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

UN ‘Deeply’ Regrets Burundi Expulsion Of WHO Team

(FILES) In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

UN investigators said Thursday they deeply regretted Burundi’s expulsion of World Health Organization experts who were supporting the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Burundi booted out the experts as the country prepares to go to the polls on Wednesday to choose a new president, parliamentarians and local officials.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi said in a statement that it “deeply regretted the recent decision by the government to declare persona non grata the country representative of WHO and three of its experts”.

The investigators, tasked by the United Nations Human Rights Council with probing alleged violations and abuses in the country since 2015, also voiced their concerns about the authorities’ decision not to apply WHO recommendations on physical distancing “to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the electoral campaign”.

Burundi’s foreign ministry, in a letter to the WHO’s 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.

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

– ‘Alarmed’ –

The landlocked African country of some 11 million has officially registered 27 cases of COVID-19 and one death, according to the latest WHO figures.

The UN commission said it was “alarmed by the numerous acts of violence and human rights violations during the electoral campaign” and urged all sides to step up efforts to find a peaceful resolution of election-related tensions.

The body voiced its concern over an electoral process “marred by violent clashes between members of the contending political parties and numerous arrests of political opponents, while persons close to the ruling party continue to enjoy near total impunity for their abuses”.

READ ALSO: Burundi Expels Top WHO Team In COVID-19 Crisis

The commission said it was worried that the conduct of the elections could trigger a “new and deeper cycle of political violence” once the results are announced on June 4.

The three-person UN commission was established in 2016 and is charged with identifying alleged perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Burundi with a view to ensuring full accountability.

The country has been in crisis since 2015, when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in a vote boycotted by most of the opposition.

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.

But in a surprise development, Nkurunziza announced in 2018 that he would not stand for election in 2020, confounding critics who accused him of working to extend his grip on power.

AFP

Burundi Launches Election Campaign Despite COVID-19 Fears

 

Burundi on Monday launched a campaign for next month’s presidential, legislative and municipal elections, ignoring allegations of downplaying the risk of coronavirus and reports of violence against the opposition.

Seven candidates are running in the May 20 polls in the small East African nation, where life has proceeded largely as normal with authorities claiming God will protect citizens from COVID-19.

The ruling party and the main opposition party were expected to hold rallies Monday that could draw tens of thousands of supporters — the kind of large gatherings that have been banned in many other parts of Africa and around the world.

Burundi has recorded 15 cases of COVID-19 and one death, though testing has been extremely limited in this country of 12 million.

Few precautions have so far been taken for the campaign period which ends on May 17.

One politician, a high-ranking member of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, said the electoral commission had issued buckets of soap and water for use during campaign activities but acknowledged this would likely be ineffective.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Pandemic Could Create ‘Human Rights Disaster’ – UN

“We realise that this will be useless. Everybody is obsessed with the electoral stakes… We’ll think about the pandemic later,” said the politician, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity.

The opposition has accused the ruling party of recklessly proceeding with the election.

Amnesty International, in a statement Monday, said private institutions taking their own preventive measures against coronavirus “had been threatened with sanctions”.

General Evariste Ndayishimiye, the CNDD-FDD’s presidential candidate, is presented on campaign posters as the heir to President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is not contesting again after a tumultuous rule that began in 2005.

Ndayishimiye’s main opponent is Agathon Rwasa, the candidate for the National Council for Liberty (CNL) party.

The CNDD-FDD will launch its campaign in Bugendana, in the central Gitega province. The CNL has meanwhile chosen Ngozi, President Nkurunziza’s stronghold, and will bus in supporters from across the country.

Rights groups have accused the government of attacking and intimidating the opposition, journalists and civil society groups ahead of the poll.

“Violence and repression have been the hallmark of politics in Burundi since 2015, and as elections approach and the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, tensions are rising,” said Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch in a statement Monday.

AFP

Only Six African Nations Yet To Record Any Case Of COVID-19

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP.

 

 

Six of Africa’s 54 nations are among the last in the world yet to report cases of the new coronavirus.

