My take on the legacy of Bagaza

Two weeks ago, Burundi’s former president Jean Baptiste Bagaza died in Belgium at 69 years old. Bagaza, who came to power 1976 after ousting President Micombero in a coup, is nostalgically remembered as possibly one of Burundi’s best presidents. I have so say the nostalgia  is not felt equally among all Burundians. Well although I was born two years after Buyoya  removed him from power  in 1987, I can confidently make an argument on why his policies, while great for some, did not translate into shared stability and progress that many would like us to believe. Yes, compared to Micombero, a ruthless dictator under whose rule Burundi experienced its bloodiest conflict, and who prosecuted thousands of Hutus, Bagaza was then breath of fresh air.  However, his oppression of Catholics in a country where they made up more than 60% of the population, his continued exclusion of Hutu people in the army and government, and his selective education policies leave little to admire.

After the news of his death broke, he immediately became the topic of conversation on Burundi twitter. I noticed the conversation tilted towards praising him for the good things he did. A lot of people pointed out his investments in infrastructure, some even releasing a long list of all projects built during his tenure. All of those things are true, and certainly worthy of praise. But I believe building a country has got much to do with building of its social fabric as much as building its infrastructure. When I look at his accomplishments, it is clear Bagaza did extraordinarily well on the infrastructure piece, but he also presided over an economy that intentionally marginalized a majority of Burundians.

You are probably wondering how. To understand this, context is important. Bagaza took power four years after the 1972 genocide against Hutus. There is not a lot of data on the genocide itself for one reason or another (that’s a story for another day), but conservative figures put the death toll to somewhere between 150,000 and 300,000. These figures are devastating for a number of reasons besides the obvious loss of innocent lives.  Micombero’s government targeted educated Hutu men, fifteen years and older. Stories I have personally heard confirm these facts. Anyone who at the time was in grade six or above was a target. Again, reliable numbers from this time are hard to come by, but those I have come across indicate that only 47% of all children in Burundi were enrolled in formal education at the time. Think about that for a moment. As it was, the majority of young Burundians did not have access to education, then comes 1972 genocide and it systematically takes out large numbers of those already few in the education system.

That was the state the country was in when Bagaza came to power. I find it critique worthy that yes, while he invested heavily in hospitals, roads, schools, dams, and all sorts of physical infrastructure, he did very little to remedy the social, economic and political ills of the Micombero regime, particularly those relating to uniting the country that was deeply divided on ethnic lines. For instance, while Hutu people made up an estimated 80% of the population, they only held seven of the sixty-five seats in the National Assembly and just two ministerial positions. Yes, that’s just slightly over ten percent. I know what you’re probably thinking, those are political positions. Well, it’s also been reported (and it kind of is  general knowledge) that Hutu people generally occupied less than 10% of all the positions in schools, universities, hospitals, and other government agencies. Some people have pointed out to me that there were probably no “qualified” Hutu people in the country since most had died or left the country. This is a fair argument. Thousands did leave the country as a result of the genocide, but what I fear in making that argument is that it shifts the responsibility away from Bagaza. It’s like making excuses for him, which is something I think we Africans tend to do a lot. As a president, I would assume uniting the country would be a top priority. There is no evidence that he took initiatives to create an inclusive atmosphere whether by bringing 72 culprits to justice or reaching out to Hutus in a substantial way.

I do not want to say Bagaza did nothing to ensure Hutu’s inclusion and full participation in political, social, and economic life that was supposedly thriving at the time, but that’s exactly what he did. They say education is the single greatest thing you can do to get a people out of poverty, and yet when you look at Burundi during Bagaza’s era, you start noticing policies and/or practices that were deliberately aimed at limiting Hutus from accessing education, particularly higher education. I have casually heard about this one practice where students had to indicate which ethnic group they belong to by putting I or u on their examination papers. And since every major aspect of life  was controlled by the government, this made it increasingly difficult for Hutus to get ahead. One of the results of such policies and practices was a growing economy that only benefited a very small portion of the population, and left millions and millions of others behind, frustrated. Today, one can still see evidence of those policies all around us. Again, it’s difficult to come by data to support this argument, but I am certain if you take a look at my parents’ generation for instance, you will notice clear ethnic discrepancies in educational levels. And we all know from multiple studies that children born to educated parents are not only more likely to do well in school but also earn more over the course of their lives.

