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Burundi Observes Independence Day

Independence Day is a public holiday in Burundi.

Independence Day: July 1

Independence Day is a public holiday in Burundi.

After Germany’s defeat in World War I, Belgium was handed control of parts of east Africa, including the area that is now known as Burundi. Through indirect rule, Belgium encouraged the reigning Tutsi tribe to dominate relations in the region, leaving the Hutu tribes with little. The imbalances that this caused, coupled with Belgium’s allowance for the creation of political parties in 1948, led to a powerful independence movement in the country. Burundi eventually went on to gain independence from Belgium in 1962, and that independence is still observed today.

History of Independence Day in Burundi

The League of Nations mandated the territory of what is now known as Burundi and Rwanda to Belgium in 1923. Belgium continued in the footsteps of Germany, allowing the existing political structures of authority held by the minority Tutsi elites to continue governance of the region.

Belgium likely saw the Tutsi as “an alien superior race”, one that in their point of view had to have been created outside of Africa. This left the majority Hutu tribes deprived of a voice and vital resources. The Catholic missionaries’ view of the Tutsi as “superb humans” made things worse as Belgium’s colonial power used the missionaries’ ideology to guide political and social change.

As tensions grew within the region, Belgium allowed for the creation of political parties after 1948. From this grew two main political entities: the Union for National Progress (UPRONA) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC). Tutsi Prince Louis Rwagasore led UPRONA while the PDC was led by Belgian loyalists. As these political parties clashed in the 1950s, tempers flared and divisions between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes grew larger.

Burundi’s ruler, Mwami Mwambutsa IV, made an official request to the Belgian Minister of Colonies on January 20, 1959. In his request, he stated that both the separation of Rwanda and Burundi and independence from Belgium were key goals. While violence took hold later that year in Rwanda, Burundi largely avoided violent uprisings during the independence movement. Instead, political tensions grew between UPRONA and the PDC.

When legislative elections were finally held at the beginning of October 1961, Prince Rwagasore and UPRONA were victorious. The victory didn’t last long, however. On October 13, 1961, Rwagasore was assassinated by Greek national Georges Kageorgis, paid by Belgian settlers who thought the country better under Hutu rule.

The assassination sent any efforts to cohesively bring the Tutsi and Hutu tribes together into a downward spiral. In January of 1962, the Kamenge riots took place when militant Tutsi youth of UPRONA attacked and killed Hutu trade unionists. This caused strife in UPRONA between the Hutu and Tutsi, further decaying any control UPRONA had.

On June 30, 1962, one day before officially gaining independence from Belgium, Georges Kageorgis, the man who assassinated Rwagasore, was executed. This act brought no real closure to Tutsi and Hutu conflict, even after independence was granted on July 1. Decades of infighting, coup attempts, and assassinations have marred the country to its roots.

Burundi’s Independence Day Traditions, Customs and Activities

July 1 is officially celebrated as Independence Day in Burundi. As that day has been bloodied by decades of conflict between Tutsi and Hutu citizens, the significance of independence has degraded somewhat. The creation of Unity Day in 1992 has helped to further bring the two groups together in peace, but obstacles still remain. While grateful for independence from Belgium, resolving tribal conflict in the country has taken a greater importance.

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