Burundi has a new president. He is Evariste Ndayishimiye. At 52, he is considered a young leader of a country of less than 12 million. You could describe him as born lucky. The crisis that broke the country into an internecine strife in the early 90s forced him to terminate his law pursuit and head to the trenches.
He emerged from there to become a strong cadre, then graduated into a dependent ally of the country’s last dictator, Pierre Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza died on June 8 of complications from Covid-19 although the official death certificate says he died of a heart attack. He was 55. Nkurunziza was not just president on a contrived third term, he made himself the Supreme Guide of the Nation. His CNDD/FDD coalition produced him as president in 2005 after talks monitored by several iconic leaders including late Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela.
Those talks also saw the hands of less charitable leaders like Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma. After serving the constitutional two-terms in office, Nkurunziza manipulated the parliament to get himself a third term and a court endorsement of that aberration. If he was hoping on becoming a Museveni, it only worked for a few years in which he was a foe of journalists, an enemy of opponents and a killer of many.
With his time up, a fractured country that was a pariah state in the comity of real nations, he arranged a less than transparent transition in which his long-time ally, Evariste Ndayishimiye was declared winner. Buoyed by his former comrades in arms, Nkurunziza organized a sham elections in May, at the height of the Covid-19 global pandemic. That election garlanded Ndayishimiye as elected president and a handover date was scheduled for August provided his country could meet his disengagement terms. ADVERTISEMENT Dear our valued reader, we would like to hear your view about a membership club that we plan to launch. Kindly help us fill this survey.
In Nkurunziza’s Burundi, the now late Supreme Guide for Patriotism, one of the sobriquets he adopted in a fit of megalomania would have cost his nation a one-time disengagement sum of 1 billion Burundian francs, (about $500,000) for a country that ranks 180 out of 186 on the human development index.
Nkurunziza negotiated for a luxury villa at any place of his choosing to be built within the five years of his retirement. He was to be paid the salary of a vice president for the initial seven years and a lifetime salary equivalent to a federal lawmaker while he lived. Nkurunziza carried himself with magisterial gusto and in his feat of megalomania, established a football club, named Halleluyah FC. He loved football and would be seen in the field of play where his team never loses and players were not allowed to wear boots in case the ‘devil’ instigates them to tackle their spiritual guide. For most Burundians, it’s still dangerous to be jubilant over the death of a dictator.
Even in retirement, he was to be his country’s spiritual guide. He was one of the covidiots who laughed at the Corona virus. But his wife caught the virus and was flown to Kenya for treatment. Yet, Nkurunziza refused to lock down his country and did not follow WHO protocols to self-isolate. It was believed he succumbed to the virus although his official death certificate reads heart attack. His wife has since recovered and returned home, but other top members of the government are believed to have caught the bug, with rumours including the new president.
Ndayishimiye who won a controversial election boycotted by several opposition parties couldn’t have prayed for August to come quicker. Nkurunziza could not be taken at his word and his promises held no weight. However, he and Ndayishimiye have come a long way.
They both left school for the trenches following the crisis that erupted after the murder of Melchior Ndadaye in 1993 and the murder of several fellow Hutus. It was the trenches that gave birth to forces for the defense of democracy, FDD that later metamorphosed into the CNDD-FDD party. Ndayishimiye became a scribe, after Nkurunziza edged out Rajab Hussein.
The party handpicked Ndayishimiye whom Nkurunziza has worked very closely through Burundi’s turbulent transition period to democracy and elections in 2005 and the coup d’etat of 2015 during which scores were killed and over 300,000 refugees fled to Rwanda.
Ndayishimiye’s friends call him ‘General Neva’. He describes Nkurunziza as a national hero who left his country ‘in good standing’. Those were not the exact beliefs of Nkurunziza who told a Ugandan UN Permanent Representative that he bungled on the economy and the health sector, according to an article published in Uganda’s Daily Mirror. Like an ecstatic broom hoping to beat a vacuum cleaner in a cleaning competition, Ndayishimiye if filled with optimism.
In a low-key ceremony held at the administrative capital, Gitega the ‘humble and religious’ new leader promised ‘not fail the unity charter, the constitution and other laws’, and to ‘uphold unity among Burundians’ with peace and justice for all, and to ‘fight the ideology of genocide and discrimination’, according to reports monitored on the BBC. No foreign dignitary witnessed the ceremony as no observer teams were allowed to monitor the elections.
The big question Burundians would want to be answered as they settle down to live under their new leader is whether the leopard truly changes its spots. If events in neighbouring Uganda, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe are anything to go by, the answer is not blowing in the wind and won’t be long in coming. All eyes on Burundi.