In contrast to most African countries, Burundi existed as a political unit prior to European colonial rule. Nevertheless, German and (after 1916) Belgian rule profoundly affected Burundi's political future by exacerbating ethnic divisions and concentrating power in the hands of the Tutsi minority. Burundi gained independence in 1962 as a constitutional monarchy under a Tutsi king. After political gains by the Hutu majority in 1965, Tutsi leaders moved to reassert their own power, leading to a bloodless coup in November 1966 that installed Tutsi army captain Michel Micombero as president.
Conditions for the Hutu deteriorated under President Micombero, as they were gradually excluded from the army and administration. In 1972, fears of a potential Hutu rebellion led to massacres in which approximately 150,000 mostly professional and intellectual Hutu perished. Ethnic relations continued to degenerate during the 11-year rule of Colonel Jean Baptiste Bagaza, who deposed Micombero in 1976.
Major Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, first came to power in a 1987 coup. Beginning in 1988 he initiated a program to ease ethnic tensions between Tutsi and Hutu factions by bringing Hutu into the government. His reforms culminated in a multi-party presidential election in June 1993 in which Buyoya ran as the candidate for the Union for National Progress (UPRONA) and received 32% of the vote compared to 64% for Melchior Ndadye, a Hutu from the Front for Democracy in Burundi (FRODEBU). Contrary to expectations, Buyoya agreed to step down and urged his supporters to accept the results of the vote.
After taking office in July 1993, Ndadye, the first Hutu leader of Burundi, attempted to appease opponents by appointing Tutsi from UPRONA to a number of important posts, including prime minister. Nevertheless, many Tutsi refused to accept his authority as president, and in October 1993 Ndadye was killed in a coup attempt. Although the coup ultimately failed to bring down the government, it initiated a new period of on going ethnic conflict, violence, and instability. In the months that followed Ndadye's assassination, thousands of people were killed in ethnic clashes throughout the country. Ndadye's successor as president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was himself killed several months later in a plane crash in Kigali, Rwanda, that also killed Rwandan president Junvenal Habyarimana. Ntaryamira's successor, Sylvestre Ntibantunganya, served from April 1994 until he was deposed by Buyoya in a July 1996 coup. During the intervening years, Burundi has seen continuation of intense interethnic fighting. Thousands of refugees had fled the country, and thousands more are dead.