Burundi Changes Tack As President Declares COVID-19 ‘Biggest Enemy’

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), signs the book of condolences at the state house in Bujumbura on June 13, 2020. Tchandrou NITANGA / AFP.

 

Burundi’s new President Evariste Ndayishimiye has declared the coronavirus the country’s “biggest enemy”, in a major about-turn for a nation which has largely ignored the dangers of the virus.

Former president Pierre Nkurunziza, who died suddenly last month, and even Ndayishimiye himself, had until now downplayed the gravity of the pandemic, saying God had spared Burundi from its ravages.

Burundi held a full-blown campaign ahead of a May election, and unlike its neighbours which have imposed lockdowns and curfews, has taken few measures to combat the spread of the virus.

Officially the country has reported only 170 cases and one death in two months.

Ndayishimiye was speaking late Tuesday after the swearing in of his new government in parliament.

“From tomorrow (Wednesday), I declare the COVID-19 pandemic the biggest enemy of Burundians, because it is clear it is becoming their biggest concern,” he said.

“We firmly commit ourselves to fight this pandemic.”

– ‘Treated as a sorcerer’ –

He called for “the strict respect for preventative measures which the health ministry will from now on display across the country”.

He reminded citizens that coronavirus tests were free, as was treatment, warning those who did not get tested when they had symptoms.

“If in future someone does not go and get tested in such a case, it means he wants to contaminate others voluntarily… and he will be considered a sorcerer and treated as severely as one would be,” he said.

Burundi only has a single testing centre, with fewer than 10 technicians capable of carrying out tests for the virus.

Ndayishimiye promised testing centres would be installed and testing campaigns launched across the country.

“An enemy must be hunted wherever he hides and even when his presence is suspected.

“Everyone must know the coronavirus is a pandemic which transmits easily, and which kills if you take it lightly.”

A high-ranking health ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the turnaround comes after the World Bank donated $5 million (4,4 million euros) last month to help Burundi fight the virus.

In May, Burundi — which has increasingly isolated itself in recent years — expelled a team of World Health Organization experts who were supporting the country’s response to the pandemic.

Nkurunziza, who ruled the East Africa nation for 15 often tumultuous years, died suddenly in June aged 55 of what authorities said was heart failure.

However he became ill less than two weeks after his wife had been flown to a Nairobi hospital for treatment for coronavirus, according to a medical document seen by AFP, and speculation is rife he may have caught the virus.

A medical source told AFP he had suffered “respiratory distress” before dying.

AFP

Former Burundi President To Be Buried In State Funeral

Evariste Ndayishimiye (3rd R), Burundi's elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), walks in front of members of Burundi's army during the swearing-in ceremony at Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi, on June 18, 2020. - Ndayishimiye rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza, aged 55, came after the May election. (Photo by TCHANDROU NITANGA / AFP)
Evariste Ndayishimiye (3rd R), Burundi’s elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), walks in front of members of Burundi’s army during the swearing-in ceremony at Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi, on June 18, 2020. – Ndayishimiye rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza, aged 55, came after the May election. (Photo by TCHANDROU NITANGA / AFP)

 

 

Thousands of Burundians on Friday lined the road to the capital Gitega as the body of former president Pierre Nkurunziza was escorted under heavy security for a state funeral after his sudden death earlier this month.

Nkurunziza, who ruled the country for 15 years, died at the age of 55 of what the government said was “heart failure”.

But speculation is rife he may have caught the coronavirus, as his wife had been flown to Nairobi for treatment for the virus just two weeks prior.

The funeral ceremonies began with an “homage by his wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, his children and those close to him” in an intimate gathering at the hospital in the central city of Karuzi where he died on June 8, a governmental source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Nkurunziza died shortly after an election won by his handpicked successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was sworn in last week.

Friday was declared a national holiday for the funeral, and schoolchildren in uniform and citizens lined the roads waiting for the funeral convoy to pass.

The stadium in Gitega where the funeral ceremony is to be held was packed with citizens from across the country, all dressed in white at the request of authorities.

Nkurunziza will be buried at a monument recently built in Gitega at the site of another structure which was to be dedicated to victims of the country’s various crises over the years, but was never inaugurated.

Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, left behind a deeply isolated country in political and economic turmoil.

His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.

