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King Mwambutsa IV: The King of Burundi buried in Switzerland


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Mwambutsa IV Bangiricenge (6th May 1912 – 26th March 1977) was the King (Mwami) of Burundi. He ruled from 1915 to 1966.  Mwambutsa was crowned at the age of 3 in 1915. He was one of the kings who were crowned at a young age in African kingdom.

There are other Kings that ascended to the throne at a tender age in Africa. These include; King (Omukama) Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru of Tooro Kingdom in Uganda. He became king at the age of three years. Kabaka Daudi Chwa II of Buganda. He ruled from 1897 to 1939. Daudi Chwa became king at the age of 1.

King Mwambutsa IV: The King of Burundi buried in Switzerland
Mwami Mwambutsa IV Bangiricenge
Source: fortuneafrica.com

When did Mwambutsa IV become king of Burundi?

Mwambutsa IV ascended to the throne following the death of his father. This was Mwami Mutaga IV Mbikije who reigned from 1908 to 1915. This was the Kingdom of Burundi, the current Republic of Burundi.

This Republic is bordered by a number of countries. These include; Rwanda in the north, Tanzania in the East and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West. The country is found in the East-Central Africa, south of the Equator.

The vast majority of Burundi’s population is Hutu. Power, however, has long rested with the Tutsi minority.

Historically, the Tutsi controlled the army and most of the economy, particularly the lucrative international export of coffee. Few real cultural differences are distinguishable between the two peoples, and both speak Rundi (Kirundi).

Origin of Burundi kingdom

At some time before the 17th century, the Tutsi a pastoral people established a kingdom. This was as a result of their dominance over the Hutu agriculturalists. These are the people who were living in the area. They were mostly peasants (Africanhistory.com).

During his reign (1675-1705), the Mwami, Ntare Ruhatsi expanded his rule. This was from the central Nkoma area over the neighboring places.

These were areas of Bututsi, Kilimiro and Buyenzi regions. Ruhatsi was the Ntare I of Burundi kingdom.

The expansion of Burundi Kingdom

A later king, Mwami Rugaamba, made further conquests. He expanded the kingdom to occupy parts of what is now Southern Rwanda and western Tanzania. Rugaamba was Ntare II of Burundi kingdom who ruled from 1795 to 1852.

The organization of the kingdom was decentralized. That is; local princes enjoyed semi autonomy. However, conflicts over succession to the kingship were frequent. These conflicts became serious in the late 19th century.

By 1900, Mwami Mwezi Kisabo controlled only half the kingdom. This was Mwami Ntare Rugaamba’s successor.

The Kingdom was known for its ceremonially planted tree (Ikigabiro).

Burundi Kingdom under colonialism

From 1890, Burundi was claimed by the Germans as part of German East Africa. However, the Germans never occupied Burundi. The Belgians took over the kingdom from the neighboring Congo. This was during World War I.

However, after the war, Burundi was awarded with Rwanda to Belgium. This came about as the League of Nations mandate (later the United Nations Trust territory) of Ruanda-Urundi.

Early life and rule of Mwambutsa IV

Mwambutsa IV was born to Prince Bangiricenge in 1912. Like other Burundian kings, he was an ethnic Ganwa (Tutsi). Mwambutsa was born while Burundi was under German colonial rule. His reign mostly coincided with Belgian colonial rule from 1916 to 1962.

The Belgians retained the monarchs of Rwanda and Burundi. They did this under their policy of indirect rule. It should be recalled that Rwanda is a neighboring country to Burundi. The two countries share tribes. That is; the Hutu and Tutsi major tribes are in both countries.

He became king, taking the regal name Mwambutsa. This was on 16th December 1915. By that time, he was still an infant. Mwambutsa IV’s enthronement followed the death of his father who died in a family dispute.

Regency in Burundi Kingdom

Because of his tender age, regency was declared. Several family members including the Queen Mother Ririkumutima, served as regent.

King Mwambutsa IV: The King of Burundi buried in Switzerland
King Mwambutsa IV Bangiricenge
Source: shutterstock.com

At the time of his coronation, Burundi was part of German East Africa. However, Belgium eventually captured Burundi in 1916. This was during the East African campaign in World War 1.

In 1925, a full regency council came into existence. This was approved by the Belgians. Mwambutsa became a ruler in his own right on 28th August 1929.

Burundi Kingdom after independence

On the independence of Burundi on July 1962, Mwambutsa IV became the head of state of Burundi. He had far reaching political power.

In Rwanda, the 1959 – 62 Rwanda revolution toppled the Tutsi monarchy. This is when the Hutu rose up to challenge the Tutsi dynasty. The revolution was championed by different nationalists such as Gregory Kaibanda.

Kaibanda is remembered for his writings in the document known as “The Hutu Manifesto”. He fought for the rights of the common Hutu. He also mobilized fellow Hutu to form political parties.

Kaibanda also urged the Hutu population to rally behind their leaders for a common cause. As a result, the Hutu over powered the Tutsi and they abolished the Tutsi dynasty.

We should remember that in the colonial times, the Belgians collaborated with the Tutsi at the expense of the Hutu.

How did Mwambutsa IV balance ethnic tensions in Burundi?

In Burundi, Mwambutsa IV attempted to balance ethnic tensions between Hutu and Tutsi subjects. He did this by choosing his Prime Ministers from each ethnic group alternately.

In October 1965, Hutu officers attempted a coup d’état against the Tutsi monarchy. Despite their failure to take power, Mwambutsa fled into exile. He ran for his life. He first went to the Republic of Congo (Africanhistory.com).

Eventually, he moved far away to Switzerland. The Hutu had borrowed a leaf from their brothers in Rwanda who had a successful revolution.

How was Mwambutsa IV overthrown?

In March 1966, he designated his only surviving son to exercise his powers in the country. Still in exile, Mwambutsa was officially deposed in a second coup d’état.

However, the coup brought his son to power as Ntare V on 8th July 1966 (Africanhistory.com).

The third coup saw the final abolishing of the monarchy. This happened in November 1966. The leader of this coup, Michel Micombero came to power as president and de facto dictator.

Mwami Mwambutsa IV’s last days

Mwambutsa spent the rest of his life in Switzerland where he died in 1977.

King Mwambutsa IV: The King of Burundi buried in Switzerland
The remains of Mwambutsa IV buried
Source: shutterstock.com

The Royal family of Burundi exhumed Mwambutsa IV’s remains from their burial site in Switzerland. This happened in 2012. It was done with a view to repatriating them to Burundi for a state funeral.

After a legal battle, however, the remains of Mwambutsa IV were re-interred in Switzerland in 2016 in accordance with his family’s wishes.


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