Burundi President Nkurunziza dies of cardiac arrest

BBC & Al Jazeera

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was due to step down from the presidency this coming August has died, aged 55, after suffering a cardiac arrest, the government says.

He was admitted to hospital on Saturday after feeling unwell and his condition improved but on Monday he had a cardiac arrest and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, the government says.

Successor Evariste Ndayishimiye

In 2015, the announcement that he would run for a third term plunged the country into chaos.

After a change in the constitution, he was able to run for a further term in last month’s election but he decided to retire and was to be known as the “supreme guide to patriotism”.

He had been president for 15 years and was due to be replaced by political ally, Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was declared earlier this month the winner of a May 20 presidential election.

With Kagame at a summit

Nkurunziza was born in 1963 in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital city. His father, Eustache Ngabisha was a Catholic Hutu connected with the royal family while his mother was a Protestant Tutsi and an assistant nurse.

Ngabisha was enlisted to the ranks of the pro-independence Uprona party and elected to Burundi Parliament in 1965, later becoming governor of two provinces before being killed in 1972 during the 972 Burundi genocide when ethnic violence claimed the lives of between 80,000 and 210,000 Burundians.

At an African leaders summit

After primary and secondary school education, Nkurunziza attended the Institut d’Education Physique et des Sports (IEPS) at the University of Burundi in the late 1980s and graduated in 1990 after obtaining his degree in sports education. 

Before the civil war broke out, he became a sports professor at Lycée de Muramvya in 1991 while still studying psychology and pedagogy. 

He became a teacher and assistant lecturer at the University of Burundi in 1992 and also began to teach courses at the Institut Supérieur Des Cadres Militaires (ISCAM).

In 1995, he was threatened and joined the CNDD-FDD when hundreds of Hutu students were killed or forced to flee. After rising through the ranks, Nkurunziza was appointed deputy secretary-general of the CNDD-FDD in 1998. 

With the First Lady

In the late 1990s, he was condemned to death by court and trial in absentia and in 2001, he became CNDD-FDD chairman.

In 2003 he was appointed Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government of President Domitien Ndayzeye and following a series of CNDD-FDD victories in elections held during June and July 2005, Nkurunziza was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. 

He was elected president by members of parliament acting as an electoral college with a vote of 151 to 162 on 19 August 2005 and took office on 26 August 2005.

During campaign in 2015

He was re-elected in 2010 with more than 91% of the vote amidst an opposition boycott and sworn in for his second term on August 26, 2010.

In March 2014, Nkurunziza banned jogging due to “fears it was being used as a cover for subversion.”

According to the BBC, “The tradition of Saturday morning runs started during Burundi’s long years of ethnic conflict”, as residents in the city of Bujumbura, where the surrounding hills were home to armed militants before 2005, “would try to vent their fear and frustration and claustrophobia, by running, often in a group.”

With Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta

The same month, 21 supporters of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) Party were sentenced to life in prison for using “jogging” as a way to organize “an illegal demonstration that turned violent.”

In April 2015, Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a third term in office but the opposition said this was against the constitution, as it bars the president from running for a third term. 

Coronavirus alert

Nkurunziza’s allies said his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people and protests followed of which at least six people being killed in the first two days. 

The government shut down multiple radio stations and arrested a prominent civil society leaders prompting condemnation from UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, African Union commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zulu and many leaders. 

Coronavirus alert

More than 24,000 people fled Burundi in 2016 as tensions mounted and on May 13, 2015, Burundi Army General Godefroid Niyombateh declared a a coup via radio while Nkurunziza was abroad attending a summit in Tanzania with other African leaders. 

Niyombareh had been dismissed from his post as head of intelligence in February 2015 and despite reports that gunshots had been heard and people were celebrating in the streets of the capital, government officials dismissed the threat and claimed to remain in control.

Coronavirus alert: Magufuli style of greeting

Nkurunziza tried to return to Burundi promptly, but was unable to land at the Bujumbura airport because it had been taken over by rebel soldiers. 

Nevertheless, loyalist forces managed to retain control of the state radio and television broadcaster, the key means of communicating with the broader population, fending off attacks by rebel soldiers on 14 May. 

Later the same day, Nkurunziza announced that he had returned to Burundi, although his specific location was not given for security reasons. 

Coronavirus alert

He congratulated “the army and the police for their patriotism” and “above all the Burundian people for their patience”.

The controversial presidential el cations were held on 21 July 2015 in which Nkurunziza was declared winner with 69.41% of the vote with low voter turnout, the participation rate under 30%.

In March 2018, Nkurunziza was named ‘eternal supreme guide’ by the ruling party, CNDD-FDD, in the run-up to a constitutional referendum on 17 May that year.

Coronavirus Alert

The referendum, widely criticized by Burundi’s opposition, the UK, the United States and Catholic bishops was proposing constitutional changes to allow Nkurunziza to stay in office until 2034.

On 21 May the new constitution was approved, allowing Nkurunziza to extend his term limits starting in 2020 but on 7 June 2018, he announced that he will step down after the 2020 elections and supported his ally, Evariste Ndayishimiye in the election campaign.—Additional information from Wikipedia