Melchior Ndadaye

Melchior Ndadaye (March 28, 1953 – October 21, 1993) was a Burundian intellectual and politician. He was the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi after winning the landmark 1993 election. Though he moved to attempt to smooth the country's bitter ethnic divide, his reforms antagonised soldiers in the Tutsi-dominated army, and he was assassinated amidst a failed military coup in October 1993, after only three months in office. His assassination sparked an array of brutal tit-for-tat massacres between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, and ultimately sparked the decade-long Burundi Civil War. His portrait appears in the franc of 500 francs banknote and in the 10,000 francs he appears with prince Louis Rwagasore.[1]

Melchior Ndadaye
Melchior Ndadaye speaking to RTNB at Bujumbura airport.jpg
President Ndadaye in 1993
4th President of Burundi
In office
10 July 1993 – 21 October 1993
Prime MinisterSylvie Kinigi
Preceded byPierre Buyoya
Succeeded byFrançois Ngeze
Personal details
Born(1953-03-28)28 March 1953
Mwaro, Ruanda-Urundi
Died21 October 1993(1993-10-21) (aged 40)
Bujumbura, Burundi
Cause of deathMurder
Resting placeBujumbura
Political partyFront for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU)
Burundi Workers' Party (UBU)
Spouse(s)Laurence Ndadaye
Alma materNational University of Rwanda
Conservatoire national des arts et métiers

Early lifeEdit

Ndadaye was born in the town of Murama in Muramvya Province. He began studying as a teacher, but his education was interrupted by the massacres of 1972, whereupon he was forced to flee to Rwanda to avoid being killed. He took refuge in the southern Rwandan town of Butare and attended the Group Scolaire (school group). He finished his degree in education at the National University of Rwanda, and then completed a second degree in banking at the National Academy of Arts and Trades in France. He was a lecturer in Rwanda from 1980 to 1983. He worked as a banker thereafter, heading up a credit organisation from 1983 to 1988.[2]

Political careerEdit

Ndadaye speaking at a FRODEBU rally following his electoral victory in 1993

Ndadaye had become involved in politics while in Rwanda, serving as the inaugural president of the Mouvement des Étudiants Progressistes Barundi au Rwanda, a movement of exiled Burundian students from 1976 to 1979. He was involved in the foundation of the Burundi Workers' Party in 1979 and was actively involved in the party until his resignation in 1983 as a result of a dispute over party strategy. Ndadaye returned to Burundi in September of that year, by which time he was developing a political following of his own.

Ndadaye had been a key leader of the Burundi Workers' Party, and it subsequently fell into decline after his departure, ultimately being disbanded in the mid-1980s. Although opposition parties were banned in Burundi itself under the rule of military dictator Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, in 1986, Ndadaye and his supporters founded a new underground political movement, the moderate Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU). It remained underground until 1992, when Pierre Buyoya began a process of political liberalisation in advance of the country's first ever democratic elections and allowed the party to officially register.

The elections, held in June 1993, saw Ndadaye, endorsed by FRODEBU and three other predominantly Hutu parties, the Rally for the People of Burundi (RPB), People's Party (PP), and the Liberal Party (PL), face up against the ruling Tutsi-dominated government under Buyoya. With the Hutu the dominant population in Burundi, Ndadaye won a crushing victory, receiving 65% of the vote to Buyoya's 32%. The poll was certified by international observers as being free and fair, and none of the candidates contested the poll. It was followed by success for his party in the legislative elections held later that month, winning 65 of 81 seats. After surviving a failed coup attempt on July 3, Ndadaye was sworn in as President of Burundi on July 10, 1993. The victory made him both the first democratically elected and first Hutu president of Burundi.[3]


Ndadaye greeting Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi at Bujumbura airport, 1993

Ndadaye took a cautious, moderate approach as President, and attempted to resolve the deep ethnic divide in Burundian society. He named Sylvie Kinigi, a Tutsi, as the Prime Minister, and gave one-third of the Cabinet posts and two regional governorships to Buyoya's Union for National Progress (UPRONA). He freed political prisoners, granted freedom of the press, granted amnesty to exiled former dictator Bagaza and moved slowly to address the entrenched disadvantage of the Hutus that had resulted from many years of minority Tutsi rule to avoid exacerbating tensions. He was very critical of racism questioning anyone who was prejudiced[4]