I say all of that to say that while Bagaza investments in infrastructure immensely contributed to the growth of Burundi’s economy, Burundians did not reap its benefits equally. That is why I think it’s just as important to critique him as it is to praise him.

Tugire Amahoro!

For some reason, I feel obligated to put down a little note to accompany this post. James Baldwin once said that “history of a people is never pretty”, and as we all know neither is Burundi’s. As much as I tried to be objective, I have  to admit that it is possible that my objectivity may be compromised due to the way past Burundi events have affected me personally. One thing I have realized growing up Burundian is that there are certain ways to talk about certain things. We are not to be direct, we are to try and not offend people. We are not to be loud or impolite. I like that about Abarundi. It’s one of the things that define us: Indero. Ubushingantahe. Ubupfasoni. This undoubtedly also affects the way we tell our stories. While writing this blog, I had to resist the urge to directly call out Bagaza for things that he did or didn’t do. Why? it’s Unburundian. I also almost stopped every time I had to type “Hutu” or “Hutu people”. I think this is for a number of reasons really, but I feel like every time I talk about the exclusion of Hutu people in government and other public arenas in Burundi, I offend a Tutsi reader regardless of whether what I am saying is true or not. About three years ago, I read an article on the BBC about the progress Burundi had made in addressing ethnic issues. It talked about how people talk openly and even  joke about each other’s ethnicities. I remember feeling happy and relieved that it was no longer a taboo to talk about such things. I was just starting to learn more about ethnic dynamics in Burundi and was happy that this is something I could discuss openly with others. Now  I feel like the Burundi Crisis has brought the old guard back to a certain extent. Anyway, excuse me for this rather long note.

Tugire Amahoro kandi.

By Alain Ndayishimiye, who currently lives and works in Edmonton Canada. Follow him on Twitter @alainndayi

Photo source:

25 thoughts on “My take on the legacy of Bagaza

  1. Ministres hutus during Bagaza’s time: Barakamfitiye (function Publique), Balthazar (Jeunesse/Sport/culture), Nkengurutze(Transport, Postes et telecom), Kabura(developement)


  2. I just want to say that the I and U idnetification later on examination paper is just a lie. It never happened. You can just check the source of information. I like this blog but you may wish to check your source about what you were told as people tend to lie about past stories.


    • Actually, it did happen, in some regions of Burundi. But it wasn’t a government policy. Just some overzealous education inspectors and school district directors who directed the teachers they oversaw to do it. But later they culprits were caught and even imprisoned.


  3. Dear Alain,
    Thank you for arguing politely despite the fact that you may have been offended by my remarks questionning your story and sufferings. But I think data are everywhere. Maybe they are just you don’t want to listen to. There are various sources talking about the population, mortality, fertility and births, population growth rate,..of Burundi from independence till now. A few maths can make one see the variation of the population on that specific period of time and have a conclusion. But as Bagaza said it: all of this started in 1959 with Rwanda. And it’s our biggest challenge to stop it. He tried as he could to make people forget it by giving them developpment and hope that their childreen wouldn’t be starving from hunger in 2016. And the fact that he made Rumonge (emptied from all the Tutsis after the passage of the Martyazo Republic) one of the 3 pilot municipalities in developpment proves that he was really doing the best to bring inclusive social developpment to all.
    It’s not even logical saying that there were no inclusion in his politics. We are arguing about less than 20 Ministers in a country of 4,5 millions?


    • I know this is a response to Alain, but I could not go by without saying something (Mr. Alain, forgive me for a sec).

      The question of data is one which you [Kira] bring up although you clearly do not think correlations between actual population and government members matter. Well, I cannot but wonder why you think that. Are you really not aware of the ethnic imbalances in the politics of our country, or are you just choosing to look the other way? Knowing fully well that some Tutsi rulers wanted to retain the monopoly of power, it matters a great deal that there is one Hutu, two, three, or whatever the actual number was, in the national government. You seem to think it is nonsense to argue about such numbers… (and please stop using the word logical, because clearly you are the one who is throwing all logic out of the window).

      Illogical that there was no inclusion in Bagaza’s politics? I beg your pardon! Those who for centuries thought power was all theirs might be content when they “allow one or two commoners” to sit at the table. But no! We are talking about inclusion as a right for equal representation, not inclusion as a token of mercy (Keep your mercy for yourself). It is about equality, and numbers are extremely important. And given that there were more Hutus than Tutsis in the population of the country, it seems to me most fair that there should have in the first place been more Hutu political leaders than Tutsi ones. But, as we know, the imbalance was extremely skewed, and that is why there was no real inclusion.