A climate of fear marked by a crackdown on the opposition and media settled over Burundi, while a personality cult grew around Nkurunziza which saw the ruling party name him a “visionary” and “supreme guide for patriotism.”

UN human rights investigators have said the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, citing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

 

-AFP

Burundi’s Evariste Ndayishimiye Sworn In As New President

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), raises his hand during the swearing-in ceremony at Ingoma stadium in Gitega, Burundi, on June 18, 2020. – Ndayushimiye rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza, aged 55, came after the May election. (Photo by Tchandrou NITANGA / AFP)

 

Burundi’s new President Evariste Ndayishimiye took the oath of office at a colourful ceremony in the capital on Thursday, taking the helm of a troubled nation after the sudden death of his predecessor.

In his oath Ndayishimiye pledged to “devote all my force to defending the superior interests of the nation and ensure the national unity and cohesion of the Burundian people, peace and social justice.”

 

-AFP

Burundi’s New President Ndayishimiye To Take Office

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), signs the book of condolences at the state house in Bujumbura on June 13, 2020. – Burundi’s constitutional court ruled that the country’s newly elected leader Evariste Ndayishimiye be rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza earlier this week. Nkurunziza’s death on Monday, aged 55, came after the May election of his successor Ndayishimiye, who was meant to be inaugurated in August. (Photo by Tchandrou NITANGA / AFP)

 

 

Burundi’s newly elected president Evariste Ndayishimiye was to be sworn in on Thursday, after the sudden death of his predecessor who left him an isolated nation in political and economic turmoil.

Ndayishimiye was elected in May in a vote disputed by the opposition, and was meant to take office in August, however the inauguration was sped up after his predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza’s shock death.

In the administrative capital Gitega, tree trunks were painted white and streets had been swept, with a heavy presence of security forces around the city.

Guests began pouring into the stadium from early in the morning, wearing an identical multicoloured outfit given to them by the ruling party and sitting according to their provinces.

Diplomats, members of the military, police and courts took their seats in the upper platform of the stadium.

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi was expected to be the only head of state attending the inauguration — taking place in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — however had to cancel last minute, a presidential spokesman told AFP on condition of anonymity.

All attendees had to wash their hands before entering, but despite repeated requests to maintain a distance of at least 70cm (27.5 inches) between them, guests were packed tightly together and few if any were seen wearing masks.

 

‘Respiratory distress’
Nkurunziza, who ruled the East Africa nation for 15 often tumultuous years, was said by the government to have died of a heart attack last week.

However the 55-year-old took ill less than two weeks after his wife had been flown to a Nairobi hospital for treatment for coronavirus, according to a medical document seen by AFP, and speculation is rife he may have caught the virus.

A medical source told AFP he had suffered “respiratory distress” before dying.

Compared to its neighbours which imposed lockdowns and curfews — with the exception of equally sceptical Tanzania — Burundi has taken few measures to combat the virus.

The country last month expelled a team of World Health Organization experts who were supporting the country’s response to the epidemic.

‘A dark and sad legacy’
Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, leaves a “dark and sad legacy”, Carina Tertsakian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative told AFP.

His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.

United Nations human rights investigators have said the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, citing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

Ndayishimiye, 52, a former army general and Hutu rebel like his predecessor, had been handpicked by the powerful ruling CNDD-FDD party to run in a May 20 presidential election.

He won the vote with 68.7 percent, and an opposition bid to have the results overturned due to alleged fraud was rejected just days before Nkurunziza’s death.

Ndayishimiye is reputed to be more tolerant and open than his predecessor and is not a regime hardliner.

Observers say the death of Nkurunziza — who was expected to continue to play a significant role — might give him more independence.

However he will still have to please the powerful group of generals at the core of the ruling party, who anointed him to succeed Nkurunziza.

After the news of Nkurunziza’s death Ndayishimiye vowed to “continue his high-quality work that he has done for our country”.

The change in president also opens up the possibility of warmer ties with foreign donors, who cut Burundi off after the 2015 crisis.

A source in the French presidency said the country would work with its European partners and “extend a hand to the new Burundian president”.

“For the first time we will have a leader who is not just forging ahead regardless of the consequences, wrapped up in divine faith,” the source said.

The government has yet to announce a date for Nkurunziza’s funeral.

