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The Assassination of Prince Louis Rwagasore And The Colonial Fingerprint of Belgium

On September 18th 1961, parliamentary elections took place in what is modern-day Bujumbura, Burundi. The election was won in a landslide victory by Uprona, which was led by Prince Louis Rwagasore. Rwagasore was the son of King Mwambutsa of Burundi. This landslide victory meant that Rwagasore was to be installed as Prime Minister of Burundi, an event that took place on September 28th. While Rwagasore was an aristocrat, he was also a known democrat who wanted to unite all ethnic groups of Burundi. He was well known for being a great political organizer. 

Sadly on Friday October 13th of the same year, while having lunch with ministers and allies at Hotel Tanganyika, Rwagasore was shot dead. He had only been Prime Minister for a period of sixteen days and was 29 years old. The perpetrators of this heinous crime were caught, arrested, and sentenced to death. According to reports and sources, the man who pulled the trigger was Jean Kageorgis, a Greek national. He was executed the day before Burundi’s Independence Day. Six months later, five of his accomplices were also executed. This singular act of assassination led to the breakdown of relations between the ethnic groups of Burundi, resulting in instability and war for years to come.  

There had always been a suspicion that Belgium had played a part in the assassination of Rwagasore but there was no hard evidence. In 2018, the Burundi government released a statement directed at Belgium for their failure to explain their role in Rwagasore’s death. This has all changed with the publishing of the book ‘Murder in Burundi’ by Flemish sociologist Ludo De Witte. It took him five years to investigate the murder. He had direct access to documents in archives located in Brussels and London. De Witte has previously carried out an investigation on the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the first post-colonial leader of Congo who was also assassinated. 

His investigation bore fruit, which strengthens his claims that the Belgian state has an “overwhelming responsibility” for the assassination of Rwagasore. After Rwagasore’s landslide election victory, the Belgian elite were quite upset at the fact that they had been beaten. Belgian governor Roberto Regnier, who resided in Burundi, is rumored to have said in a meeting that “Rwagasore must die”.  These frightening words were taken as a rather obvious instruction to kill him. It can be said that this murder was plotted and carried out under the watch of Belgian officials in Burundi while the higher-ups in Brussels turned a blind eye.

This matter further shows how very close and recent colonial crimes were perpetrated in Africa against Africans. These crimes might be the assassination of a single person but they brought untold pain and trauma upon families, nations, and the continent. 

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