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Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza (1946–2016) was a Burundian army officer and politician who ruled Burundi as president and de facto military dictator from November 1976 to September 1987.

Jean-Baptiste Bagaza
Jean-Baptiste Bagaza.jpg
2nd President of Burundi
In office
1 November 1976 – 3 September 1987
Prime MinisterÉdouard Nzambimana (1976–78), then position abolished
Preceded byMichel Micombero
Succeeded byPierre Buyoya
Personal details
Born(1946-08-29)29 August 1946[1]
Rutovu, Ruanda-Urundi
(modern-day Burundi)
Died4 May 2016(2016-05-04) (aged 69)
Brussels, Belgium
Political partyUnion for National Progress (UPRONA)
Party for National Recovery (PARENA)

Born into the Tutsi ethnic group in 1946, Bagaza served in the Burundian military and rose through the ranks under the rule of Michel Micombero after his rise to power in 1966. Bagaza deposed Micombero in a bloodless coup d'état in 1976 and took power himself. Despite having participated into the genocidal killings of 1972, he introduced various reforms which modernised the state and made concessions to the country's ethnic Hutu majority. His regime became increasingly repressive after the regime became consolidated in 1984, especially targeting the powerful Catholic Church. His rule lasted until 1987 when his regime was overthrown in a further coup d'état and he was forced into exile. He returned to Burundi in 1994 and briefly returned to national politics as the leader of the Party for National Recovery (PARENA). He died in 2016.



Early life and military careerEdit

Bagaza was born in Rutovu, Bururi Province in Belgian-ruled Ruanda-Urundi on 29 August 1946. His family were from the Hema people, part of the Tutsi ethnic group.[2] After studying in Catholic schools in Bujumbura, he enlisted in the army of the newly-independent Kingdom of Burundi. He was sent to Belgium in 1966 where he studied at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels until 1971. He returned to Burundi in 1972 and was appointed adjunct chief of staff of the Burundian military, largely because of his family's connections to the dictator Michel Micombero who also came from Rutovu. Bagaza was involved in Micombero's genocidal killings of ethnic Hutu in 1972.[2]

Dictatorship and aftermathEdit

In November 1976, Bagaza overthrew Micombero in a military coup.[1] The constitution was temporarily suspended by a military junta, the 30-member Supreme Revolutionary Council, which declared Bagaza president on 10 November 1976. Bagaza initiated a number of reforms after taking power, attacking corruption and making modest reforms to improve conditions for Hutus who had been targeted under the Micombero regime. Some Hutu refugees were allowed to return from exile in Zaire and Tanzania where they had fled during the genocide. Burundi's feudal system of land tenure, known as the Ubugererwa, was abolished in 1977. However, Bagaza ensured that the Tutsi remained economically and politically dominant. A programme of economic modernization was begun to allow the emergence of small-scale capitalist agriculture, involving the construction of two new hydroelectric dams which still form the basis for Burundi's energy infrastructure.

Location of Burundi in Central Africa

Bagaza's regime introduced a new national constitution in 1981 which consolidated Burundi as a one-party dictatorship under the Union for National Progress (UPRONA), which he re-organised under his own leadership. In the elections of 1984, he was re-elected president with 99.6 percent of the national vote.[3] After the election, Bagaza organized a military operation against the Catholic Church in Burundi.[2] The Church was increasingly targeted as the regime became increasingly repressive. Foreign missionaries were expelled and attempts were made to break its influence over education.

While traveling abroad in Quebec, Canada in September 1987, Bagaza's regime was deposed in a military coup, led by Major Pierre Buyoya.[1] Buyoya established himself as president, forcing Bagaza into exile in neighbouring Uganda. Bagaza later went to Libya, where he lived until 1993.[4] Following Burundi's democratisation, Bagaza returned to Burundi where he led the Party for National Recovery (PARENA).[5] He was a senator for life as a former head of state.[6][7] In 1997, Bagaza was arrested for gathering weapons for a plot against Buyoya.[2] Bagaza died in Brussels, Belgium on 4 May 2016 at the age of 69 of natural causes and was buried in Bujumbura on 17 May 2016.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Chan, Sewell (2016-05-04). "Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, Deposed Leader of a Troubled Burundi, Is Dead at 69". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 4 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Young 2010, p. 146.
  3. ^ Brooke, James. "Rule by Minority Persists in Burundi". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  4. ^ "Former Burundi president dies in Belgium". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Burundi pays final tribute to former president Bagaza". Retrieved 12 November 2016.
  6. ^ "POST TRANSITION SENATORS' LIST". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 12 November 2016.(in French)
  7. ^ "The Senate composition". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 12 November 2016.(in French)


  • Young, Eric (2010). "Jean-Baptiste Bagaza". In Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis (eds.). Encyclopedia of Africa. i. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780195337709.
Political offices
Preceded by
Michel Micombero
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
Pierre Buyoya