 

 

-AFP

Burundi’s New President Ndayishimiye To Be Sworn In Thursday

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s elected President from the ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), addresses the nation after signing the book of condolences at the state house in Bujumbura on June 13, 2020. – Burundi’s constitutional court ruled that the country’s newly elected leader Evariste Ndayishimiye be rapidly sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza earlier this week. Nkurunziza’s death on Monday, aged 55, came after the May election of his successor Ndayishimiye, who was meant to be inaugurated in August. (Photo by Tchandrou NITANGA / AFP)

 

Burundi’s newly-elected president Evariste Ndayishimiye will be sworn in on Thursday, the foreign ministry announced, in a ceremony fast-tracked by the sudden death of the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza.

Nkurunziza died on June 8 aged 55, of what authorities said was heart failure.

His death came less than two weeks after his wife had been flown to a Nairobi hospital for treatment for coronavirus, according to a medical document seen by AFP.

The foreign ministry invited diplomats and foreign organisations to “take part in the inauguration ceremony” in the capital Gitega, in a letter sent out on Monday.

Ndayishimiye, 52, a former army general and Hutu rebel like his predecessor, had been handpicked by the powerful ruling CNDD-FDD to run in a May 20 presidential election.

He won the vote with 68.7 percent, and an opposition bid to have the results overturned due to alleged fraud was overturned just days before Nkurunziza’s death.

Normally, following the death of a president, the speaker of Burundi’s parliament would step in as head of state.

But as the country already had a president-elect, the constitutional court ruled last week he should be sworn in immediately, instead of in August as planned.

Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, leaves behind a deeply isolated country in political and economic turmoil after his divisive 15-year rule.

READ ALSO: Court Orders Swearing-In Of President-Elect Days After Nkurunziza’s Death

His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while some 400,000 fled the country.

United Nations human rights investigators have said the period since 2015 has been marked by likely crimes against humanity committed by state forces, citing extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

Nkurunziza’s decision not to run in the May 20 election stunned many, as it came after the constitution was changed to allow him to do so.

The government has yet to announce a date for Nkurunziza’s funeral.

Suspicions are high that the president had contracted the new coronavirus, after months of assuring Burundi it was being protected by God from the pandemic, and taking few measures to combat it.

Officially the country has recorded only 104 cases and one death.

Nkurunziza’s wife Denise Bucumi was hospitalised at the end of May with the virus. A medical document seen by AFP said she had tested positive for the virus and suffered “respiratory distress”.

A medical source at the Karusi hospital where Nkurunziza died, told AFP he had also been in “respiratory distress” before his death.

A medical source at the Kamenge university hospital in Bujumbura told AFP that the head of the institute of public health “came to requisition our hospital’s only ventilator” last Monday.

Both were flown to the hospital in Karusi, but it was “too late, president Nkurunziza was already dead,” a medical source in Karusi said.

AFP

Court Orders Swearing-In Of President-Elect Days After Nkurunziza’s Death

File: Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza gives a speech as he inaugurates the new state house constructed by the Chinese aid in Bujumbura, during its inauguration on September 27, 2019.
Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP

 

Burundi’s constitutional court on Friday ruled that the country’s newly elected leader Evariste Ndayishimiye be sworn in following the sudden death of President Pierre Nkurunziza earlier this week.

“No interim necessary, the president-elect …. must be sworn in as soon as possible,” presidential advisor Willy Nyamitwe wrote on Twitter of the court’s announcement.

READ ALSO: Lebanon In Crisis Talks As Currency Plunge Sparks Protests

Nkurunziza’s death on Monday aged 55 came just days after the election of his successor Ndayishimiye, who was meant to be inaugurated in August.

The unusual situation raised questions over how the transition would be managed, with the constitution calling for the speaker of the national assembly to step in if the president dies.

“The constitutional court has made its ruling… there is no point to an interim period, the president-elect must be sworn in as soon as possible,” wrote ruling party information secretary Nancy Ninette Mutoni on Twitter.

AFP

‘A True Patriot’: Buhari Condoles With Burundi Over Death Of President

A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari
A file photo of President Muhammadu Buhari

 

President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed his “profound grief and sadness” over the death of Burundi’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza.

In a series of tweets on Tuesday, Buhari described Nkurunziza as “a true patriot that steered the country through turbulent times with wisdom and foresight.”

