Although the date of the establishment of the Kingdom of Burundi is contested, it is estimated to have come into existence early in the 17th century when the pastoral Tutsis established dominance over the agricultural Hutus. Just like the Kingdom of Rwanda, Burundi was a majority Hutu kingdom ruled by Tutsi kings. The regnal names of the King, Mwami, followed a cycle with the first king in the cycle having the title Ntare (meaning “lion”) followed by Mwezi (meaning “moon”) then Mutaga (meaning “day”) and Mwambutsa (meaning “somebody who helps someone cross a road/bridge”).
The kingdom had a decentralized structure with the Mwami heading a semi-autonomous princely aristocracy called Ganwa. The royal family owned most of the land in the kingdom and required farmers to pay tribute to them. Continuous fights about who should succeed the king weakened the kingdom over time.
In 1890, Germans claimed the Kingdom of Burundi as part of German East Africa even though they did not effectively occupy it. After World War I, Germany’s defeat meant that its former colonies were handed over to other European nations. The League of Nations mandate joined the Kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi to form the territory of Ruanda-Urundi and awarded it to Belgium to rule. With colonization, the Burundian monarchy had become increasingly ceremonial. After World War II, the Burundians began to agitate for independence and Burundi became an independent kingdom in 1962 with constitutional monarchy as the form of government. However, in 1966, the Burundian monarchy was abolished when the Prime Minister, Michel Micombero deposed Ntare V Ndizeye, and declared himself president. He felt the monarchy was too moderate in trying to balance Tutsi and Hutu interests. Although there have been various efforts since then to restore the Burundian monarchy, they have not been successful.
By Iyeyinka Kusi-Mensah