Military Wiki
1993 Burundian coup d'état attempt
Location Burundi AU Africa.svg
Date21–27 October 1993
LocationBujumbura, Burundi
3°23′S 29°22′E / 3.383°S 29.367°E / -3.383; 29.367Coordinates: 3°23′S 29°22′E / 3.383°S 29.367°E / -3.383; 29.367

Coup attempt partially fails

  • Assassination of Melchior Ndadaye
  • Formation of the Committee of Public Salvation
  • Reinstatement, but permanent weakening of civilian-led government
  • Outbreak of the Burundian Civil War
Burundi Government of Burundi Army faction
Commanders and leaders
Melchior Ndadaye Jean Bikomagu
Jean-Baptiste Bagaza
François Ngeze
Casualties and losses
numerous government officials and family members killed 2 soldiers wounded

On 21 October 1993, a coup was attempted in Burundi by a Tutsi–dominated Army faction, led by Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Jean Bikomagu, ex-President Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, and former interior minister François Ngeze.[1][2] The coup attempt resulted in assassination of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye, and numerous other casualties.[2][3] Earlier in 1993, Ndadaye was elected in the 1 June presidential election and was sworn in on 10 July.[4]

Following the coup, the Committee of Public Salvation (CSP) was created as the ruling junta, and François Ngeze (a prominent Hutu member of UPRONA) was installed as the new President. Faced with widespread condemnation, the Army leaders urged civilian politicians to resume control.[5] Consequently, Prime Minister Sylvie Kinigi (who took refuge in the French embassy with other senior government figures) was installed as Acting President on 27 October.

In November 2018 the Burundian government arrested four retired army officers, General Celestin Ndayisaba, Colonel Gabriel Gunungu, Colonel Laurent Niyonkuru, and Colonel Anicet Nahigombeye, with the intent to charge them with the murder of Ndadaye.[6]


President Melchior Ndadaye, pictured in 1993

After years of military dictatorship, Burundi transitioned to democratic rule in 1993 and hosted democratic elections. Melchior Ndadaye was elected President of Burundi in the 1 June presidential election and was sworn in on 10 July.[4] On 19 October, an army officer approached the wife of Minister of Communications Jean‐Marie Ngendahayo and informed her that personnel in the army headquarters were plotting against the president.[7] At 15:00 on 20 October, Major Isaïe Nibizi, commander of the 2nd Commando Battalion, commandant of Camp Muha, and officer responsible for presidential security, informed Ndadaye's chef de cabinet of suspicious military movements.[8]

Later that afternoon, Ndadaye hosted a cabinet meeting in Bujumbura to mark the first 100 days of his presidency (which had passed two days prior) and discuss what his government had accomplished in comparison to its campaign promises.[9] At the conclusion of the meeting Ngendahayo requested to speak in private with Ndadaye. In the president's office, Ngendahayo raised concerns about Ndadaye's safety. Instead of informing the president about the vague threat his wife had learned of, he told him that he felt it strange that the Union pour le Progrès National (Uprona), the Tutsi-dominated opposition party, was denouncing the government's popular policy of allowing thousands of Burundian refugees to return to the country before the commune elections in December. Ngendahayo stated that he thought this would cost Uprona the elections, and thus the only reason they would oppose the policy is if they planned to take power via an assassination and a coup. He also requested that Ndadaye further consider a previous report declaring his personal security to be inadequate. Ndadaye instructed Ngendahayo to bring him the Minister of Defence, Colonel Charles Ntakije.[10] Ngendahayo found Ntakije in a separate room on a telephone call. Ambassador Melchior Ntamobwa, who was also present, told Ngendahayo that the colonel was being informed a coup plot meant to move forward that night. Once Ntakije finished the call, he and Ngendahayo went to the president's office.[7]