      Nobody is saying that Bagaza did not carry out some projects for economic development, and God bless his soul for that. But you are here confusing strictly economic programs with social progress. And, by the way, Rumonge was *not* Tutsi empty. I see why you would say that, i.e. with the intent to show that he established these programs for the nation, and not for one ethnic group. But there is no need for exaggeration. Again, the sociopolitical and the economic are not the same thing. Think again.


  4. To Jemi: when I wrote a hero to “some” I knew some people with a bipolar understanding could misunderstand my point. And I am not in the hutu-tutsi speech. The fact is “history is written by the winner”. And in the history of Burundi after Bagaza’s rule, winners were UPRONA , Buyoya and the Roman Catholic Church. So when a man whose name have been spoiled for 30 years is still praised , this man is not a hero for some in the meaning that you want to understand.
    Furthermore, his name was being spoiled by the power in place to legitimate their government ( and that was not a Hutu government as people love to remind it).
    I had to clarify the use of some in my statements. Next I think I can’t argue with someone saying that a group of people killing on sight peaceful peasants is “self-defence”.
    Like people came from Zaire and/or tanzania to self-defend them all their way to seize Bujumbura! Why not. Logical


    • Thank you Kira,
      I also didn’t get very well Jemi point when he said “Martyazo Republic” was a kind of self defense reaction. But as I was involved in a fierce discussion with him in a previous article on this platform, I didn’t want to revive it. But I think he doesn’t know that the Martyazo Republic was that rebellion which killed thousands of civilians, from the 28th of April 29, before the brutal repression from Micombero establishment.


    • Kira,

      Let me start by saying that name-calling does not help you, me, or anybody. Nor does it in any way make your point sound smarter. Discussions like these are only ever fruitful if we are willing to humble ourselves and listen to each other with no belittling involved. So, please, spare me the names. If you think I am wrong, the best course is to indeed prove me wrong, but I fail to see how calling me “bipolar” works to that effect.

      Onto the actual content of your response:

      When referred to your use of the term “some”, I was in no way talking about an ethnic “some”. For your own information, I was born from Hutu and Tutsi parents and I do my best always not to take sides, and in no case do I identify with either. What I meant was that, if Bagaza was indeed a hero, we should let the facts speak for themselves and the heroism will come forth. When I said that he should be a hero to all, I meant “all” as in “all citizens” and this does not have to be ethnically charged, as you seem to have assumed. My phrasing might have been a bit unclear, and I do apologize for that.

      “History is written by the winner”, you say. But as far as I know, I am not taking on anybody’s account of history here. I simply look at the facts that I know of and let them reveal some truth to me. And I am in no way a winner and my account, though personal it may be, is not the winner’s. I do not adopt a story told by either Buyoya (and post-Bagaza UPRONA) or the catholic church, simply because I know no such stories.

      “His name was being spoiled…” It is alright if you think that, but it would help the rest of us to actually understand in detail why that is the case. To just proclaim that sentence as if it were some dogma does further the discussion.

      Now, if you would allow me to elaborate on the Martyazo Republic.

      You are aware, I suppose, that it was a Hutu created secessionist state in reaction to the then government, which was mostly Tutsi. So, consider that it was created in reaction to ages of Tutsi rule (pre- and post-colonial) at the expense of the rest of the population, and especially in response to the post-colonial Tutsi regime’s adamant and bloody thirst to retain power by all means – military mostly. Self-defense may mean different things, one of which is to defend yourself against someone who is literally holding a gun to your head. But what we fail to recognize is that in a sociopolitical situation where a particular group of people have been oppressed for years and years, this self-defense may come as a release of an anger accumulated over those years. As a clearer example, consider an enslaved person on an American plantation, who “out of the blue” decides to kill his enslaver’s family. Some may say this is not self-defense since the target was not only “the enslaver/master” but every white person around, including also “innocent” children and women. But it would be wrong to freeze this moment in time and to not see it as a continuation of centuries of horrifying oppression which the enslaved person’s parents and great-grandparents suffered all the way from the coasts of Africa. One could say that maybe vengeance is the better word to use here. But I would point out that the enslaved person is constantly under danger so long as he is enslaved, which makes his actions self-defensive. Likewise, the Martyazo secessionists’ actions were undertaken in an atmosphere in which one ethnic group had reigned over the others, and this group’s political practices aimed at continuously oppressing the others.

