By Jean Gatera
The Government of Burundi has this afternoon, Tuesday 9, June, announced the death of its outgoing president, Pierre Nkurunziza. According to the official communiqué by Bujumbura, Nkurunziza, 55, complained of “malaise” between the evening of the 6th of June and the morning of the 7th of June 2020. His condition was reported to have improved, but then suddenly – according to the communiqué – he suffered a heart attack, this Monday 8, June.
Nkurunziza’s medical team did not manage to stabilize him and he passed away, says the government communication.
His death has occurred during a particularly sensitive period in Burundi, with a newly elected president not yet sworn in. Nkurunziza ruled Burundi for 15 years and had just completed a bitterly contested third term in office. During this term, which began in 2015, Nkurunziza pursued an isolationist foreign policy.
He constantly blamed “foreign states” for internal problems that began when he announced he was staying in power another term, something that bitterly divided the country as analysts pointed out Nkurunziza’s decision was “unilateral, and completely out of the blue”. Briefly afterwards Burundi was convulsed by political violence.
Regional analysts say that the president elect Ndayishimiye, “seems less isolationist”, and that, “he will probably have more leeway to mend broken bridges”. One can expect the new administration to try to mend bridges with neighbors as an isolationist stance has been sustained “at a very heavy cost to Burundi,” said a regional expert.
The announcement of Nkurunziza’s death follows news a couple of weeks ago that Burundian first lady Deniza Nkurunziza had been “flown by air ambulance to Nairobi, suffering from an unspecified illness.”
Burundi is one of the few countries with a very different approach to the Covid-19 pandemic sweeping the globe. There has been no change at all in Burundian daily life, with people gathering in large crowds as usual, in churches, campaign rallies, markets and similar places. The country’s highest ranking dignitaries have participated in the largest gatherings, as usual.
According to the Burundian constitution, in the event of the passing of a sitting head of state, the president of the Parliament, in this case one Pascal Nyabenda, acts as interim head of state, until the swearing-in of the president-elect.