 

An evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to rule the East African nation, Nkurunziza came to power in 2005, when he was selected by parliament.

His controversial and ultimately successful bid for a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.

Violence left at least 1,200 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and the authorities carried out a sustained crackdown on the opposition and media.

His death comes on the heels of elections on May 20 in which his hand-picked successor, Evariste Ndayishimiye, secured a seven-year term as president — a result confirmed by the constitutional court last Thursday.

“At this time of great pain & loss, the Government and people of Nigeria as well as myself, express our deepest condolences to the Government and people of Burundi,” Buhari said. “Our thoughts & prayers also go out to the family of the President. May God grant them the fortitude to bear the loss.”

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Dies Of Heart Attack

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza gives a speech as he inaugurates the new state house constructed by the Chinese aid in Bujumbura, during its inauguration on September 27, 2019.
Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP.

 

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has died of heart failure, the government said Tuesday.

“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi… following heart failure on June 8, 2020,” it said in a post on its official Twitter account.

An evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to rule the East African nation, Nkurunziza came to power in 2005, when he was selected by parliament.

His controversial and ultimately successful bid for a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.

Violence left at least 1,200 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and the authorities carried out a sustained crackdown on the opposition and media.

His death comes on the heels of elections on May 20 in which his hand-picked successor, Evariste Ndayishimiye, secured a seven-year term as president — a result confirmed by the constitutional court last Thursday.

Ndayishimiye was due to be sworn in in August.

A statement from Burundi’s presidency on Tuesday said Nkurunziza was hospitalised over the weekend and that his health “abruptly changed” on Monday.

It said the country would observe seven days of mourning beginning Tuesday.

AFP

Burundi President Applauds Chosen Successor On Election Win

(FILES) Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza gives a speech as he inaugurates the new state house constructed by the Chinese aid in Bujumbura, during its inauguration on September 27, 2019. Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP.

 

Burundi’s long-ruling leader Pierre Nkurunziza on Tuesday congratulated his hand-picked successor on a “large victory” in the presidential election, though the opposition has vowed to contest the result in court.

Election officials on Monday declared Evariste Ndayishimiye, a former army general chosen by the powerful ruling party as heir to Nkurunziza, the winner of the May 20 poll with 68.72 percent of the vote.

“I warmly congratulate the President-elect Gen. Major Evariste Ndayishimiye for his large victory which confirms that the great majority of Burundians adhere to the projects and the values he embodies,” Nkurunziza, who chose not to run after 15 years in power, posted on Twitter.

“We are privileged witnesses to history. May God bless Burundi!”

The strongest opposition candidate, Agathon Rwasa, came in a distant second with 24.19 percent of the vote, but his National Freedom Council (CNL) has rejected the results, alleging cheating by the governing CNDD-FDD party.

CNL spokesman Therence Manirambona said Monday his party was putting together a legal complaint to submit within days “so that the court can take a decision on the massive fraud that marked this electoral farce.”

The CNDD-FDD defeated the CNL by a similar margin in the legislative elections held the same day.

READ ALSO: Burundi’s Ruling Party Candidate Ndayishimiye Wins Election

No foreign observers were allowed into Burundi to keep an eye on the election process, which went ahead with scant regard to the coronavirus outbreak following a tense campaign marked by violence and arbitrary arrests.

Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005, and his final years in office have been wracked with turmoil.

His third-term election run in 2015 sparked violence which left at least 1,200 dead and pushed 400,000 to flee the country.

Burundi is tightly controlled by the ruling party and its youth wing has been linked to a forceful crackdown against the government’s critics.

State security forces have been accused by rights groups and the United Nations of crimes against humanity and abuses such as torture, disappearances, sexual violence and executions.

Ndayishimiye is set to inherit a deeply isolated country, under sanctions and cut off by foreign donors, its economy and national psyche damaged by the years of unrest.

It remains to be seen how much influence Nkurunziza will exert going forward, and how freely his successor can reign.

Nkurunziza was this year elevated by Burundi’s parliament to the rank of “supreme guide for patriotism” and he will continue to be chairman of the ruling party’s powerful council of elders.

Ndayishimiye is expected to be sworn in for a seven-year term in late August, when Nkurunziza’s term ends.