      You might not think that an oppressed person’s fight for freedom is self-defense, but I deeply disagree. And if you think non-Tutsi people were not under oppression, then I guess we are not talking about the same history. You may argue that the Martyazo people were killing innocent Tutsi citizens, but things are a bit more complicated here. Innocence is not that simple. When a group of people are oppressed by another, the fight for freedom must take the oppressor also as a group. Thus do we talk of white supremacy, for example, instead of some white people’s anti-black actions. The same goes for Hutu-Tutsi relations. I am not condoning the killing of everybody because of their ethny. But if you put that into the specific context of oppression, the Tutsi everybody is guilty in the eye of the Hutus who have had enough of it all. Remember also that so long as the Tutsi rule continued on, all Tutsis would benefit as a group even if often indirectly. That is what I mean when I speak of self-defense.Your (rather ironic) allusion to the Zairean-Burundian coalition against Bujumbura, can also be best understood under the terms above-mentioned. You might find it surprising, but seizing Bujumbura (i.e. the political power) is self-defense of the highest form. For if the Tutsi rule persists, it is only reasonable to establish a counter-power and to take the government out. I do not say any of this in order to convince you, but only to give due substance to a statement which I left hanging.

      Again, I do not intend to be controversial here. I speak as best as I know how to in order to add a discordant voice to this chorus of unceasing praise. But I do so only because I believe dissonances are necessary if we are to give a faithful account of history. I never want to say things that people want to hear. I say only those which I truly believe at heart to be as close to the truth as I know it. The problem is that the truth itself, that is, the historical truth, is not something to which we all can easily agree upon. And, furthermore, most of the time we do not know what that truth even is. But I do believe that it is only through allowing these discussions, and engaging in them without haste or anxious need to be right, that we can get closer and closer to some truth.


      • Dear Jemi,
        Your comment reminded me of an anecdote. Back 2002, a student asked Bagaza why for some, he was a Tutsi extremist while other considered him as Hutus’ liberator.
        Bagaza asked the student if he had ever heard the expression “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
        He then explained to him that he learned the expression from a diplomat, while, as president, he was explaining that his government was trying to liberate all the Burundians from poverty and ignorance. The diplomat was telling him that whatever he is doing, as long as the majority (read Hutus) don’t see him as one of their owns, they will not believe in him or trust his government.
        I remembered that anecdote when reading your comments and it enlightened me. In fact, if you still consider as self-defense the deliberate act of killing inconsiderately thousands of people (children, elderly, women etc.) because of multi secular Ganwa dynasty and 6 years of “a group of Tutsis” rule, then it is useless to try to explain Bagaza’s achievements to you. For you, the fact he was a president for 10 years while Tutsi is in itself a big issue. So, naho yobaye yakoze ibitangaza, sinibaza ko uzohava uhindura. Nta kundi

        Gira amahoro.


      • Sir Jemi,
        I think you should go easy on hate loving before your soul gets drown in it.
        First as Steve said , like any other normal human being would say I guess, I don’t think killing innocents women and childreen is a issue to argue.
        But I can argue on the historical facts. Just take time to read and you will find answers to your questions.
        You should know that when Micombero was “pushed” to seize power ( because we can both agree that less than 6 months after the Ntare V led coup, he wouldn’t be willing to make another coup alone that earlier) by belgians, they thought he was hutu. And when Bagaza said “Micombero a vecu un cauchemar” , he was making allusion to the 1969 and 1971 massacres of Tutsis members of the army ( an army that was like today’s FDN ~50/50) . And 1972 was supposed to be worse than the rwandan 1994 but they were no communication media and people didn’t start “working” at the same time. That’s what saved Micombero and thousands moreTutsis.
        Last, about the word hero for some , just name me one person that was/ is a hero for everybody in the whole human history of heroes!


        • At this point, dear friends, I think we should agree to disagree. I lament that at the end of our interchange we are still (almost exactly) where we began. But that is to be expected, I suppose.

          At any rate, our thoughts are not far apart. Let it be known that I do not condone the killing of anybody. I repeat, I do not support the murder of any human being. But putting things in context might make things a bit clearer. That is what I hoped to bring to your attention in my comment above. Yet, misunderstandings and/or disagreements persist. I am sorry I could not express my point any more clearly.

