24 January 2018

Burundi: Louis Rwagasore, the Unifying Prince

interview

Prince Louis Rwagasore was supposed to lead Burundi into independence. He was named prime minister but was killed shortly before independence.

"A peaceful, happy and prosperous Burundi." This was the dream of Prince Louis Rwagasore, who was passionate about economics and convinced that independence could be achieved peacefully.

Was Rwagasore popular because of his royal blood?

It is true that Louis Rwagasore grew up with the privileges of a prince. He was the eldest son of Mwami Mwambutsa Bangicirenge, King of the Barundi and he received a good education in one of the most prestigious high schools of Rwanda under Belgian trusteeship. After studies in administration and agronomy in Brussels, where he met students from all over the African continent, Rwagasore returned to his country in 1956 and became a political animal. He became popular through his charisma and his abilities as a strategist.

How did Rwagasore manage to unify Burundians?

Louis Rwagasore was a skilled diplomat and a great unifier. He impressed Burundians firstly by his spirit of initiative, with the creation of agricultural cooperatives that were supposed to give Burundians back the control over production and by putting an end to the monoculture of coffee. He also had strong relationships with great figures of African independence - Prince Louis Rwagasore met Congo's Patrice Lumumba several times, he exchanged letters with Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and he developed his political project thanks to his friend Julius Nyerere. The cooperatives project failed, but it made him famous and he created his party, the National Progress and Unity Party (UPRONA) in 1958 with a very diversified militant base.

What is his place in the pantheon of the African independence heroes?

In Burundi, he is a hero who is honored at each independence celebration. He remains the symbol of the transition towards a peaceful independence and a united Burundi. Stadiums, schools, libraries, avenues - tributes to the national hero are everywhere. After the civil war in Burundi, the signatories of the Arusha Peace Agreement in the year 2000 referred to his "charismatic leadership." His early death prevented him from "looking into the real problems of the nation, especially the economic problems, the problems of the land and of the social emancipation of the population, the problems of education and so many others, to which we will find our own solutions," as he promised during his speech when he became prime minister.

Tamara Wackernagel, Antediteste Niragira and Gwendolin Hilse contributed to this package. It is part of DW's special series "African Roots", dedicated to African history, a cooperation with the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

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