Despite his cautious approach to the presidency, some of his actions nevertheless provoked tensions in the community. He questioned contracts and concessions approved under previous Tutsi governments, which threatened the economics of the powerful Tutsi elite and army. He began reforms to the military, shifting the national police to a separate command and changing the admission requirements for the military and police so as to reduce the entrenched Tutsi dominance. The dominance of FRODEBU caused problems at a local level, as Ndadaye's Hutu supporters took over many positions previously held by Tutsis in the public service, and botched the resettlement of refugees returning after the 1972 massacres in such a way as to leave many Tutsi families homeless. The issues were exacerbated by the newly-free press, who began reporting in such a way as to inflame ethnic tensions.[citation needed]



On 19 October 1993, an army officer approached the wife of Minister of Communications Jean‐Marie Ngendahayo and informed her that personnel in the army headquarters were plotting against the president.[5] At 15:00 on 20 October, Major Isaïe Nibizi, the officer responsible for presidential security, informed Ndadaye's chef de cabinet of suspicious military movements.[6] Later that afternoon, Ndadaye hosted a cabinet meeting in Bujumbura to mark the first 100 days of his presidency (which had passed two days prior) and discuss what his government had accomplished in comparison to its campaign promises.[7] At the conclusion of the meeting Ngendahayo requested to speak in private with Ndadaye. In the president's office, Ngendahayo raised concerns about Ndadaye's safety. Instead of informing the president about the vague threat his wife had learned of, he told him that he felt it strange that UPRONA, the Tutsi-dominated opposition party, was denouncing the government's popular policy of allowing thousands of Burundian refugees to return to the country before the commune elections in December. Ngendahayo stated that he thought this would cost UPRONA the elections, and thus the only reason they would oppose the policy is if they planned to take power via an assassination and a coup. He also requested that Ndadaye further consider a previous report declaring his personal security to be inadequate. Ndadaye instructed Ngendahayo to bring him the Minister of Defence, Colonel Charles Ntakije.[8]

Ntakije told Ndadaye that a coup was being planned by the 11th Armoured Car Battalion, which was going to attack the Presidential Palace at 02:00 on 21 October. When asked how he would respond, Ntakije said he would gather trusted officers and organise an ambush if the battalion left its camp.[5] Ndadye inquired about the status of Sylvestre Ningaba, a former army colonel who had been arrested in July for attempting a coup, and asked if he could be relocated to a different prison so the putschists could not obtain his help. Ntakije said that this would not be possible due to the objections of prison officials to transferring detainees at nighttime, but he assured the president that he would station an additional armoured car at the Presidential Palace for extra security. Ndadaye spoke about training possibilities for the Presidential Guard before dismissing both ministers for the evening and going to the palace.[9] When he arrived he told his wife, Laurence, about the coup plot, but was mostly assured by what Ntakije had said to him.[10]

Attack on the Presidential PalaceEdit

At around midnight on 20 October, putschists of the 11th Armoured Car Battalion departed from Camp Muha in over a dozen armoured cars and took up positions around Bujumbura. Within an hour they surrounded the Presidential Palace. They were joined by hundreds of soldiers and gendarmes from the other eleven military camps in Bujumbura, including members of the 1st Parachute Battalion and a few personnel from the 2nd Commando Battalion. They prepared to attack the palace, which was only guarded by 38 soldiers of the Presidential Guard and two armoured cars. Shortly before 01:00 on 21 October, Ntakije called the president and told him that armoured cars had left Camp Muha for an unknown destination and advised him to leave the palace immediately.[6] Ndadaye then attempted to reach Captain Mushwabure, the commander of the palace guard, by phone, but when he did not answer he went into the palace gardens.[11] At 01:30 the putshcists fired a single shot, and shortly thereafter at least one armoured car blasted a hole in the grounds wall and began bombarding the palace with cannon fire. Laurence Ndadaye took her three children into an interior room and sheltered them under tables, while the president was disguised in a military uniform by his guards and placed in one of their armoured cars in the garden, where he remained for the next six hours.[12]


