Happy 50th Anniversary of Independence, Rwanda and Burundi!

The Kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi have existed for centuries. This month they celebrate the 50th anniversary of their renewed independence, after subjugation after the First World War.

The two kingdoms’ fate became intertwined when Belgium won them from Germany in 1916. Then called Ruanda-Urundi, the single state was run as a plunder economy with Belgian-selected indigenous rule. These rulers were selected based on their position on either side of a racial divide, a decision that has had reverberating impacts all the way in to the present.

Earl Hurie speaking

Early talk of Europe and African Federation (EARL HURIE BACK FROM AFRICA. ITV Early Evening News. 04-05-1959)

In 1962, after decades that the League of Nations and United Nations had hoped would be spent investing in the area, Rwanda and Burundi were granted independence. Belgium was pressured to leave not just politically, but by conflict in the Belgian Congo.

Lord Gladwyn, Acting Secretary General of the United Nations 1945-46

Dag Hammarskjold was killed in a plane crash en-route to ceasefire talks in Katanga, which broke away from the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo in 1960 (DAG HAMMARSKJOLD DEATH. ITV Late Evening News. 18-09-1961)

Times remained turbulent in Rwanda and Burundi, and both countries have been marked by tragedy even recently.

Cameraman on a camera-guiding track

Behind the scenes of 100 Days, the first fictional account of the Rwandan genocide (Rwanda: Film. GNS Weekly News, AP Archive. 10-03-1999)

While the lives they knew are gone, some survivors have finally been able to go home.

Refugees in the back of a canvas-topped truck

With help, refugees head home (BURUNDI / RWANDA: REFUGESS RETURN TO RWANDA FROM BURUNDI. Reuters TV. 21-02-1996)

Fortunately, from tragedy comes adversity. There has been progress over time, and even a few smiles.

Burundi dancer clapping

The 50th anniversary of the two countries independence allows an opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future of these young nations. Rwanda and Burundi have been tempered by their own trials, but that only illustrates their tenacity. This is not merely a century of renewed independence now half full, it is a time of optimism and a celebration of what is to come.

Pierre Nkurunziza