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

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