Prince Rwagasore and the vision of a united Africa-I

Thursday June 27 2019


Prince Louis Rwagasore who was the last Crown Prince of Burundi is considered to be a pan-Africanist.

In a two-series article we feature the brief life of Louis Rwagasore whose life was shortened by the Belgian authorities fearing that he would arouse and foster African nationalistic and pan-African sentiments in Burundi.

Prince Louis Rwagasore was part of the Burundi Dynasty of the Ganwa; part of the Tutsi ethnic group that dates back into the 16th century beginning with Mwami (king) Ntare I (Rushatsi Cambarantama) who ruled from 1530 to 1550. The Burundi kings were known as the Mwami who headed a significant Ganwa aristocracy.

In 1899 the Burundi kingdom that was under Mwami Mwezi IV (Gisabo Bikata-Bijoga) who ruled from 1850 to 1908 became part of the German East Africa (Ruanda-Urundi and Tanganyika) after the balkanization of Africa in the Berlin Conference in 1884. The king was forced to concede and agree to German suzerainty and indirect rule through the king.

During the first World War Belgian troops conquered Ruanda-Urundi and the League of Nations mandated the territory of Ruanda-Urundi, encompassing modern-day Rwanda and Burundi to Belgium.

After the World War, Ruanda-Urundi became a Trust Territory of the United Nations under the Belgian control.


The Belgians administered the territory through indirect rule, building on the Tutsi-dominated aristocratic hierarchy.

Prince Louis Rwagasore was born on the January 10, 1932 in the province of Muramvya in the Belgian Ruanda-Urundi territory the political centre of the Burundi Kingdom; the place where all Burundian kings and their families resided.

He was the son of a Tutsi Mwami Mwambutsa IV (Bangiricenge Rubangishamiheto) one of the last Burundian kings who ruled Burundi from 1915 to 1966.

Rwagasore attended his primary and secondary education from the 1940s at the Groupe Scolaire d’Astrida (now Groupe Scolaire Officiel de Butare) in Ruanda-Urundi Belgian territory and then in 1952 at the age of 20 he went to Belgium for his University education where he studied a degree in Management and Agriculture at the universities of Antwerp and Louvain.

Rwagasore returned to Burundi in 1956 to spearhead his country’s anti-colonial movement. In 1958 he founded a multi-ethnic nationalist political party, the Union for National Progress (UPRONA). His political motto was “…A peaceful, happy and prosperous Burundi….” with a mission to achieve independence peacefully without bloodshed.

His father promoted him to Chief of Butanyerera, but Rwagasore turned down the appointment so that he could devote his time to the nationalist cause.

Rwagasore, was an anti-tribalist who was opposed to tribal division and as a Tutsi he married a Hutu woman in a bid to end ethnic divisions between Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups, which he believed the Belgian colonial rule had promoted to divide and rule. For that he is today referred to as a unifying Prince of Burundi.

At the first UPRONA Congress in March 1960, Rwagasore demanded complete independence for Ruanda-Urundi and called on the local population to boycott Belgian stores and refuse to pay taxes. Because of these calls for civil disobedience, he was placed under house arrest and later released to continue his political activities.

He successfully led UPRONA in a clear victory in the elections for the Belgian Colony Legislative Assembly on 8th September 1961, in the Burundi part of the Ruanda-Urundi protectorate winning by 80 percent of the seats and he was declared Prime Minister of the region, with a mandate to prepare the country for independence. But just weeks later, on 13th October 1961, he was assassinated.

The independence for Ruanda-Urundi he strived for was proclaimed on the 1st July 1962 in his absence with two separate independent countries of Burundi and Rwanda.

On the eve of independence Burundi changed its name from Ruanda-Urundi to the Republic of Burundi and became a constitutional monarchy under Mwami (king) Mwambutsa IV, (Bangiricenge Rubangishamiheto), the father of Prince Rwagasore.

Dr Kafumu is the Member of Parliament for Igunga Constituency.