Burundi: Pierre Nkurunziza – Hero or Villain?

Obiajulu Joel Nwolu

Deceased President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza was duly elected President on 26 August, 2005 at a time when the country was recovering from a decade long civil war which lasted from 1995-2005. His emergence was a popular choice among the Burundians.

The Guardian reported that Nkurunziza’s death is COVID-19 related. In May, Burundi’s foreign ministry declared World Health Organisation’s rapid response team as “persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi.” The WHO team had arrived to assist Burundi combat spread of COVID-19.

Though official Government statement attributed his death to heart attack, reports of his wife battling corona virus gives some credence to the rumour that his death was COVID-19 related.

Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, wife of deceased President is recuperating from corona virus infection at Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi Kenya, reports The Nation. She was reported ill after attending a Volleyball match on Saturday. An inter government agreement paved way for Mrs Nkurunziza’s airlifting to Kenya for treatment.

As a President, Nkurunziza took off on the right path, implementing the Arusha Accords which paved way for a united Burundi and nurtured an end to the war. At the inception of his Presidency, administration of government was shared according to merit along ethnic divide- Tutsi, Hutu, and the minority Twa ethnic groups.

One of the many achievements of Nkurunziza was the incorporation of Tutsis and other minority groups into the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie – Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, CNDD–FDD), largely supported by ethnic Hutus. The integration came at a time when he became religious and led the course for building bridges between the tribes.

He was perceived as detribalized and a Nationalist who could bring the much sought-after unity in the East African nation. However, the tide gradually turned against his administration. Nkurunziza’s reputation became tainted by alleged ‘factionalism, corruption, and a lingering spate of violence. These marred his ratings prior to his second term bid in 2010.

Nkurunziza was returned to power in July 2010 with a vast majority of votes cast. The General election was boycotted by major opposition parties who expressed their displeasure with the conduct of the elections. They felt the polls were not meant to offer equal opportunity to contestants.

The 2010 election kickstarted a spate of unrest and stiff opposition to the policies and leadership style of Nkurunziza.

In June 2014, government put restrictions on public gatherings for fear of such forums serving as avenue for clandestine political meetings. Jogging in the open was equally banned. Civil unrest peaked with the April 2015 announcement that President Nkurunziza would contest the June elections for a third term in office.

The declaration contravened the Arusha Accords stipulation on term limits. Violent protests erupted in the port city of Bujumbura and other cities.

Nonetheless, Nkurunziza was reelected in an election that was equally boycotted by opposition. His high handedness led to the isolation of Burundi by the international community. He would not retrace his steps even in the face of the economic stagnation and poverty which ensued.

He withdrew the membership of Burundi in the International Criminal Court in 2017 and advocated further constitutional reforms which would allow longer presidential terms. The requests were approved in a disputed referendum in May 2018.

There were speculations of Nkurunziza contesting for a fourth term in the 2020 election but he revealed his resolve not to run in June 2018. He endorsed  the candidacy of Évariste Ndayishimiye who was eventually elected in May, 2020.

The May election took place at a time when Burundi was criticized for poor response to the corona virus pandemic.

As Africa mourns the demise of a leader who held sway for more than a decade, there continues to be an out-pour of condolence from Heads of states to the family and government of Burundi. However, citizens of Burundi have expressed mixed emotions over his death.

This post was written by Obiajulu Joel Nwolu.

The views expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect our views and opinions.

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