AFP

Burundi’s Ruling Party Candidate Ndayishimiye Wins Election

Evariste Ndayishimiye, Burundi’s Presidential candidate of the ruling party the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), casts his ballot during the presidential and general elections at the Bubu Primary school in Giheta, central Burundi, on May 20, 2020. AFP

 

Burundi’s ruling party presidential candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye on Monday was declared the victor of the bitterly disputed election, with 68.72 percent of the vote.

The election commission, which released the official results live on Burundian media, said that his main opposition rival Agathon Rwasa of the National Freedom Council (CNL), had garnered 24.19 percent of the vote.

The commission said that 87.7 percent of registered voters had turned out to cast their ballots in Wednesday’s election, which also included the election of members of parliament and local officials.

Rwasa and his party have already contested the outcome of the election, saying early results were a “fantasy”, and accused authorities of arresting their agents, and preventing them from observing the vote and taking part in counting.

The election took place without any international election observers, and with scant regard to the coronavirus outbreak which is being largely ignored by the government.

READ ALSO: Burundi To Vote In Tense Poll Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Burundi has been increasingly isolated since the 2015 election of President Pierre Nkurunziza to a disputed third term in office.

Violence which erupted during that poll left at least 1,200 dead and saw 400,000 flee the country.

Persisting turmoil saw the country cut off by foreign donors and its economy plunge, while accusations of major human rights violations have escalated.

AFP

Burundi To Vote In Tense Poll Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

A supporter holds a picture of Agathon Rwasa, presidential candidate of the main opposition party the National Congress for Liberty (CNL), during the last day of the campaign in Gitega, central Burundi, on May 17, 2020. AFP

 

Burundians will vote Wednesday in a tense general election, despite a largely-ignored outbreak of coronavirus which is set to be the first major challenge for the new president.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, shocked observers by deciding to step aside, five years after a controversial third-term run plunged his country into political and economic crisis.

While Ethiopia decided to delay its election this year due to the pandemic, Burundi has pushed forward with the vote at all costs, with heaving crowds of thousands attending political rallies, with only buckets of water and soap available as a nod to the virus.

Burundi has so far officially recorded only 42 cases and one death from the virus, but doctors and the opposition accuse the government of hiding the true extent of the outbreak.

The government has expelled the four top World Health Organization (WHO) officials steering the response to the epidemic, with no explanation. They left the country on Saturday.

Officials in Burundi have cited divine protection for the country’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear.

Burundi has not taken any measures to confine or limit the movement of the population, unlike most other countries in the region with the exception of Tanzania — where many fear the virus is also spreading out of control.

“Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi,” said General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.

– The heir –

With a possible major health crisis looming, the nation with a population estimated at roughly 11 million people is preparing to turn the page on Nkurunziza’s long rule, marked by widespread human rights violations.

At least 1,200 people were killed and more than 400,000 displaced in violence between April 2015 and May 2017 that the UN says was mostly carried out by state security forces. Less than a quarter of those displaced have returned to their homes.

READ ALSO: UN Says COVID-19 Is ‘Wake-up Call’ For The World

No official death toll has been released since, but UN investigators have said crimes against humanity in the country were ongoing, citing summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence.

The UN and rights organisations attribute much of the violence to the Imbonerakure, members of the ruling party’s youth wing which the UN describes as a militia, as well as the feared national intelligence agency which answers directly to the president, the police, and to a lesser extent the army.

Nkurunziza had been widely expected to run for office again, after a constitutional change would have allowed the move. However internal party sources say he came under pressure from an influential group of generals to step aside.

At the end of January, the party unveiled Ndayishimiye as his successor — a veteran party operator nevertheless seen as softer than Nkurunziza.

While Ndayishimiye is seen as the frontrunner, his main rival among six other candidates, Agathon Rwasa, has mobilised large crowds at his rallies.

– A legitimate rival –

Rwasa comes from the country’s oldest ethnic Hutu rebel movement Palipehutu-FNL which he led in the early 2000s. It was one of the two main rebel groups during Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war, which pitted Hutu rebels against the minority Tutsi-dominated army. The war left more than 300,000 dead.

In the eyes of the Hutu, who make up 85 percent of the population, Rwasa has as much legitimacy as a presidential candidate as the leaders of the other rebel group, now the ruling party.

“The people won’t let their victory be stolen,” warned Rwasa, after the ruling party made clear it expects no other outcome than a resounding win.

