The Grim Reaper has taken away Burundi’s healthy-looking and all-powerful President Pierre Nkurunziza just as he was to hand over power to the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s 2020 election victor Evariste Ndayishimiye. We commiserate with the 12 million Burundians and hope, as a member of the East African Community, the country will navigate the transition peacefully.
President Nkurunziza was, to all intents and purposes, not a democrat. Neither was he a likeable personality. Under his iron-fisted 15-year rule, many people were killed, hundreds incarcerated and many more exiled. For his economic mismanagement, kleptocracy and lone ranger attitude, innumerable livelihoods were destroyed, condemning most Burundians to penury.
Gen Ndayishimiye, Nkurunziza’s presumptive successor, must seize the moment to institute a new order. His May 20 election victory was the easier part; the harder part is to unite the country and steer it on the path of democracy. Though handpicked by Nkurunziza, he must quickly shake off his predecessor’s shadow and change the course of the country that has known little peace and progress since independence from the Belgians in 1962.
The President-elect should urgently begin reconciling the nation from generations of ethnic divisions that often exploded into genocidal frenzies, restore civil liberties that the outgoing regime trampled upon with wild abandon, resuscitate the economy, mend international relations and restore investor confidence.
In the immediate run, he must wholeheartedly join the war against the Covid-19 pandemic, over which President Nkurunziza duelled with the World Health Organization, having earlier pulled Burundi out of the International Criminal Court.
This is Burundi’s golden chance for rebirth.