The global pandemic has been confirmed in almost every country, but for a handful of far-flung tiny island states, war-torn Yemen and isolated North Korea.

In Africa, authorities claim they are spared by god, or simply saved by low air traffic to their countries, however, some fear it is lack of testing that is hiding the true impact.

– South Sudan –

The East African nation is barely emerging from six years of civil war and with high levels of hunger, illness and little infrastructure, observers fear the virus could wreak havoc.

Doctor Angok Gordon Kuol, one of those charged with overseeing the fight against the virus, said the country had only carried out 12 tests, none of which were positive.

He said the reason the virus has yet to reach South Sudan could be explained by the low volume of air traffic and travel to the country.

“Very few airlines come to South Sudan and most of the countries affected today they are affected by… people coming from abroad.”

He said the main concern was foreigners working for the large NGO and humanitarian community, or people crossing land borders from neighbouring countries.

READ ALSO: Global Lockdown Tightens As Coronavirus Deaths Mount

South Sudan has shut schools, banned gatherings such as weddings, funerals and sporting events and blocked flights from worst-affected countries. Non-essential businesses have been shuttered and movement restricted.

The country can currently test around 500 people and has one isolation centre with 24 beds.

– Burundi –

In Burundi, which is gearing up for general elections in May, authorities thank divine intervention for the lack of cases.

“The government thanks all-powerful God who has protected Burundi,” government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye said on national television last week.

At the same time, he criticised those “spreading rumours” that Burundi is not capable of testing for the virus, or that it is spreading unnoticed.

Some measures have been taken, such as the suspension of international flights and placing handwashing stations at the entrances to banks and restaurants in Bujumbura.

However, several doctors have expressed their concerns.

“There are zero cases in Burundi because there have been zero tests,” a Burundian doctor said on condition of anonymity.

– Sao Tome and Principe –

Sao Tome and Principe — a tiny nation of small islands covered in the lush rainforest — has reported zero cases because it is unable to test, according to World Health Organisation representative Anne Ancia.

However “we are continuing preparations,” with around 100 people in quarantine after returning from highly-affected countries, and the WHO keeping an eye on cases of pneumonia.

With only four ICU beds for a population of 200,000 people, the country is desperate to not let the virus take hold and has already shut its borders despite the importance of tourism to the local economy.

– Malawi –

Malawi’s health ministry spokesman Joshua Malango brushed aside fears that Malawi might not have registered any COVID-19 cases due to a lack of testing kits:

“We have the testing kits in Malawi and we are testing.”

Dr Bridget Malewezi from the Society of Medical Doctors told AFP that while “we may not be 100 percent ready”, government was gearing up for the arrival of the virus.

She suggested it may only be a matter of time before the pandemic hits Malawi.

“It’s only been in the past few weeks that it has been rampantly spreading across Africa so most people feel it will get here at some point…,” she said.

Malawi has asked people coming from hard-hit countries to self-quarantine, which Malawezi said had helped “safeguard the country from any possible spread of the virus”.

– Lesotho –

Tiny Lesotho, a kingdom encircled by South Africa with only two million inhabitants, went into national lockdown on Monday despite registering zero cases.

Until last week the country had no tests or testing centres and received its first kits thanks to a donation by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma.

Authorities had reported eight suspected cases that they had not been able to test and the first results are expected soon.

– Comoros –

The Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, situated between Madagascar and Mozambique, has yet to detect a single case of the virus, according to the health ministry.

One doctor in the capital Moroni, Dr Abdou Ada, wonders if it may not be because of the wide use of the drug Artemisinin to treat malaria.

“I believe that the mass anti-malarial treatment explains the fact that Comoros is, at least for now, spared from COVID-19. it is a personal belief that needs to be confirmed scientifically.”

AFP

Burundi’s Ruling Party Picks Presidential Candidate

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.  AFP

 

Burundi’s ruling party said Sunday that party leader General Evariste Ndayishimiye would stand as its candidate in a presidential election in May.

Ndayishimiye is an ally of current President Pierre Nkurunziza who will not seek a new mandate after his controversial election to a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.

“Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye chosen to represent the CNDD-FDD at the 2020 presidential election,” the party tweeted during an extraordinary congress at which Nkurunziza was present.

Nkurunziza’s tenure has been marked by allegations of grave rights abuses and a crackdown on political freedoms.

Constitutional changes would have allowed him to stay in office until 2034, but he said in 2018 that he would not stand for re-election again.

Ahead of Sunday’s congress, Nkurunziza had announced “the beginning of a new page in the history of Burundi and the CNDD-FDD party”.

The violent aftermath of the last presidential election in 2015 made Burundi a focus of an investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged murders, rapes, tortures, and disappearances.

Civil unrest left 1,200 people dead and drove 400,000 from their homes.

Ndayishimiye, 52, is already a key member of Burundi’s ruling elite.

He has served as interior and security minister and chief of the president’s military and civilian cabinet.

Like the current president, Ndayishimiye emerged from rebellion movement against the ruling Tutsi community by ethnic Hutus who gained power after the country’s civil war, and was a key signatory of the 2003 ceasefire that ended the conflict.

“He’s an approachable, easygoing man, who likes to joke and laugh with his friends,” a friend who declined to be identified said of Ndayishimiye.

“But unlike Nkurunziza who is a composed, cold-blooded animal, Evariste Ndayishimiye is rather quick to anger and can lose his temper, with a risk of escalation,” the friend said.

A diplomatic source told AFP that Ndayishimiye had a reputation for “openness and honesty, unlike the other generals” having emerge from the civil war.

“He’s the best choice, but he will have a hard time prompting change and openness towards the opposition in a party that’s dominated by an extremist and sectarian current,” the diplomat said.

According to a newly-adopted law, Nkurunziza meanwhile is to stay in a newly-built luxury villa after he steps down, receive a one-off payment of close to $550,000 and a salary for the rest of his life.

It is unclear whether he will stay out of politics, but experts say he is likely to remain influential.

str-fal/jh/har

Burundi Approves Life Pension For Ex-Presidents Amid Poverty

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. AFP

 

Burundi lawmakers on Tuesday adopted legislation offering a golden parachute to outgoing presidents, including a luxury villa and a one-off sum equivalent to more than half a million dollars.

The move comes four months ahead of May 20 elections for which President Pierre Nkurunziza has said he will not run.

In 2015, his campaign for a third term plunged the country into violence and led to an enduring political crisis.

The new law states that at the end of the mandate, the president will receive “a luxury villa built with public funds in the location of his choice within five years, as well as a one-off allocation of one billion Burundian francs” ($530,000, 480,000 euros).

This amount is a fortune in Burundi where more than 65 per cent live in poverty and where 50 per cent of the country is food-insecure, according to the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).

The legislation, adopted with 98 votes for and two against, differentiates between former heads of state elected via universal suffrage — of which Nkurunziza is the only candidate — and those who came to power via peace deal or military coup.

“A president who came to power via the simple consensus of a group of politicians does not have the same regard as one who was democratically elected,” Justice Minister Aimee-Laurentine Kanyana told the national assembly.

The retired president will also get the same benefits as a serving vice-president for seven years after he steps down, and will for the rest of his life get an allowance equal to that of a lawmaker.

The cost and size of the villa that will be provided are not specified.

“The benefits that will be given to a president at the end of his mandate are exorbitant if one takes into account the crisis in the country, but it is a positive measure as it seems to indicate very clearly that Nkurunziza will in fact not run for the presidency,” a diplomat in Burundi told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Nkurunziza surprised observers when he announced he would not seek another term in office, despite a new constitution in 2018, adopted by referendum, allowing him to do so.

AFP

Burundi Prosecutors Seek 15-Year Jail Term For Four Detained Journalists

Four journalists of the Burundi’s independent media Iwacu Press Group:(L to R) Christine Kamikazi, Agnes Ndirubusa, Egide Harerimana and Terence Mpozenzi leave at the High Court in Bubanza, western Burundi, on December 30, 2019 after attending a trial for complicity in endangering the internal security of the state. 
Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP

 

Burundi prosecutors Monday sought 15-year jail terms for four reporters and their driver who were detained covering an incursion of rebels from DR Congo and charged with endangering state security.

