Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Memory of Melchior Ndadaye.

Do you like this post?

When I tweeted in honor of the commemoration of Melchior Ndadaye, it immediately dawned on me that many of my virtual friends may have no prior knowledge about this guy and what he stood for. Much of what is written about the Great Lakes region, for good or worse, has predominantly focused on Rwanda.

In fact, only recently has the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) penetrated the media’s radar. Many continue to wonder, and for good reasons, why a civil war that has a death toll six times higher than Rwanda, was largely ignored by the western media and its victim’s completely written off. These are intractable questions that I cannot pretend to have answers for. I can only tell the tales.

Following independence from the Belgians, power in Burundi, remained consolidated within the structures of the Tutsi community comprising roughly 15 per cent of the population. The oppressed Hutu majority maintained resistance and Burundi soon became amok with ethnic violence.

The first major killings occurred in 1972. In what scholars have often described as a “selective genocide”, a conservative figure of 100,000 Hutus were murdered by the Tutsi dominated army. The targeted were mostly Hutu intellectuals, business men and local school teachers. The renowned scholar on Burundi, René Lemarchand, has noted that, “to speak of “selective genocide” in describing the outcome of such large scale political violence seems scarcely an exaggeration”. These killings would later have a radical impact on the future of the great lakes region.

In 1988, another 20,000 people perished. As in the previous massacre, the victims died under the hands of the ruling Tutsi military. Massive migrations ensued and millions of Hutus fled to Rwanda which was at this time under the control of a Hutu regime. Others fled towards Tanzania and west to the Democratic Republic of Congo. But the resistance was not over yet, only the method took a new shift.

Melchior Ndadaye was born in 1953 in the town of Murama. While training as a teacher, his education was interrupted by the 1972 massacres. To avoid being killed, he fled to Rwanda where he was able to pursue university education at the National University of Rwanda.

Later Ndadaye helped found the Burundi students organization, a movement of exiled Hutu students. He was also among the founders of the Burundi Workers Party in 1979 for which he served as president. He returned to Burundi in September 1983, ready for a non-violent struggle against a corrupt and elitist Tutsi government led by the military dictator, Jean-Baptiste Bagaza. However, he remained underground until 1992, when the new military leader, Major. Jean Pierre Buyoya accepted political reforms. He later formed the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU) which was soon registered.

Although a man of the people, he was largely unknown in Burundi as his political programs had been greatly hindered. But the Tutsi establishment might have underestimated his charm. In June 1993, the three other predominately Hutu parties endorsed his candidature. Ndadaye won the presidential elections with “a crushing victory” garnering 65% of the votes. His party scooped 61 out of the 81 seats. This was the first ever, democratic election in Burundi. And Ndadaye became the first Hutu president of the republic of Burundi.

It is now well understood that Ndadaye took a more cautious approach and was negatively branded a “moderate” within his Hutu support base. He wanted to resolve the deep ethnic divide facing the new democracy. He named Slyvie Kinigi, a Tutsi woman politician, as his Prime Minister and gave a third of his cabinet posts to the Tutsi dominated Union for National Progress (UNP). But the military still remained under the control of a group of Tutsi extremists. His tolerance and slow reaction might have caused his eventual demise.

Barely a hundred days into his presidency, Ndadaye’s home was besieged by members of the Tutsi military. Along with three members of his cabinet, Ndadaye was bayoneted to death.

His death sparked deadly protests around the country. It also marked the beginning of a deadly and protracted civil war, lasting more than ten years. The civil war is believed to have cost an additional 100,000 lives. Both sides, Hutu and Tutsi, lost their kins.

Ndadaye is today remembered as the founding father of Burundi’s reconciliatory democracy. His blood is the fountain for Burundi’s rebirth. His legacy of active non-violence should serve as an example to future leaders in this region. It is the only way to build a system that is not based on ethnic cleansing.

In the case of Rwanda, we can draw inspiration from the resilience of this man. But we can also learn from his desire to forgive his enemies. The incarceration of Mme. Ingabire Victoire and that of other free thinkers, is the beginning of a movement that will culminate in the freedom for all Rwandans. She is following in Ndadaye’s tradition by refusing to pick up arms. And she is ready to pay the price as there can be on gain without pain and no crown without the cross. Ultimately, though, only love and forgiveness will save our motherland.


