of the 22 ministers to continue to govern, effectively being the acting president. Her position was bolstered when Buyoya and Jean Baptiste Bagaza, former military presidents, gave their support to her government. [12] On 7 November she left the embassy and returned to her residence under French military guard. [10] The death of Ndadaye and others in the presidential line of succession left her de facto head of state of Burundi. [7] [lower-alpha 1] Her government proved unable to contain the ethnic violence following the coup, in which thousands of Burundians died. [9] In December her government appointed a commission of inquiry led by the Procurator General to investigate human rights abuses that had occurred after the coup, but its work never began due to objections from the parliamentary opposition. [14]

On 9 January 1994, [15] at the direction of Kinigi, [16] the National Assembly modified Article 85 of the Burundian constitution, empowering itself to elect the next President of Burundi. [15] Four days later the National Assembly elected Ntaryamira to become president in a vote, 78 to one. [17] Ntaryamira was scheduled to be inaugurated on 22 January, but the parliamentary opposition, led by UPRONA, filed a suit with the Constitutional Court to block the installment. They argued that Article 182 of the constitution, which stipulated that the document could not be modified in times of national crisis, rendered the National Assembly's amending of Article 85 void. FRODEBU parliamentarians argued that the change was necessary to fill the vacancy, since holding a national election to replace the former president would have been impossible. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the opposition in a decision split along ethnic lines. The Hutu justices subsequently resigned [15] and on 29 January Kinigi's government issued a decree dismissing the Tutsi justices. [18] This led to several days of violence in Bujumbura. [15] With the assistance of United Nations representative Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, Kinigi brokered a compromise with the opposition, [19] whereby Ntaryamira would be installed as president with a new UPRONA prime minister, [20] and the Constitutional Court would be reinstated. Ntaryamira was sworn-in on 5 February. [15] Kinigi resigned as prime minister when he was inaugurated. [5] On 7 February Ntaryamira appointed Anatole Kanyenkiko to replace her. [7]

Kinigi was the first woman to serve as head of state in an African country. Some observers have debated the significance of this achievement, stressing that she served as acting president for only a short time. [21] Reflecting on her time in government in 1999, she said it made people realise "that a woman can do even more than a man can do, with a soul of a mother and strong will, at the highest level of politics." [16]

Later work

Upon leaving government, Kinigi assumed an executive position at the Banque Commerciale du Burundi. She then held several international positions, including jobs at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Development Programme (representing it in Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and Senegal), and the office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in Nairobi, where she served as a political advisor and programme coordinator. She returned to Burundi in 2008 and became an independent economic consultant. [7] In that capacity she advocated for the right of women to inherit land and property and for the use of democracy. [22] In 2016 the Carter Center selected Kinigi to lead its international election observer mission in Zambia for that year's general elections. [23]

See also


  1. Kinigi appealed to the Constitutional Court for clarification on the status of the vacant presidency following the coup. On 8 November 1993 the Court ruled that "the government acting collegially" assumed the responsibilities of the interim presidency until a new president could be elected. [13]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Akyeampong & Gates 2012, p. 387.
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  7. 1 2 3 4 Akyeampong & Gates 2012, p. 388.
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  15. 1 2 3 4 5 "Burundi". Africa Report. 39 (2). March 1994. p. 7.
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  19. Country Report 1994, p. 30.
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  22. Akyeampong & Gates 2012, pp. 388–389.
  23. Mumba, Catherine (4 August 2016). "Former Burundi acting President to lead Carter team". Zambia Daily Mail Limited.

Works cited

Political offices
Preceded by
Adrien Sibomana
Prime Minister of Burundi
Succeeded by
Anatole Kanyenkiko
Preceded by
François Ngeze
President of Burundi

Succeeded by
Cyprien Ntaryamira