          Steve, I would not judge a person’s action by her ethnic origin. As I said before, I do not identify as Hutu (or Tutsi, for that matter), and so it is not true that I would want or need Bagaza to identify with me (as a Hutu, that is) before I could see the good things that he did. I mentioned that I applaud some of his economic measures, and that says something. That I am not willing to give him a pass is simply because I cannot turn a blind eye on what should have been done better. But it is your opinion, after all, that I judge him as I do merely because of his ethny. I wish I could convince you otherwise, but I fail miserably at each and every trial. Woe is me!

          And Kira, why do you insist on making everything about Tutsis (or ethnies in general)? 1972 was about Tutsis, Tutsis were wiped out of Rumonge, Tutsi this, Tutsi that. Enough of it already. Maybe you find it relevant here, but I find it a major hindrance to the good progress of our discussion. It’s almost like you use the ethnic card to avoid addressing the real issues at hand. I might be wrong, but that’s how I see it.

          To both of you, I do sincerely appreciate your time and the always zealous responses. It is a shame that we keep clashing against each other again and again. Well, we tried, and I think that is what counts for now. I imagine we all share the need for there to be some commonalities in different accounts of our national history. I pray that we get there someday. Until then, let’s do our best and hope that it will summon the long awaited day.


  5. Thank you Alain for the post. I enjoyed reading it, but mostly the comments. I won’t make further comments after reading Jean Marie’s and Musonera’s.
    Happy also to meet again Jemi here. I hope he read Musonera’s and JM’ comments.
    Gira amahoro


    • Steve! Hello again. Yes, indeed, I read those comments. Jean Marie’s was more detailed and I thank him for that. For the record, I was never of the opinion that Bagaza did nothing good (you are the one who accused me of demonizing him, a charge against which I tried to defend myself). His economic policies were great when taken in themselves. But the persecution to the catholic church, for example, goes deeper than Jean Marie is willing to admit. If you carefully consider the points he makes, they are about the national economy. God knows how much we need economic improvements. But this is religion we are talking about, which is mostly not economy. We can praise the economic efforts, of course. But again, to refer to Alain’s post, social issues matter too, and, given Burundi’s history, I am willing to claim that they matter much more than anything. I have yet to see the Bagaza interview to which Jean Marie refers. But as I see it, no personal narrative will easily atone for the sins of many men and women throughout our history. Perhaps I will change my conviction when I finally listen to the man, but unless he shows that his measures were also for the social good, I will remain unmoved, and rightly so.


      • Thank you. And sorry to have misunderstood your point.
        Please I would like you to share your views after listening to the CD.
        Gira amahoro n’umugisha


  6. Thank you so very much for the post. It is so well argued and nuanced, I was saying “Yaasss” to every sentence. I most admire your beautiful concluding note. It is so rare for people to recognize their positionality when addressing such issues. Perhaps with an implicit need to be right, we often pretend to speak “objectively”, which is, as you point out, simply illusive. It is true that most Burundians do not want to hear anybody blamed for ethnic oppression. We tend to be defensive about that. But if wrongs were done, there obviously is some person or entity who committed them. To quote you, “building a country has got much to do with building of its social fabric as much as building its infrastructure.” A million times, Yes. But, given that economically we are not in a good shape, many will tend to overlook the sociopolitical ills that plague our country. I must say, it takes a certain privileged position, or some radical and conscious ignorance, to make that move. So, thank you for really striving to consider the historical facts as well as you are able. Let us hope that more will be willing to see our not-so-pretty history for what it truly is.