At about 7:30, Laurence Ndadaye and her children left the palace and reached one of the two cars on the grounds, which would not start. They quickly reunited with President Ndadaye, who was in the other armoured vehicle. The family considered scaling the perimeter wall to go to the neighbouring Meridian Hotel, but found that the palace was completely surrounded by putschists.[13] At Captain Mushwabure's direction, Ndadaye decided to be taken with his family to Camp Muha. At 7:30 they left in their armoured car, and were trailed by the putschists' vehicles. Upon arriving at the base at 8:00, their car was surrounded by putschists of the 1st Battalion.[14] Ndadaye was taken by Army Chief of Staff Colonel Jean Bikomagu to a meeting with other senior officers of the army.[15] About an hour later he returned with Secretary of State for Security Colonel Lazare Gakoryo, having reached a verbal agreement with the officers. Ndadaye reentered the armoured car with Gakoryo to finalise their understanding on paper, but when the secretary of state exited the vehicle soldiers began shouting for the president to come out. Once he did, Bikomagu quieted the crowd and Ndadaye appealed to the soldiers to negotiate peacefully with him.[16]

Soldiers began closing in on the president, and Bikomagu instructed them to let his family go since they were "of no interest" to them. He directed a driver to take the family away, and at Laurence's direction, the soldier brought them to the French embassy, where they were allowed to take refuge. Bikomagu then pointed at President Ndadaye and said to the putschists, "He is the one you were looking for. Here he is. Do what you want with him."[16] They placed Ndadaye in a jeep and drove him to the 1st Parachute Battalion's camp nearby, closely followed by Bikomagu, Gakoryo, and Major Nibizi.[16] The president was taken to an office where ten junior officers—specifically assigned to the task—killed him. A coroner's report later found that Ndadaye was held by a cord around his neck while the soldiers bayoneted him 14 times. Half of the wounds penetrated his thorax and the subsequent bleeding filled up his lungs, killing him.[17] The soldiers then dug a mass grave in the centre of the camp, where they buried Ndadaye, President of the National Assembly Pontien Karibwami, Vice President of the National Assembly Gilles Bimazubute, Minister of Home Affairs and Communal Development Juvénal Ndayikeza, and Director of Intelligence Richard Ndikumwami. After several hours the soldiers realised that international opinion would strongly disapprove of such treatment of the bodies, so they exhumed them and allowed family members to collect them.[18] Ndadaye was reburied on 6 December.[19]


Ndadaye's casket lowered into his grave

Ndadaye's death sparked severe ramifications across the country. The attempted coup rapidly failed, as Francois Ngeze, the civilian politician installed as temporary head of state, refused to support the coup leaders and called for Prime Minister Kinigi, who had survived the coup and was in hiding at the French embassy to assume control, a move soon backed by key military chiefs. Kinigi was thus appointed as acting president while a resolution to the constitutional crisis caused by the assassination of both the president and the president of the assembly was found. The United Nations Security Council condemned the assassination and coup, and was soon followed in doing so by the United Nations General Assembly. Many thousands of civilians, on both sides, were killed in the resulting carnage, with estimates varying but generally agreed to be above 100,000. The ongoing violence developed into the decade-long Burundi Civil War.[citation needed]

A United Nations investigation into Ndadaye's murder, the result of which was released in 1996, accused the army command of being responsible for the assassination and of being complicit in the resulting massacres by Tutsi troops. It did not name specific figures as being responsible, but Buyoya, Ndadaye's predecessor as president, has long been suspected of having some role in the assassination.[citation needed]

In 1999, as part of attempts to end the civil war, an array of arrests were made of those suspected of involvement in the Ndadaye assassination. Five men, including the alleged ringleader, army officer Paul Kamana, were sentenced to death, and 74 others received sentences ranging from one year to twenty years. Most of the high-ranking officials charged, however, were acquitted, in a verdict condemned by Ndadaye's supporters.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Burundi : Le Franc - Monnaie du Burundi". Retrieved 2021-05-19.
  2. ^ Paul R. Bartrop, Steven Leonard Jacobs (17 December 2014). Modern Genocide: The Definitive Resource and Document Collection. ABC-CLIO. p. 1774. ISBN 9781610693646.
  3. ^ "Challenger Wins Burundi Election". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 4.
  6. ^ a b Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 7.
  7. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 1–2.
  8. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 3–4.
  9. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 5.
  10. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 6.
  11. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 7–8.
  12. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 8.
  13. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 18–19.
  14. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 19.
  15. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 19–20.
  16. ^ a b c Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 20.
  17. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 20–21.
  18. ^ Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 21.
  19. ^ Burundi President Slain 1993, p. 38.

Works citedEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Buyoya
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
François Ngeze