Ntakije told Ndadaye that a coup was being planned by the 11th Armoured Car Battalion, which was going to attack the Presidential Palace at 02:00 on 21 October. When asked how he would respond, Ntakije said he would gather trusted officers and organise an ambush if the battalion left its camp.[7] Ndadaye inquired about the status of Sylvestre Ningaba, a former army colonel who had been arrested in July for attempting a coup, and asked if he could be relocated to a different prison so the putschists could not obtain his help. Ntakije said that this would not be possible due to the objections of prison officials to transferring detainees at nighttime, but he assured the president that he would station an additional armoured car at the Presidential Palace for extra security. Ndadaye spoke about training possibilities for the Presidential Guard before dismissing both ministers and going to the palace.[11] When he arrived he told his wife, Laurence, about the coup plot, but was mostly assured by what Ntakije had said to him.[12] Ndadaye and his wife went to sleep, but he was awoken by a phone call from Brussels by J. Alfred Ndoricimpa, the Methodist Bishop of Burundi, who informed the president of rumours circulating among the Burundian expatriates in Brussels of an impending military coup.[8]

The coup[]

Attack on the Presidential Palace[]

At around midnight on 20 October, putschists of the 11th Armoured Car Battalion departed from Camp Muha in over a dozen armoured cars and took up positions around Bujumbura. Within an hour they surrounded the Presidential Palace. They were joined by hundreds of soldiers and gendarmes from the other eleven military camps in Bujumbura, including members of the 1st Parachute Battalion and a few personnel from the 2nd Commando Battalion. They prepared to attack the palace, which was only guarded by 38 soldiers of the Presidential Guard and two armoured cars. Shortly before 01:00 on 21 October, Ntakije called the president and told him that armoured cars had left Camp Muha for an unknown destination and advised him to leave the palace immediately.[8] Ndadaye then attempted to reach Captain Mushwabure, the commander of the palace guard, by phone, but when he did not answer he went into the palace gardens.[13] At 01:30 the putschists fired a single shot, and shortly thereafter at least one armoured car blasted a whole in the grounds wall and began bombarding the palace with cannon fire. Laurence Ndadaye took her three children into an interior room and sheltered them under tables, though she and her son were grazed by shrapnel. Meanwhile, the president was disguised in a military uniform by his guards and placed in one of their armoured cars in the garden, where he remained for the next six hours.[14] According to political scientist René Lemarchand, the palace guards offered sustained resistance to the attack until several of them defected to the increasing number of putschists and the rest gave up.[15] Two of the putschists were reportedly wounded by gunfire when they attempted to enter the palace grounds. In contrast, Laurence Ndadaye stated that none of the guards resisted the attack.[16]

Laurence Ndadaye was unable to reach her husband's cell phone and believed he was dead. When Ntakije called for him, she told him that he was in the garden. Laurence then made a series of phone calls to Minister of Foreign Affairs Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, Minister of Agriculture Cyprien Ntaryamira, Frodebu leaders, the provincial governors, and President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda to inform them of the coup.[14] After being warned, Ntibantunganya began calling Frodebu leaders in an attempt to rally the government. At 02:10 he reached Ngendahayo.[17] Ngendahayo then telephoned Ntakije, who reported that the situation was under control. When Ntakije called back 30 minutes later, the colonel said that he was hiding and urged Ngendahayo to flee. Ngendahayo then took his family in his private car to the home of Michel Ramboux, a Belgian development official and personal friend.[18]

Escape attempts of the government ministers[]

Meanwhile the chargé d'affaires of the United States embassy, Paul Patin, awoke to the sound of gunfire. He called his embassy's head of security and asked him to for a ride to the legation. When the officer and a United States marine arrived some Burundian soldiers attempted to impede their entry, but they soon departed and Patin reached the embassy, where he telephoned the United States Department of State and told them about the coup.[19] At 2:45 Ntibantunganya telephoned Patin, telling him that the president was safe and that "the situation seems to be under control."[17] He also extracted Patin's assurances that the United States government would condemn the coup. At about 03:30 he told Patin that he was preparing to flee. Distrustful of his military guard, he changed into his gardener's clothes and walked to a friend's home, where he remained in hiding for the next two days.[20] Ntaryamira hid in his neighbours' home, who were Tustis. When soldiers did not find him in his own residence, they went there asking for his whereabouts. The matriarch of the household told the soldiers that Ntaryamira had fled down the road, and they quickly departed.[20]