  7. I was reading the post of Mr. Ndayi Alain and felt I had to answer. Not only that I consider he has false information about the history of Burundi but also because I think Burundi should stop being ”la terre des héros non chantés” ! I wonder if people even understand what they are saying when they say:” I condemn this man because he didn’t do that”. Do you guys even know how on the earth looks the list of things you didn’t do?
    Personnaly I think that Bagaza is the greatest hero Burundi ever had right after Mwezi Gisabo.
    First of all Considering that H.E colonel Bagaza was a man and not a god it is obvious that he couldn’t do everything. And saying that he didn’t do this or that I think it’s not the objective way of judging someone.
    Second you should learn being coherent in what you are saying.
    Burundi’s population in 1972 was 3,5 millions. So saying that 300000( 10% of the population) educated Hutu were killed, 10 years after independence, while we know Belgians were giving access to education mostly to Ganwas and tutsis…please.
    And saying that Hutu were excluded from education during Bagaza’s rule while according to the World Databank, school attendance went on from 19% to 85%: you’re saying he created Tutsi childreen to enroll?
    Third, saying that the 1972 massacres were a genocide against Hutus is a history falsification. If you read the definition of genocide and read how events went on on that period of time, you’ll decidedly agree that it was a genocide against Tutsis.
    I am not saying that Hutus didn’t die, but the fact is Micombero didn’t say “all hutus must die”. And the fact that in the first days after the genocide against Tutsis was perpetrated( The Martyazo Republic executing all the Tutsis on their way to Bujumbura from the bottom of Burundi) Micombero(not Micombero’s government because he had no government) started arresting and/or killing Ganwas thinking that the thread was coming from them. Meaning that he didn’t plan all this.
    About Bagaza, saying that they were few Hutus in administration I can agree, saying that they were few Hutus in the Army I can agree. But saying that they were no hutus in school, no Hutus in Hospitals, no Hutus being ligthened by his barrages, no hutus benefiting from the roads and industriea he build, no hutus benefiting the national security he maintained, I just can’t get strength to listen to that.
    I am sorry if I seem to be attacking you personnaly but if you believe that the relief to Burundi will be the Unity of Burundians you should avoid smearing some people’s dead hero.


    • As I saw it, the post was not about “smearing some people’s dead hero”, or maybe that is exactly the point. The post tries to address things that most do not want to see. And if Bagaza is indeed a hero, he should not be that to “some” and not to others. As president he did not rule over some and not others, and his impact needs to be evaluated in consideration of the whole nation rather than from the perspective of “some people.” That is exactly what Alain Ndayishimiye tried to do. Now, you can say that he was inaccurate in some of his numbers, but again this is not about numbers (well, at least not accurately since complete accuracy is not achievable), but to dismiss the argument he makes is to be unfair to the national history. The post did not say that Bagaza killed all hutus, that there were “no Hutus in schools, no Hutus in hospitals, etc…” It said rather, and I quote, that the events of 1972 took “out large numbers of those [Hutus] already few in the education system.” The writer did not contend that zero Hutus were in school or that no Hutu benefited from the economic improvements of the time. But it sought to reveal how disproportional such benefit was ethnically. Now, you can praise your “hero” all you want, but it is unnecessarily cruel to misrepresent the argument as it was presented to you. That is not to say that you must agree with the author, but at least you must give him the courtesy of reading the text as it is and moving from there.

      Now, you say that the events of 1972 were not a genocide against Hutus. For all intents and purposes no one should care about the name we put on such atrocities (the UN learned the uselessness and cruelty of such discussions when it refused to intervene in Rwanda because apparently it was not clear yet that a genocide was underway). Even if one person is killed, systematically, because of her ethny or other group belonging, that to me is genocide (genos (kind/race) + -cide (killer, caedo to kill) = to kill [ someone because of] race/kind/kin/family. I care not about the official zigzags which are busy analyzing definition and not considering the plight of a human life in danger. You say that the number of murders are not accurate, and that Micombero’s move to kill Hutus was not intentional. But first, it matters not how many people were killed, but only that they were targeted (by a government, mind you!) because of their ethnic background. Second, whether intentional or not (although I clearly think you cannot kill groups of people unintentionally) what matters is that people were killed. Does it matter to you whether he uttered that “all Hutus must die” or simply proceeded to kill some of them? Let’s not get hung up on words and numbers but really consider the value of human lives. I am not saying this only in terms of dead people of Hutu origin. I say the same for any human life, and it is also lamentable what the creators of the Republic of Martyazo did (although, given a number of qualifications, it might be seen as self-defense. I am not willing to substantiate such qualifications here).

      Bottom line is, numbers and accuracy matter less, and, as we know, history is not and cannot be told entirely accurately. What I saw in the post was an attempt at looking at all sides of the story. So, while Bagaza may have been a hero to “some”, he was a foe to many others. Add hero and foe together, and I dare you to find just a hero as a sum.


    • Dear Kira, thank you for responding to my text. I really appreciate it. I would like to respond to some of the issues you have raised here and I will try my best to respond to them all:

      1- “Burundi’s population in 1972 was 3,5 millions. So saying that 300000( 10% of the population) educated Hutu were killed, 10 years after independence, while we know Belgians were giving access to education mostly to Ganwas and tutsis…please.”

