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This is Sylvie Kinigi, the First Woman to Become Prime Minister of Burundi

Sylvie Kinigi born 1953, was Prime Minister of Burundi from 10 July 1993 to 7 February 1994, and acting President from 27 October 1993 to 5 February 1994, the first and to date only woman to hold these positions.

Kinigi was born in 1953 to a family in the countryside of Burundi. Her father was a merchant and her mother cultivated the soil and kept the house. Sylvie was the third of six children. The oldest was a girl and had to help her mother, but Sylvie was allowed to go to a Belgian school for girls run by nuns. She received both primary and secondary education and afterward went to the capital, Bujumbura, to study economics. At 19 years old she married one of the professors and had four children, but continued her studies.

She was also engaged in the women’s organization of the governing Tutsi party and managed to get laws changed and economic and social measures implemented for women. She headed the group in the capital and was a member of the national executive board of the women’s branch. After Kinigi graduated from Burundi University, she got a job in Burundi’s central bank and at the same time taught at the university. In the bank, she was promoted and was given responsibility for research and studies. In 1991 she became the adviser to the prime minister and was responsible for reducing military expenditures and carrying out an economic reform program.

There was an armed conflict between Hutus and Tutsis until 1993. Then elections were organized as a transition to democracy. To great surprise, the leader of the opposition Melchior Ndadaye was elected President of Burundi. He appointed a cabinet with two-thirds Hutu and one-third Tutsi members. Sylvie Kinigi became Prime Minister. This was part of an effort to build unity between Burundi’s two ethnic groups — Ndadaye was Hutu, and wished to decrease Tutsi hostility to his administration by appointing a Tutsi as Prime Minister. Kinigi stated that reconciliation would be her highest priority.

On 21 October, however, President Ndadaye and six of his ministers were killed by Tutsi insurgents. This marked the beginning of the Burundi Civil War, with widespread ethnic violence breaking out. Kinigi and other senior government figures took refuge in the French embassy, and survived the chaos. After a few days, Kinigi managed to gather together 15 of the 22 ministers to continue to govern, effectively being the acting President. Her position was bolstered when Pierre Buyoya and Jean Baptiste Bagaza, former military presidents, gave their support to her government.

In January 1994, Parliament elected Cyprien Ntaryamira, the former agriculture minister, as President for the remainder of Ndadaye’s term. As Ntaryamira was a Hutu, the appointment generated hostility from many Tutsis. Kinigi, however, recognised Ntaryamira as President, but resigned as prime minister when he was inaugurated. She was the object of criticism, attacks and threats from all sides and it was not long before she left the country. In February she was replaced by Anatole Kanyenkiko, another Tutsi.

As of 2004, Kinigi was working with the United Nations Development Programme.


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