The Government of Burundi announced on Tuesday, June 9, that President Pierre Nkurunziza died on Monday, June 8, after 15 years in power and recent elections that confirmed his successor.
He became ill on Saturday June 6 after watching a volleyball game and his condition improved on Sunday, but then surprisingly deteriorated on Monday while at the 50th Hospital in Karusi. A seven-day national mourning was decreed.
URGENT: Le Gouvernement de la République du Burundi annonce avec une très grande tristesse le décès inopiné de Son Excellence Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République du Burundi, survenu à l'Hôpital du Cinquantenaire de Karusi suite à un arrêt cardiaque ce 8 juin pic.twitter.com/PP46kKzAM5
– Burundi Government (@BurundiGov) June 9, 2020
LAST MINUTE: The Government of the Republic of Burundi sadly announces the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, who died unexpectedly at the 50th Hospital of Karusi after cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020 .
Nkurunziza was born in 1964, and lost his very young father to violence against the Hutus. Then he studied physical education and became a teacher. In 1995 he joined the rebellion with the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) – after he escaped an attack – and continued to rise in the ranks until he became president in 2005. With the end of the war, the CNDD-FDD became a political party.
He was very religious and often said that he had been chosen by God for this role.
Burundi made some progress in peacetime in terms of political and economic stability, with measures such as free medical care for children. However, the CNDD-FDD, formerly a rebel group that turned into a party, gradually dominated power authoritatively, intensifying particularly after Nkurunziza's controversial 2015 election for a third term.
The CNDD-FDD violently excluded the voices of the opposition and the media and cut ties with foreign governments and international organizations. Many opponents and moderate members of the CNDD-FDD left the country.
The Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the party, became powerful and has often been accused of armed violence and coercion.
There is an ongoing investigation in the International Criminal Court is investigating the alleged crimes against humanity committed in Burundi. With the constitutional changes begun in 2018 that strengthened the presidential power, critics argued that his government was leaving behind the Arusha Accords that facilitated the end of the war.
The Government announced the death of Nkurunziza by complications of a heart attack, but many suspect that he was ill with COVID-19. His wife was hospitalized for that reason, and RFI reported that doctors discussed the symptoms of COVID-19 when he was first hospitalized, and brought a ventilator to the hospital.
His wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, was reported to be evacuated to a Nairobi, Kenya hospital with symptoms of COVID-19 in late May 27. There was little official communication about it, although he sent an audio message to his church on June 5 saying he was fine, and then returned on June 9.
Medical staff recently expressed alarm at the increase in cases with symptoms of COVID-19. However, the lack of analytical capacity leads us to suspect that the situation is worse than reported – only 83 cases were registered – and the authorities downplay the pandemic and even expel the agents of the World Health Organization, probably to avoid admitting lack of health care capacity and avoid postponement of recent elections.
The non-governmental organization Olucome called for more vigilance, referring to the large crowds at the rallies during the election campaign. Meanwhile, the Government said that Burundi was protected by God. Cases inside Ngozi prison with symptoms similar to those of COVID-19 were also reported in early June.
The Health Minister was reportedly hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms after the election and spent a few days in a Kenyan hospital.
The recent elections were characterized by harassment of opponents and a lack of observers. The opposition filed an appeal with allegations of irregularities. Surprisingly, on May 28, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Pierre Claver Kasihize, announced that he was withdrawing the results he had publicly announced, saying that they were only a draft that should not have been published.
However, the election results were officially confirmed by the Constitutional Court. The ruling party and its candidate, Évariste Ndayishimiye, won the presidential and legislative elections with 68.7% and 68% respectively.
Nkurunziza's unexpected death changes things for the new president's term. Nkurunziza's influence was predicted to be upon him – Nkurunziza received the title of Supreme Guide to Patriotism – in balance with the influence of the powerful council of generals within the party.
This has already changed, as Ndayishimiye will not have Nkurunziza's influence to balance. However, the council of generals remains – he supported his candidacy – and that they also have a rebel military background.
Who directs you #Burundi depuis hier?
Pascal Nyabenda ou Gaston Sindimwo & le gouvernement selon le prescrit de la Constitution?
Allons-nous vers l'investiture précipitée d'Evariste Ndayishimiye?
I communicated to him this time that he was still subject to him. pic.twitter.com/jrj01GVAPp
– Pacify NININAHAZWE 🇧🇮 (@pnininahazwe) June 9, 2020
Who has been running Burundi since yesterday?
Pascal Nyabenda or Gaston Sindimwo and the Government as prescribed by the Constitution?
Are we heading towards the hasty investiture of Evariste Ndayishimiye?
Surprisingly, the government statement says nothing about it.
Analyst Thierry Vircoulon argued that the CNDD-FDD party regime and its clientele systems remain in place, with the powerful advice of generals, and therefore, overall, little structural change is expected.
The new president, in his new seven-year term, faces challenges ranging from increasing poverty and pandemic to strained diplomatic relations and the hundreds of thousands of Burundians who continue to live as refugees.
Nkurunziza would have remained in office until August 20, when the new president took office.
RFI said that, according to the Constitution, it would be Pascal Nyabenda, president of the National Assembly, who would serve as interim president; he was reportedly Nkurunziza's preferred choice for his succession before accepting Ndayishimiye.
Ndayishimiye's inauguration could be brought forward to reduce uncertainty.
At this unusual time, SOS Medias Burundi reported that the streets were quiet in the old capital, Bujumbura. In Gitega, the political capital chosen in 2019 by the Nkurunziza government, things were even calmer than usual, people were waiting to see what happens next.
The tributes they paid him were broadcast on television.
Gaston SIndimwo, first vice president of the Republic and presidential candidate of the Union Party for National Progress (UPRONA), gave his condolenceLike the main opposition party, the National Congress of Liberty, or CN.
On the other hand, the Burundians' reactions reflect the divisions that emerge from their presidency:
In cette semaine de deuil national, the blogger Painette Niyongere rend hommage au président Pierre #Nkurunziza Qui vient de nous quitter à travers quelques bons souvenirs qu'elle garde de lui.#Burundi #politique https://t.co/gjzy1JYXO9
– Yaga Burundi (@YBurundi) June 10, 2020
Five good memories I have of Pierre Nkurunziza.
There are people who die and can be forgotten, but not Pierre Nkurunziza. Whether we like it or not, there are many things to remember about the man who led Burundi for 15 years. Here are the good memories I have of him during this week of national mourning.
In this week of national mourning, blogger Painette Niyongere pays tribute to President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has just left us, with fond memories of him.
As I learn of the passing of Pierre Nkurunziza, I think of the thousands of lives that his regime cut short. The families that won't see justice.
I also think of his wife hospitalized in Kenya. His mother hospitalized in Ngozi. His sister, other members of his family… all sick.
– Thierry Uwamahoro (@ThierryU) June 9, 2020
I learn of the death of Pierre Nkurunziza, and I think of the thousands of lives that his regime cut. (In) families who will not see justice.
I also think of his wife hospitalized in Kenya. Her mother hospitalized in Ngozi. His sister, other members of his family … all sick.
Antoine Kaburahe, founder of the Iwacu newspaper and who has been harassed by the authorities in recent years, wrote that Nkurunziza's death marks a “moment of reflection in Ubuntu”, a philosophy of southern Africa that emphasizes the interconnectedness of humanity. Kaburahe is currently living in exile, and four Iwacu journalists were recently imprisoned and their appeal was rejected.
After the president's death, the contested elections, and the long-term problems of economic exclusion and political violence and exile, there is much to ponder.