      Throughout the post, I consistently talked about lack of reliable data as far the 1972 genocide is concerned. The numbers I give in the post are numbers I got from credible sources like the UN and the NYT. Again, it’s really difficult to know exactly how many people were killed but that’s honestly besides the point. Hutus were systematically killed. That is a fact. The other thing you have to remember too is that it wasn’t those educated who were killed, it was also those who had potential to be educated, as well as those who were seen as “influential”. These are not just facts, numbers, these are real people’s stories, including mine.

      2- “Third, saying that the 1972 massacres were a genocide against Hutus is a history falsification.”

      I am not even sure how to respond to this quite frankly. But what I will say is that these kind of remarks really point to what I think all Burundians need. An honest dialogue about the past because it is clear we do not know our history well.

      3-“About Bagaza, saying that they were few Hutus in administration I can agree, saying that they were few Hutus in the Army I can agree. But saying that they were no hutus in school, no Hutus in Hospitals, no Hutus being ligthened by his barrages, no hutus benefiting from the roads and industriea he build, no hutus benefiting the national security he maintained..”

      So here’s the thing, what I talk about in this post is really a deliberate and systematic exclusion of Hutu people in the political arena that you yourself agreed was the truth. Sasa if abahutu make up 85% of the population but are not fairly represented in the most important institutions off the country, how is that not a problem? Should they just be happy to be working as teachers, nurses?


  8. Dear Alain,
    Thank you for your reflections on Bagaza’s legacy. It is interesting to see people discussing that man, Bagaza. I was not expecting so much comments (with so much emotions-except some, for example your take) for someone who left power almost 30 years ago. This partly proves how exceptional was his regime.
    bagaza was not a perfect leader. Loin s’en faut. Some of his collaborators say he was even a harsh and inflexible ruler.
    But again, like many of us who grew up after Bagaza’s regime, your take, however balanced, is mostly based on the “we were told”. Shall we try to exploit the rare resources available to make a more fair critique? I accidentally watched a documentary produced by @iwacu, a 40 min long interview of Bagaza (I don’t know if editions iwacu still sell the CD). I commend to watch that CD (not only the excerpts published on Youtube).
    I changed my stance on Bagaza, especially vis a vis the most repeated critique, i.e the conflict with Catholic Church. Me too, I was always looking Bagaza with apprehension when remembering he is the guy who closed churches (Yugaye amasengero). When I listened to the interview, I conversed with an uncle who was an adult at Bagaza’s time, asking him more on the content of that conflict and what did Bagaza do. I concluded that each president who cares about the well-being of his people would have done the same, with some exceptions (Nationalizing catholic schools was a bad move, maybe-But public schools were not as bad as nowadays that time, so…).
    But other measures were really worth to be taken, and that is why until now, no successor of Bagaza reversed many of those measures taken in the context of “conflit Eglise -Etat”. Some examples:
    1. Did you know that aspirants to baptism or other Christians aspiring to other “sacraments” were spending a number of days working in Churches farms. The same as Yagamukama, were pupils were spending 5 days mostly laboring instead of learning?
    2. The competition between the political power and religious one over the rural peasant: The Christians were spending entire afternoons during weekdays (how many days I don’t know) in “inama sahwanya” whereas they were mobilized Saturday for “travaux communautaire” aka ibikorwa vy’umugambwe. Beyond the content of what they were told in those meetings, when did they get time to work in their own fields?
    3. The commercial activities of Churches were tax free, whereas they were competitors to public bids (which were numerous at that time given the boom in public works). Was removing that “favor” not an act of social justice and fairness for other bidders and businesspersons?