Meanwhile, the wives of Ntibantunganya and Ntaryamira, agreeing that they should split up from their husbands, sought safety in the home of their friend, Dominique Barumpozako. Soldiers went there in search of them and killed Ntibantunganya's wife and her houseguest, whom they mistook for Ntaryamira's wife.[21] Minister of Home Affairs and Communal Development Juvénal Ndayikeza called the provincial governors before telephoning Patin to ask him for refuge in the United States embassy. Patin assured him safety, but before Ndayikeza could reach the embassy he was captured by soldiers and killed.[22] Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Gilles Bimazubute was collected by soldiers from his residence. Though a Tusti, he was a proponent of majority rule and was thus regarded as a traitor by the putschists, who soon killed him.[23] When soldiers arrived at Director of Intelligence Richard Ndikumwami's house, he drew a pistol to defend himself. They quickly disarmed him and bayoneted him in front of his family before taking his body away.[24] Speaker of the National Assembly Pontien Karibwami lived in the former home of President Pierre Buyoya, which was constructed with many security features. The guards at his home did not resist the putschists, but they were unable to break in for an hour until they breached the reinforced doors with a bazooka. They fatally beat and bayoneted Karibwami and took him away.[25]

Deputy Prime Ministers Bernard Ciza and Melchior Ntahobama were betrayed by their guards and were imprisoned. However, a few hours later a junior military officer freed them and asked them where they wished to go. Ciza was taken to the French embassy, while Ntahobama was taken to the home of the deputy chief of mission of the Belgian embassy.[25] At about 04:00, a technician awakened by the putschists was, after some delay, able to sever telecommunications between Bujumbura and elsewhere.[26] With the phone lines inoperative, Patin decided to search for President Ndadaye. Upon reaching the Burundian Army headquarters, French military attaches who were present dissuaded them from going to Camp Muha, saying it was too dangerous.[27]

Shortly before dawn, Ngendahayo scaled the wall at Ramboux's residence and went to the neighbouring home, which belonged to his brother and was also where Minister of Refugee Repatriation Léonard Nyangoma was staying.[18] At about 07:00 Ngendahayo telephoned Army Chief of Staff Colonel Jean Bikomagu. The colonel stated that the situation was "under control" and that Ndadye was "in a safe place."[28] Ngendahayo requested a military escort so that he could go to the radio and television station and, as Minister of Communications, inform the country of such. Bikomagu said he would call back and send an escort when possible.[29]

Death of Ndadaye[]

At about 7:00, soldiers breached the Presidential Palace and found Laurence Ndadaye and her children. They told them to go outside to find shelter in an armoured car. After 30 minutes of avoiding gunfire, they reached one of the two cars, which would not start. They quickly reunited with President Ndadaye, who was in the other armoured vehicle. The family considered scaling the perimeter wall to go to the neighbouring Meridian Hotel, but found that the palace was completely surrounded by putschists.[30] At Captain Mushwabure's direction, Ndadye decided to be taken with his family to Camp Muha. At 7:30 they left in their armoured car, and were trailed by the putschists' vehicles. Upon arriving at the base at 8:00, their car was surrounded by putschists of the 1st Battalion.[16] Ndadaye was taken by Colonel Bikomagu to a meeting with other senior officers of the army.[31] About an hour later he returned with Secretary of State for Security Colonel Lazare Gakoryo, having reached a verbal agreement with the officers. Ndadaye reentered the armoured car with Gakoryo to finalise their understanding on paper, but when the secretary of state exited the vehicle soldiers began shouting for the president to come out. Once he did, Bikomagu quieted the crowd and Ndadaye appealed to the soldiers to negotiate peacefully with him.[32]

Soldiers began closing in on the president, and Bikomagu instructed them to let his family go since they were "of no interest" to them. He directed a driver to take the family away, and at Laurence's direction, the soldier brought them to the French embassy, where they were allowed to take refuge. Bikomagu then pointed at President Ndadaye and said to the putschists, "He is the one you were looking for. Here he is. Do what you want with him."[32] They placed Ndadaye in a jeep and drove him to the 1st Parachute Battalion's camp nearby, closely followed by Bikomagu, Gakoryo, and Major Nibizi.[32] The president was taken to an office where ten junior officers—specifically assigned to the task—killed him. A coroner's report later found that Ndadaye was held by a cord around his neck while the soldiers bayoneted him 14 times. Half of the wounds penetrated his thorax and the subsequent bleeding filled up his lungs, killing him.[33] The soldiers then dug a mass grave in the centre of the camp, where they buried Ndadaye, Karibwami, Bimazubute, Ndayikeza, and Ndikumwami. After several hours the soldiers realised that international opinion would strongly disapprove of such treatment of the bodies, so they exhumed them and allowed family members to collect them.[34]