The campaign was marked by violence such as clashes between the members of rival parties and the arrests of opposition members.

The election will take place far from the eyes of the world — the government has refused any observers from the UN or the African Union, accusing the latter of being too close to the opposition.

The East African Community was meant to send a team of observers, but Burundi announced they would have to spend 14 days in quarantine due to the coronavirus, meaning they would be unable to do their job on the day of the election.

The victor of the election has a tough job ahead to stabilise the economy, already battered by the years of turmoil, and flagging further under the impact of the coronavirus.

The World Bank lists Burundi as among the three poorest countries in the world, with 75 percent of the country living in extreme poverty and six out of 10 children suffering growth stunting due to malnutrition.

Burundi’s 5.1 million registered voters will vote from 0400 GMT to 1400 GMT, for a new president as well as members of parliament and local officials.

AFP

Burundi Expels Top WHO Team In COVID-19 Crisis

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

 

The foreign ministry, in a letter to WHO Africa headquarters and seen by AFP on Wednesday, said the UN agency’s representative in Burundi and his three colleagues “are declared persona non grata and as such, must leave the territory of Burundi” by Friday.

The directive, dated May 12, expels WHO’s top official in Burundi, Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo; the country’s coronavirus coordinator, Dr Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata; communicable diseases head Dr Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa; and a laboratory expert in the testing for COVID-19, Professor Daniel Tarzy.

“Late yesterday afternoon I was made aware through a note verbale about this decision of the government of Burundi which has asked our WHO representative and three other persons, one of whom is a consultant … to leave the country immediately,” WHO Africa Director Dr Matshidiso Moeti told journalists on Thursday.

“We are in communication with the government of Burundi to clarify and understand the reasoning behind this decision they have taken. We are in the meantime then working to organise the departure of our staff.”

The letter does not provide a reason for the decision. Diplomatic and administrative sources told AFP the foreign ministry aborted a similar attempt to expel the same four officials a month ago.

“They are expelled and the health minister has totally excluded WHO, accusing it of unacceptable interference in its management of the coronavirus,” a Burundian official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

READ ALSO: UN ‘Deeply’ Regrets Burundi Expulsion Of WHO Team

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention described the move as “unfortunate” at a time when greater cooperation was needed to tackle the virus on the continent.

“We are in dire need of technical expertise as a continent, which has a very weak health system and fragile infrastructure, where we don’t have the luxury of kicking out WHO,” director John Nkengasong told reporters Thursday.

Meanwhile, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, tasked by the Human Rights Council to investigate alleged violations and abuses in the country since 2015, said in a statement that it “deeply regretted” the decision.
– Looming election –

The announcement comes just days before Burundians go to the polls on May 20 to choose a new president, parliamentarians and local officials.

The country has officially recorded 27 cases and one death from the coronavirus.

But it has taken few precautions against the disease and testing is low, fuelling concern that the true extent of the outbreak is not known.

A health ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said seven patients have been hospitalised at one institution with symptoms such as respiratory distress and had not been tested and that “a whole wing has been dedicated to them at the military hospital”.

Meanwhile, a doctor, also seeking anonymity, reported six deaths of patients “presenting all the symptoms of coronavirus” last week.

One resident of the capital recounted that her neighbour, who had a fever and respiratory problems, was refused a test.

“This man was 65 years old and died at home last week,” she said.

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Public Health, the only place carrying out tests, has had six of its staff responsible for taking samples, fall sick with the virus.

“Since then all activity is paralysed, no test can be carried out, it is a catastrophe,” an employee of the institute confirmed to AFP, on condition of anonymity.
– Election at any cost –

Rights groups say the government is pressing ahead with the vote no matter the cost, and accuses the ruling party and its youth wing of crushing dissent and threatening those taking their own measures against coronavirus.

Huge political rallies have been held across the country, drawing tens of thousands of supporters together in mass gatherings that have been banned in other parts of Africa and around the word.

Nkengasong warned such congregations were ripe for spreading coronavirus far and wide.

“We’ve seen that in countries where they’ve gone ahead and conducted elections, or where they’ve enabled people to come together in a political rally, the cases have increased,” he said.

Officials in Burundi have cited divine protection for the country’s ostensibly low infection rate and urged citizens to go about their daily lives without fear.

“Do not be afraid. God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi,” said General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.

AFP