    “We were told” ( and you insist on that) that only few Burundians enjoyed Bagaza’s policies and achievements. For some tangible achievements, I will refer to Musonera’s comments. As per the policies, I wonder which ones are referred to. Let’s take the most famous Bagaza’s measures:
    – The suppression of “ubugererwa” system: the young generation don’t imagine maybe how this measure was revolutionary. and it mainly favored Hutus and the expenses of mainly Tutsis ( Even if you have avoided the ethnic rhetoric, that is what we were told).
    – The removal of personal tax (How do we call that in English?- Impot de capitation in Franch, Ikori ry’umutwe in Kirundi): This was a tax each adult had to pay, not based on what he produced and owned, but based on the fact he is alive. To what extent has this policy favored only a minor part of the population? I don’t comprehend…
    You talked about Hutu inclusion in the political space. This is where maybe Bagaza’s didn’t much. Yet again, what “we were told” and you wrote is not true, some facts:
    – The first Bagaza government, a military regime (I heard on VoA that even the first government meeting was held at the Head of Military Staff-Etat Major general), was composed of 4 hutus out of 12 civilians (other 4 were military who could only be Tutsi).
    – Some of the prominent hutu politicians returned during Bagaza regime, were promoted to public assignments/jobs, deliberately recruited into UPRONA organs: Ndadaye, Ntaryamira, Ntibantunganya to name those who lately became Presidents.). Adrien Sibomana was Vice-President of the National Assembly, yet he was not elected. He was among those appointed as MPs to address the unbalances ( For him, the official reason was to represent young cadres, but advised people say real reason was his ethnic background). He lately became “Premier Ministre”. We also need to check the accuracy of the figures you mentioned about the then National Assembly.
    As per the remedies about 1972, we all understand how it was not easy at that time. But did you hear about “commissions Mandi”? Until now, and in my opinions, no other regime, or commission has achieved better results than those ones. Not even the CNTB which actions look like more disruptive than uniting.


    • Thanks JM. By far the best synopsis on Bugaza I have read lately. Matter of fact this is deserving as a blog in its own capacity and not just a mere comment on this article. I have been enlightened more about Bagaza from this. If I were a policy maker in Bujumbura I wouldn’t hesitate to push for a motion to have Bagaza’s bust on one of our bank notes. A true statesman if there was one. Thank you.


    • Thank you Jean Marie for your response. You make a very good case for his achievements, but the point of my blog was not questioning his achievement but to offer a critique of some the policies that I think were unfair, to provide another side of his leadership that perhaps wont be seen in newspapers or blogs since when people die, we tend to simply praise them. Sure all the things you mention sound great, but I thought it’s just as important to criticize him as it is to praise him.


      • It is true. and I appreciated your post, mainly its intention to balance the view. My comment was to address some of the misconstruction about Bagaza’s regime, on certain points. There are many critiques someone can point out on Bagaza regime. What is wrong and unfair is to say some policies were favoring some at the expense of others. We can disagree on the added value of each of Bagaza’s policies, but I still don’t see an example of a policy which was in favour of minority against the majority. Please provide one example. However, in my comment, I gave example of policies which liberated more Hutus at the expense of Tutsis.
        As per the low level of representation of Hutus in Bagaza’s administration, it is a fact which is not a result of his policies. Some other factors may explain it:
        – The school system during colonization favored Tutsi. Have a look at Mwambutsa goverments. Tutsis have been majority throughout.
        – The 1972 massacres targeted educated Hutus, those who didn’t die fled. But as I mentionned in my previous comment, it is also a fact that Bagaza tried to recruit ‘young and dynamic Hutus cadres’ in the political arena. I gave example of “cooptation” and “promotion” of repatriated intellectual hutus. It even seems Bagaza went to fetch some of them in Europe or neighbor countries. We have to check that.
        That said, Bagaza was not an angel. He was a harsh, tough and sometimes arrogant (Imbu de sa personnalite in French), but it is unfair to him to say he was against one ethnic group. In contrary. But maybe you have examples. Please share


  9. I understand where the author is coming from with his conclusions, but, iyo umuhisu Bagaza atari kuba yarubatse industries na infrastructure hafi zose zu Burundi, izi ntwaro zose zimaze + du 20 an biba ataco bongereza, ivyo biba bakanasambura bari kubikura he?”

    Mbega iyo umuntu yubatse amabarabara, akubaka dams, amashure, REGIDESO, SOSUMO, airport etc…. yovuga ngo bizofasha abantu bamwe gute? Kiretse nyomba yari apartheid state.

    He had his flaws muga ibintu vyose yakoze ultimately was best for the country kubera yari afise intumbero yo gukura u Burundi from poverty. Perhaps when he was doing that, he was doing it with his close circles. Something I would as well have done if I were in his shoes until I’d built enough capacity for all Burundians.


  10. While I disagree with many of the ‘conclusions’ you make from something you ‘heard’, and some of the numbers included as facts, i really appreciate your blog. I was in 8th grade in 1972, and i lived through Bagaza years. He was a visionary, often right, and often wrong! Some of the policies assigned to his regime never happened , in my opinion, but that’s for another day. Ugire amahoro!


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