Jean-Baptiste Bagaza (29 August 1946 – 4 May 2016) was a Burundian army officer and politician who ruled Burundi as president and de facto military dictator from November 1976 to September 1987.
Bagaza was born in Rutovu, Bururi Province in Belgian-ruled Ruanda-Urundi on 29 August 1946. His family were ethnic Hima, part of the wider Tutsi ethnic group. After studying in Catholic schools in Bujumbura, he enlisted in the army of the newly independent Kingdom of Burundi. He was sent to Belgium in 1966 where he studied at the Royal Military Academy in Brussels until 1971. He returned to Burundi in 1972 and was appointed adjunct chief of staff of the Burundian military, largely because of his family's connections to the dictator Michel Micombero who also came from Rutovu. Bagaza was involved in Micombero's genocidal killings of ethnic Hutu in 1972.
Bagaza overthrew Micombero in a military coup on 1 November 1976. The constitution was temporarily suspended by a military junta, the 30-member Supreme Revolutionary Council, which declared Bagaza president on 10 November 1976. Bagaza initiated a number of reforms after taking power, attacking corruption and making modest reforms to improve conditions for Hutus who had been targeted under the Micombero regime. Some Hutu refugees were allowed to return from exile in Zaire and Tanzania where they had fled during the genocide.
Burundi's feudal system of land tenure, known as the Ubugererwa, was abolished in 1977. However, Bagaza ensured that the Tutsi remained economically and politically dominant. A programme of economic modernization was begun to allow the emergence of small-scale capitalist agriculture, involving the construction of two new hydroelectric dams which still form the basis for Burundi's energy infrastructure.
A military coup broke out in September 1987, led by Major Pierre Buyoya, while Bagaza was abroad in Quebec, Canada. Buyoya successfully deposed Bagaza's regime and established himself as president. Bagaza himself went into exile in neighbouring Uganda and later in Libya where he lived until 1993. Opposed to the empowerment of Hutu through the 1993 elections, he reportedly played a major part in the coup d'état against Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's first democratically elected president. The putschists killed Ndadaye, but failed to maintain control. Power was consequently returned to a civilian, democratic government.
Despite the coup's failure, Bagaza returned to Burundi where he founded the Party for National Recovery (Parti pour le Redressement National, PARENA). He was a senator for life as a former head of state. At the time, Bagaza was known for his extreme views, including general opposition to any power-sharing agreements with Hutu factions such as the Front for Democracy in Burundi (Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi, FRODEBU). He eventually began to advocate the division of Burundi into a "Tutsiland" and a "Hutuland".
On 18 January 1997, Bagaza was placed under house arrest for gathering weapons for a plot against President Buyoya. Two months later, the house arrest was changed into a prison sentence, though he was quickly released. Bagaza was subsequently involved in the peace talks which were supposed to end the Burundian Civil War. As he and PARENA as a whole tended to be opposed to the implementation of power-sharing deals with the Hutu rebels, the government placed Bagaza under house arrest and banned PARENA from November 2002 to May 2003.
In 2005, there were rumours that radical followers of Bagaza were organising a rebel group known as "Justice and Liberity United Front". Tensions abated when PARENA accepted ministerial position in the newly formed coalition government. In 2010, Bagaza ran as PARENA's candidate for the 2010 presidential election, but withdrew when the Burundian opposition boycotted the elections. He stepped down as head of PARENA in March 2014, and was succeeded by Zénon Nimbona. Bagaza remained the main opposition leader in the Burundian Senate, and joined the opposition boycott of the 2015 elections.
He died in Brussels, Belgium on 4 May 2016 at the age of 69 of natural causes and was buried in Bujumbura on 17 May 2016.