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General Michel Micombero (August 26, 1940 – July 16, 1983) was a Burundian politician and soldier who ruled the country as its first president and de facto dictator for the decade between 1966 and 1976. He was a member of the Tutsi ethnic group.

Michel Micombero
Burundi - Michel Micombero postage stamp.jpg
Micombero, pictured on a postage stamp in 1967
1st President of Burundi
In office
28 November 1966 – 1 November 1976
Preceded byNtare V, as king
Succeeded byJean-Baptiste Bagaza
8th Prime Minister of Burundi
In office
11 July 1966 – 28 November 1966
Preceded byLéopold Biha
Succeeded byHimself, as President
Personal details
BornAugust 26, 1940
Rutovu, Ruanda-Urundi
(modern-day Burundi)
Died(1983-07-16)July 16, 1983 (aged 42)[a]
Mogadishu, Somalia
Political partyUnion for National Progress (UPRONA)
Spouse(s)Adèle Nzeyimana (1965–)[2]

Micombero was an ethnic Tutsi who began his career as an officer in the Burundian army at the time of Burundi's independence in 1962. He studied abroad and was given a ministerial portfolio on his return. He rose to prominence for his role in helping to crush an attempted coup d'état in October 1965 by ethnic Hutu soldiers against the country's (Tutsi) monarchy. Over 1965 and 1966, Micombero himself instigated two further coups against the monarchy which he perceived as too moderate. The first coup forced the incumbent king into exile, propelling Micombero to the role of prime minister. The second abolished the monarchy itself, bringing Micombero to power as Burundi's first president.

Micombero ruled Burundi as a military dictator. He led a one-party state which centralised the country's institutions and adopted a neutral stance in the Cold War. Dissent was repressed and, in 1972, an attempt to challenge Micombero's power led to a genocide against the Hutu population in which around 100,000 people, mainly Hutus, were killed. His regime finally collapsed in 1976 when he was ousted in a coup d'état by another army officer Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, who installed himself as president. Micombero went into exile in Somalia where he died in 1983.



Origins and early political careerEdit

Location of Burundi in Central Africa

Micombero was born in Rutovu, Bururi Province in Belgian-ruled Ruanda-Urundi on 26 August 1940. His parents were peasants from the Hema people, part of the Tutsi ethnic group.[2] Micombero studied at Catholic mission schools in Burundi and, in 1960, joined the Burundian military which was being formed ahead of planned independence in 1962.[2] As part of his training, he was sent to study at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels, Belgium to train as an officer.[2] At the time of the independence of the Kingdom of Burundi in July 1962, he held the rank of captain.[2]

In early post-independence Burundi, the Tutsi-dominated monarchy of Mwambutsa IV attempted to balance the interests of Tutsi with those of the Hutu majority. In 1963, Micombero joined the ruling Union for National Progress (UPRONA) party which, though dominated by Tutsi, also tried to attract Hutu members.[2] In June, Micombero was named State Secretary for Defense, making him head of the military at the age of 23.[2] In October 1965, a group of ethnic Hutus in the army and police attempted to overthrow the Burundian monarchy. Their attempt, though unsuccessful, led to Mwambutsa IV fleeing into exile. Micombero led the repression against the coup's perpetrators.[2] In July 1966, a second coup d'état brought the king's son, Ntare V, to power and suspended the national constitution. However, when Ntare was on a state visit to the neighbouring Republic of the Congo in November 1966, a third coup d'état abolished the monarchy and a republic was proclaimed on 28 November.[2] As a colonel, Micombero took power as the country's first President in December 1966.[2]


Burundian delegates at the Soviet-sponsored 1973 World Festival of Youth and Students in East Germany. Micombero managed to navigate between communist and Western powers during the Cold War.

As President of Burundi, Micombero ruled through UPRONA as a one-party state. His ideology of "democratic centralism" brought all the country's institutions and media under the regime's control.[2] His regime combined ideas from the socialist ideology of Tanzania with other doctrines from Joseph-Désiré Mobutu's regime in the Congo (known as Zaire after 1971).[2] As a Cold War leader, he was able to play off both Communist and Western powers against one another.[2]

Micombero became increasingly paranoid after suffering an injury in a road accident in 1967.[2] He was widely believed to be an alcoholic. Various plots against the regime were discovered and unrest remained.[2] His base of support became increasingly restricted to Tutsi in the northern and central regions of Burundi.[2]

In April 1972, a rebellion broke out among the Hutu at Rumonge in the south at the encouragement of the Tanzanian regime and spread rapidly.[2] In subsequent ethnic violence, as many as 1,000 Tutsi were killed. The reaction of the Micombero regime was to launch a genocidal campaign against the Hutu in the region in which around 100,000 people are thought to have been killed. The deposed king Ntare, said to have led the rebellion, was murdered.[2] In 1973, after further violence, the Zairean Mobutu regime had to intervene to prevent Tanzanian invasion.[2] Following the end of the crisis, Micombero introduced a new constitution allowing him to run for a further seven-year term. He also laid the foundation for the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries the same year, along with the governments of Rwanda and Zaire.[2]

In November 1976, opponents of Micombero's regime, led by Colonel Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, led a successful coup d'état. Micombero himself was arrested and a second republic was declared under the dictatorship of Bagaza which would last until 1987.[2]

Exile and deathEdit

Micombero was exiled from Burundi in 1977.[2] He took up residence in Somalia, then ruled by dictator Siad Barre who was a close friend. He gained a degree in economics from the University of Somalia in 1982.[1] He died of a heart attack in 1983.[1]


  1. ^ According to his obituary in The New York Times, Micombero died on 16 July 1983.[1] His entry in the Dictionary of African Biography gives 6 August 1983 instead.[2]



  • "Michel Micombero, 43, Dies: Former President of Burundi". The New York Times. UPI. 18 July 1983. Retrieved 4 April 2016.
  • Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (2008). "Micombero, Michel". In Gates, Louis, Jr.; Akyeampong, Emmanuel K. (eds.). Dictionary of African Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Political offices
Preceded by
Léopold Biha
Prime Minister of Burundi
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
Ntare V Ndizeye
(As king)
President of Burundi
Succeeded by
Jean-Baptiste Bagaza