Belgium granted independence to Burundi in 1962. The Tutsi king (Tutsi made up 15 percent and Hutus 85 percent of the population, similar to Rwanda) established a constitutional monarchy comprising equal numbers of Hutus and Tutsis. The 1965 assassination of the Hutu prime minister set in motion a series of Hutu revolts and subsequent government repression. In 1966 the Tutsi king was deposed by his son, who, in turn, was deposed in a military coup. Civil unrest continued through the 1960s.
An aborted Hutu rebellion in 1972 left 2,000-3,000 Tutsis dead, which triggered the flight of several hundred thousand people. A bloodless coup in 1976 put Tutsis back in charge. Its leader was overthrown the following year by a new hard line regime that instituted a ruling military commission. Increasing tensions led to a war between the army, the Hutu opposition, and Tutsi hardliners, leaving 150,000 dead and tens of thousands refugees flowing to neighboring countries. For more than three decades between 1962 and 1993, Burundi was governed by a series of military dictators, all from the Tutsi minority.
An attempt to establish a multiethnic government, with Burundi’s first Hutu president in 1993, failed. He was assassinated by factions in the Tutsi army. A civil war erupted during 1993-96, which left tens of thousands dead. Since 1983, an estimated 200,000 people were killed. A new government chosen in 1994 was removed two years later in another bloodless coup. Violence and unrest continued until the establishment of an accord in August 2000 by representatives of the leading Hutu and Tutsi political parties.
Although tensions and conflict continued, Burundi was able to establish a new government in 2001. Despite small-scale conflict that continued over the next two years, the government succeeded in promulgating a new constitution in February 2005 and former Hutu rebels won the national election held the following July . After four decades of coups and civil wars, the people of Burundi conducted a peaceful, orderly, free, and fair election. The politically dominant Tutsi population peacefully yielded to a Hutu government. This was a truly historic event, giving the majority population a duly elected government, after many years of conflict.
Ethnic tribal conflict in Rwanda produced one of the postwar world’s greatest human tragedies. In 1959, the majority Hutu, 85 percent of the population, overthrew the Tutsi (15 percent) monarchy. Two years later, the party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement won an overwhelming victory in a UN-supervised referendum. Belgium granted independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) in 1962. In the intervening three years, some 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries.
Rwanda experienced normal democratic government under Hutu control until 1973, when the Hutu military took power, dissolved the National Assembly, and abolished all political activity. The coup leader formed a political party, and held elections in late 1978, 1983, and 1988, with himself running as the sole candidate for president. In 1990, after more than a decade of one-party Hutu rule, the Hutu leader announced his intention to transform Rwanda into a multi-party, multi-ethnic democracy.
In October 1990, disgruntled Tutsi exiles organized the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RFP) and invaded Rwanda from their base in Uganda. The war dragged on for two years, until a cease fire took hold and political talks began. On April 6, 1994, an airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down and both men were killed. Tutsis were charged with the crime. Hutu militia groups began killing Tutsis and Hutu political moderates. Between April 6 and the beginning of July, 1984, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered. In response, the Tutsi-RPF resumed its invasion, defeated the Hutu Rwandan army, and took control of the country.
After successfully establishing itself in office, the new RPF government organized a coalition government of national unity. In 2003 it promulgated a new constitution that eliminated reference to ethnicity, stipulating that no party could hold more than half the seats in parliament to insure a balance of political power between Hutu and Tutsi. In elections held later that year, the Tutsi Paul Kagame, whose RPF ended the genocide, was chosen as president. His government set in motion the prosecution of thousands of those involved in the 1994 genocide. In 2007, some modicum of order and stability had return to Rwanda. If conditions hold, Rwanda has a chance to put decades of ethnic cleansing behind it for a more promising future.