President Nkurunziza loved religion, sports to death

President Pierre Nkurunziza plays football in Bujumbura/ REUTERS

As countries across the world took measures such as social distancing to curb the spread of coronavirus, Burundi was in political jigs and jags.

It was an election in which the country would find the successor for President Pierre Nkurunziza,55, who ruled with an iron fist for 15 years.

When the country’s top World Health Organization representative raised the red flag on political gatherings, he was expelled alongside three other experts coordinating the Covid-19 response.

WHO’s representative Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, the country’s coronavirus coordinator Dr Jean Pierre Mulunda Nkata, communicable diseases head Dr Ruhana Mirindi Bisimwa, and a laboratory expert in Covid-19 testing Professor Daniel Tarzy were accused of interfering with domestic affairs and declared persona non-grata.

Even after the election that produced Évariste Ndayishimiye as the new leader, Burundi leadership continued to shrug off the pandemic, citing divine protection.

Burundi also kept its first and second division football leagues running, only requiring fans to wash their hands and test their temperature.

Religion and sports were close to Nkurunziza and he lived by them.

Born of a Catholic father, also a politician, and a protestant mother, a nurse, Nkurunziza became born-again in 2001. This after he reportedly survived an onslaught in Gitanga region and interpreted his survival as a sign that he was destined to lead the CNDD–FDD rebel group. He eventually did.

President Pierre Nkurunziza and his wife Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza (Photo/Courtesy)

In 1994, he married Denise, an evangelist. According the Burundi First Lady website, “Mrs Denise Nkurunziza serves God in many capacities: She is an ideal church choir member, an evangelist, a prayer worrier, a teacher of the word of God and morality…”

But even before Nkurunziza joined politics during the 1995-2005 Burundian civil war, he was a sports teacher, a career he studied for at the University of Burundi.

After graduating with a degree in Physical Education in 1990, he proceeded to become an assistant lecturer at the university and later at the Higher Institute for Military Cadres. He was also a football coach for Muzinga FC and Union Sporting in the first division.

As President, he trained with Haleluya FC and donned their kits, clearly displaying his public embrace for religion. casino singapore

Though credited for the reconstruction of the Burundian state by pushing for an inter-ethnic compromise in government positions among the Tutsi, the Hutu, and the minority Twa groups as enshrined in the Arusha Accords, he tainted his image with his dictatorship.

He crushed dissidents and ordered arbitrary arrests and tortures, and expelled journalists and human rights organisations that reported these atrocities.

Under his leadership, Burundi withdrew from the International Criminal Court in 2017 and also closed the UN office on human rights in 2019.

It got worse in 2015, when he announced he would run for a third term, triggering protests and an attempted coup.

The whereabouts of the man who led the coup, Major General Godefroid Niyombare, are not known.

What the Burundian strongman believed in and enjoyed seem to have led to his illness and demise.

After his burial on Friday, June 26, eyes now are on Burundi’s transition post-Pierre.

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