New evidence shows Belgium was complicit in 1961 killing of Burundi PM
Burundi’s popular prime minister, Prince Louis Rwagasore, was shot dead just over 60 years ago in the central African nation with the complicity of departing colonial power Belgium, according to a Guardian report, citing a Belgian researcher.
The Belgian state has an “overwhelming responsibility” for the assassination of Rwagasore, said Ludo De Witte, a sociologist who has spent five years investigating the killing.
His previous work on the assassination of Congo’s first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, led to a parliamentary inquiry that concluded Belgium had a “moral responsibility” for the death of the charismatic leader.
His new book, Murder in Burundi, explores unseen documents from archives in Brussels and London that expose Belgium’s hand in Rwagasore’s assassination, an event that shattered peace between ethnic groups, leading to decades of war and instability in the landlocked African country.
The story unfolds on the terrace of the restaurant Tanganyika in Bujumbura on October 13, 1961, where Rwagasore was dining with ministers and allies.
The 29-year-old son of one of Burundi’s last kings had been swept to power barely three weeks earlier in a landslide victory that had stunned the Belgian elite.
Rwagasore wanted to unite Burundi’s different ethnic groups – the Hutus, Tutsi and Gangwas – in true independence from Belgium, the colonial power since 1918. But his plans were never realised.
He had been prime minister for only 16 days when he was shot. The killer and his accomplices were quickly caught and tried. The man who pulled the trigger, Jean Kageorgis, a Greek national, was executed on 30 June 1962, the day before Burundi’s independence. Five accomplices were put to death six months later.
De Witte argues that the role of the Belgian state was never properly examined, not by the Belgian colonial court, the newly independent government of Burundi, or the United Nations, which all conducted inquiries into the killing.
De Witte sees differences in the culpability of the Belgian elite in the two assassinations he has investigated. In the case of Lumumba, killed also in 1961, the Belgian elite had “a direct and concrete responsibility in the assassination”, De Witte said. In the case of Rwagasore, events were orchestrated by Belgian officials in Burundi while Brussels turned a blind eye.