President Pierre Nkurunziza, a devout Christian, at a Church service on 1 January 2020/Photo: Pierre Nkurunziza/Twitter

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza dies suddenly at 55

Burundi’s outgoing president, Pierre Nkurunziza, died unexpectedly on Monday after suffering a heart attack, the government says. He was admitted to hospital on Saturday after feeling unwell, his condition improved but on Monday he had a cardiac arrest and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, officials say.

The death of 55-year-old Nkurunziza, who was due to stand down in August after 15 years in power, came weeks after an election for his handpicked successor was held.

With his election victory last month, Major-General Evariste Ndayishimiye had already become Burundi’s president-elect, but his critics say Nkurunziza would be the power behind the throne – a strategy adopted by former president Joseph Kabila in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nkurunziza, a passionate devout Evangelical Christian, was first elected by parliament in 2005. He won re-election and then a third, much contested, poll in 2015.

In 2015, Burundians overwhelmingly voted for constitutional reforms extending the presidential term from five to seven years and allowing Nkurunziza to seek two more terms beginning in 2020. The vote gave the president the option to stay in office until 2034, but apparently bowing to international pressure he decided not to seek another term at this year’s elections.

Analysts are hoping that Burundi will carry out a power transition, enabling Ndayishimiye to take office, without political crisis.

Nkurunziza, a passionate sportsman, led an armed group during the country’s civil war. He came to power as a result of the Arusha peace deal, signed in 2000.

The accord ended Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war and ushered in measures to ensure power would not be concentrated in either the hands of the majority Hutu or minority Tutsi, after decades of violence between the communities.

Adira Kallo

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