RIP

Burundi’s president Pierre Nkurunziza has died suddenly

The late president Pierre Nkurunziza.
The late president Pierre Nkurunziza.
Image: Reuters/Evrard Ngendakumana
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Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza has died of a heart attack, the country’s government says.

Nkurunziza, 55, died of a heart attack at a local hospital on June 8, according to a statement released through the government’s Twitter account. Nkurunziza’s passing comes two weeks after presidential elections to choose his successor. He was due to be replaced in August by Evariste Ndayishimiye, a political ally who won the May 20 elections.

Upon leaving office, Nkurunziza was due to be given $530,000, a luxury retirement villa and be conferred with the title of “supreme leader,” according to a proposed law already passed by Burundi’s parliament. He was also due to receive a lifetime salary.

Burundi’s president-elect and former president.
Burundi’s president-elect and former president.
Image: Reuters/Evrard Ngendakumana/File Photo

Yet, lavish severance and retirement package aside, Nkurunziza’s decision to finally leave office ended a political crisis which kicked off in 2015 when he unconstitutionally chose to contest for a third term in office. The move sparked protests which were met with force by local law enforcement resulting in weeks of violent unrest and a failed coup. Despite the riots and a widespread boycott by opposition parties,  Nkurunziza contested and easily won a third term in office. Amid his third term, a new constitution passed in 2018 allowed Nkurunziza potentially stay in power until 2034.

But his third term was not widely supported and there were various forms of major and minor resistance including three school girls who were arrested for doodling on the face of the embattled president in their textbooks have had the case against them dropped. They were later released after the story went around the world and a social media campaign with new doodlings went viral.

Doodling on the president
Doodling on the president
Image: Collage from Twitter

Nkurunziza’s passing also comes amid the coronavirus pandemic which has seen the country’s first lady Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza reportedly hospitalized in Kenya’s capital after being airlifted from Burundi amid restrictions.

But given weak government response which appeared to prioritize polls over public safety, experts believe the country’s handling of the pandemic has been questionable. Those fears were heightened when, weeks before the presidential elections, the government kicked out a WHO coronavirus response task-force.

The late Nkurunziza casting his vote on May 20.
The late Nkurunziza casting his vote on May 20.
Image: Reuters/Clovis Guy Siboniyo