Brendan said...

Nkundu- thank you for writing this post. It's amazing that events in Burundi are so little understood and considered when the history of this country relates so much to events in you said these are some intractable questions

Mukiza said...

The analysis about Melchior Ndadaye was interesting until you killed it with a comparison with Madam Ingabire Victoire.
Then did you insult the memory of the man Ndadaye.....It is fascinating how with no backed up information the likes of you rush to proclaim Ingabire a messiah like figure in Rwanda's politics.
As a Tutsi,i consider my self a "moderate" and extrimist Rwandan meaning that i don't and wouldn't mind a progressive Leader irespective of his or her ethinic background.
But the likes of Ingabire betray that.
She has totally failed to convince nor allay fears by many tutsi that she is a divisionist plagued with the now defunct hutu power ideology.
Rather than distance her self from such,she instead has provoked many to believe every thing the Gorvement of Rwanda is accusing her of.
First by her insensitive comments at the Genocide memorial in Gisozi which inspite of the outrage they caused to many,an apology from her has never been made.
Then a Genocider is discovered in her entourage,a fact she comes to defend.
Then her association with the likes of Peter Erlinder-a controversial figure whose self appointed mission is to defend and justify the Genocide of tutsis in 1994.
I thus beg of you to protect the memory of Ndadaye by not associating him with Ingabire.

Nkunda said...


It is understandable that you'd be skeptical of Ingabire's campaign. Because you are a Tutsi "moderate", you do not want to see a repeat of violence in Rwanda.

Having lost a brother in the 1994 genocide, murdered by the Hutu Interahamwe militia, but also other members of her family were killed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) now the ruling party, Victoire Ingabire does not hesitate to provoke the regime.

Understanding where Ingabire is coming from, might help Rwandans as we strive for open dialogue. Again, Ingabire represents something rare in Rwanda politics, due to her commitment to non-violence. She did not come to Kigali with guns.

But she has her shortcomings too, as is only natural for any human being. The speech she gave at Gisozi, though appropriate, was delivered at the wrong venue. This is a an error of judgment. But again, her own brother was massacred by those merciless Hutu militias.

Gazi said...


I really liked this article about Ndadaye who I believe had the characteristics of a true leader. I am a moderate Tutsi from Burundi and happened to be a little boy when the president was killed. I know for sure innocent people paid and are still paying the price of the murder of President Ndadaye Melchior.

Having said that, I also have to add that you did not dig deeper enough, there is too much simplicity and omission in your article, especially when you mention "the first major killings".

If you looked at the Burundian constitution and also at the established institutions after the independence, you would see clearly that power was not immediately consolidated within the Tutsi minority but rather came to be.

What do you make of the first killings? The ones that triggered the "Major ones". I am talking about 1962, 1965, the failed tutsi genocide right before 1972, extremism was exacerbated after that, just the way it was after the murder of President Melchior Ndadaye.

I do not wish to downsize the horror perpetrated by the Tutsi ruling system as my conscience constantly reminds me that no act could have explained the massacres of innocent Hutu on the basis of their ethnic identity.

I guess the point I wish to make here is that the conflict between Hutu and Tutsi in Burundi go way back and when talking about it one should not just start from "the major killings" to explain it.

Looking at what is happening today in Burundi, one would get lost as to the reasons why people are still fighting if as a stranger to this conflict they start off by reading this article simply because the ruling Tutsi elite is no longer a major player and instead you have Hutu killing Hutu on the basis of their political affiliation.

Jean Claude Nkundwa said...

I really liked this article narrative of Ndadaye and i don't care about your speculation for Ingabire; but if you can answer my question, can you tell us how and by what magical power can 15% dominate 85%? who are those kinds of people in the world? in all over the world, majority groups dominate minority groups but what happened to Burundi and Rwanda? if you can detail that would be helpful.

Jean Claude Nkundwa said...

Great portray of Ndadaye, but i have a question. Can you clarify your introduction by explaining more how can 15% dominate and oppress 85%? we normally know that in many countries majority groups dominate minority groups. the exception has been in place where black and white cohabitate just because of some back up forces. But what about Burundi and Rwanda?