The journalists were working for Iwacu, one of Burundi’s few independent media outlets when they were arrested on October 22.

A witness in the northwestern province of Bubanza, where they were arrested, told AFP on condition of anonymity the long jail terms were sought after two hours of deliberations.

The source said the prosecution based the hefty sentencing demand largely on a WhatsApp exchange of messages between one of the reporters and a colleague based abroad in which the former wrote: “We are heading for Bubanza … to help the rebels.”

READ ALSO: Eighteen Killed In New Militia Attack In Eastern DR Congo

A further demand was for the detained to be denied their civic rights for 20 years.

Judgement was stayed for one month.

“We had the time to assure our clients’ defence. We hope they will be acquitted purely and simply,” defence counsel Clement Retirakiza, told reporters.

Police say at least 14 rebels from the Burundian RED-Tabara group, based across the border in eastern DR Congo, were killed in an attack the day the journalists were arrested.

The rebels say they killed a dozen security personnel.

The Reporters Without Borders NGO, which places Burundi a lowly 159th on its global list of press freedom, says those detained were simply doing their job while Human Rights Watch has called for their release.

Observers see the case against the four as a signal of toughness by the Burundi government just five months ahead of elections.

The country is currently mired in violent unrest sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza announcing in April 2015 he was controversially standing for a third term. He won re-election in July.

AFP

Four Journalists Arrested In Burundi For Undermining National Security

AFP photo

 

Four journalists and their driver are still being held in Burundi after being arrested for undermining national security while covering a rebel attack from neighbouring DR Congo, the attorney general said.

The Burundian reporters were detained on Tuesday last week while reporting in Bubanza, in the country’s northwest, prompting calls from free press groups for their immediate release.

The journalists, from the Iwacu newspaper, one of the last independent publications in Burundi, were detained along with their driver while trying to speak to residents fleeing fighting between rebels and national forces.

“The attorney general of the Republic wants to reaffirm here that these people were not arrested because they are journalists but for the things they are accused of,” Sylvestre Nyandwi said in a statement released late Thursday.

He said they were “apprehended on a hill where clashes were taking place and facts at the disposition of the prosecutors indicate that they could have had this information beforehand,” he said.

He said the court in Bubanza had “decided on the preventive detention” of the five for “undermining national security”.

At least 14 Burundian rebels were killed in the attack, the first by the RED-Tabara group since 2017, according to Burundian police.

The rebels meanwhile claim killing about 10 defence personnel.

Burundi has been locked in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza in April 2015 announced he would seek a controversial third term in office, sparking civil unrest that has left 1,200 dead and over 400,000 displaced.

The next presidential election is scheduled to be held in 2020.

The international media rights group RSF recently warned that there was such a crackdown on the press in Burundi that “there is a risk of all forms of independent journalism disappearing” less than a year before the election.

Burundi is currently ranked 159th out of 180 countries on the RSF’s world press freedom index.

AFP

Albino Teenager Found Dismembered In Burundi

 

A 15-year-old albino boy has been found dismembered in Burundi a week after going missing, the first such killing in the country in three years, a local albino group said Sunday.

Albinos, who have white skin and yellow hair as a result of a genetic disorder that causes the absence of pigmentation, are killed regularly in some African countries for their body parts, which are used in witchcraft rituals.

The teenager was found dead late Saturday in the northwest of the country along the Rusizi river separating Burundi from DR Congo, not far from his home village.

“The young albino was killed atrociously… His murderers cut his right leg off at the knee, his right arm and his tongue,” said Kassim Kazungu, the head of the local association Albinos Without Borders.

More than 20 albinos have been killed in Burundi since 2008, with the last case in 2016 when a five-year-old girl was found dismembered after being taken from her home.

Kazungu said a four-year-old albino boy had been missing since October 2018 from the village of Cendajuri near the Tanzanian border, but that he had “no hope” of finding him alive.

Some experts believe the demand for albino body parts in Tanzania — where such attacks are the most prevalent — has fuelled such killings in border areas.

AFP