Burundi – Louis Rwagasore, They Killed Him, and then Lots of Others Got Killed, But He is Still Here

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detail from Burundi banknote, front, 100.

Imagine, if, before South Africa was changed,  Mandella had been assassinated.  Imagine if Kennedy had not been assassinated, and America had been changed. Imagine if Burundi and Rwanda had changed in the 1960s, and the genocide of the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s did not happen.  Imagine Prince Rwagasore not assassinated at the moment of Burundi’s independence …

But, they killed Rwagasore; and millions perished with him.

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

He was the oldest son of the King, heir-apparent to the kingdom stretching back 4 centuries.  Briefly under colonial Germany and then for the latest 2 generations under colonial Belgium, Louis Rwagasore saw independence in his beloved country’s future.  For that future, he prepared, both himself, and his nation.

He’d been educated in elite secondary schools of Rwanda by the Brothers of Charity, and in European Universities in Antwerp and Louvain.  He’d prepared to forsake the throne of his fathers, and to advocate for a constitutional monarchy instead.  He, an ethnic Tutsi, married an ethnic Hutu woman, to promote the cessation of ethnic rivalries.

In the 1950s he urged the Belgian vice-governor to institute a new constitution in preparation for Burundi independence.  He founded a series of economic cooperatives to foster independence, but these were banned by Belgium in 1958 when they realized they threatened their colonial power.   He then founded UPRONA, the Union for National Progress, Burundi’s first indigenous political party.  In 1960, as head of UPRONA, he advocated for full independence from Belgium and called for civil disobedience through the boycott of Belgian stores and government taxes, for which he was placed under house arrest.  But his ideas were wildly popular with the people, and, when independence came in 1962, Rwagasore was elected by a huge majority to lead his people into the future.

Rwagasroe had become the change he foresaw for his people.  He became educated.  He abandoned the royal life for life as the citizen of a republic.  He, a tutsi, married a hutu women, to bring forth children of Burundi.

Shortly before he would enter into office, he was killed.  It is thought that the murder was a conspiracy between the Belgians and the opposition party.

Although he never said it in such words that we know of, Rwagasore, we are confident to say, had been to the mountain top.  There he looked out, over the Jordan, into the land of promise, the land of the future, the good land, the right land.  And what did he see?  We know what he saw by the man he became.  He let what he saw transform him into the same image.  He became husband of a Burundi woman; he became father of Burundian children, he became a citizen of the Republic of Burundi, he became a leader in Burundi, and, indeed, a leader for all humankind.

For further readings regarding this remarkable man, see here.

 

Banknote of Burundi, front. The tomb of Louis Rwagasore is illustrated on the left.

 

 

 

 

 

Banknote of Burundi, back, illustrating the building of a house in Burundi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more stories from the African Great Lakes Region in this website, click here.

 

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