Meanwhile at about 7:30 Ngendahayo called Bikomagu. Bikomagu stated that he was with Ndadaye, but that the president could not speak due to the presence of hostile soldiers outside and quickly hung up. Ngendahayo, his brother, and Nyangoma suspected that Bikomagu was lying and, feeling that he might have sent troops to kill them, they fled to the warehouse of Belgian businessman Michel Carlier. Carlier hid them in the warehouse, and Ngendahayo managed to reach Ndadaye's chef de cabinet via cell phone. He told them that the president was dead and that Ngendahayo, as Minister of Communications, had to inform the public. Afterwards two technicians from the radio station phoned him, saying that while they could not broadcast a speech through their own station, they had a working telephone connection with Radio Rwanda.[29] Ngendahayo proceeded to deliver the following message for Radio Rwanda:[35]

I do not know for certain the fate of President Ndadaye at this time. What I do know is that, whether alive or dead, no one will stop the democratic process in Burundi. The people have decided to choose freedom. The wheel of history is going forward. I therefore call upon the free world’s representatives to rescue the nation of Burundi and its democracy. And I particularly call upon the francophone countries to assist, because at the recent francophone summit attended by President Ndadaye, they highlighted the virtues of democracy. I hope that they will spearhead this process in Burundi. And I call upon all Burundians to fight for democracy wherever they are.

The message was repeatedly broadcast over Radio Rwanda throughout the day in French and Kirundi. Ngendahayo, his brother, and Nyangoma then took one of Carlier's company cars and reached the French embassy.[36] Minister of Health Jean Minani was in Kigali at the time of the takeover, and confirmed to the international media the death of the president, saying on Radio Rwanda, "The dictators killed Ndadaye".[37] He called for international armed intervention to protect the civilian government.[38]


Political scientist Filip Reyntjens described the coup as "the most successful failed military take-over" in African history.[39] Journalists Zdenek Červenka and Colin Legum stated that "In military terms, the coup was a success. The predominantly Tutsi army still [held] effective power. However, in political terms, the actions by the military extremists was an abysmal failure since it failed in their major objective of displacing the democratically elected government."[40]


  1. Lansford 2017, p. 220.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Leader of Burundi Reportedly Killed in a Coup by an Ethnic Rival". The New York Times. 22 October 1993. Retrieved 7 November 2019. 
  3. "President of Burundi Was Killed In Coup, Leaders of the Army Say". The New York Times. 25 October 1993. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Burundi President Sworn In". The New York Times. 11 July 1993. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  5. "Burundi Army Leaders Urge Civilians to Resume Control". The New York Times. 26 October 1993. Retrieved 19 June 2019. 
  6. "Four arrests over 1993 killing of Burundi leader". 25 November 2018. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 4.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 7.
  9. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 1–2.
  10. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 3–4.
  11. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 5.
  12. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 6.
  13. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 7–8.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 8.
  15. Lemarchand 1996, p. xxxii.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 19.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 8–9.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 15.
  19. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 13–14.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 9.
  21. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 9–10.
  22. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 10–11.
  23. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 11.
  24. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 11–12.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 12.
  26. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 13.
  27. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 14.
  28. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 15–16.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 16.
  30. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 18–19.
  31. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 19–20.
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 20.
  33. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 20–21.
  34. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 21.
  35. Krueger & Krueger 2007, p. 17.
  36. Krueger & Krueger 2007, pp. 17–18.
  37. Rugiireheh-Runaku 1994, p. 62.
  38. Butare 2019, p. 72.
  39. Mekenkamp, van Tongeren & van de Veen 1999, p. 198.
  40. Červenka & Legum 1994, p. 6.

Works cited[]

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