“Before God the Almighty, before the Burundian people, the sole holder of national sovereignty, I, Évariste Ndayishimiye, President of the Republic of Burundi, I swear loyalty to the Charter of National Unity, to the Constitution of the Republic of Burundi, and to the law… ”declared the new Burundian president who was sworn in on Thursday June 18, in the Ingoma stadium in Gitega, the administrative capital of the country.
To avoid a period of uncertainty that could have destabilized Burundi, whose history is punctuated by deadly political crises and a long civil war (300,000 dead between 1993 and 2006), the ruling party, the CNDD-FDD , decided to speed up the transition.
The Constitutional Court, acquired by the executive, therefore ordered that the new strongman from Bujumbura begin his seven-year term as soon as possible, without an interim period. On the death of Pierre Nkurunziza, who had presented him as his “heir”, General Ndayishimiye undertook to “continue his work”.
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Two months in advance
Évariste Ndayishimiye should have taken office next August, but the sudden death of his predecessor on June 8, at the age of 55 after 15 years in power, officially of “cardiac arrest”, changed the given. He takes charge of the destinies of a divided, isolated, impoverished country facing the Covid-19 epidemic. Moreover, the ceremony was held in a particular context since the epidemic of new coronavirus prevented any foreign head of state from attending.
The authorities had asked the public to show up early enough to comply with the health measures in place, such as hand washing and taking the temperature. But the safety distance, set at 70 centimeters between people, was far from being respected. And apart from a few officials, hardly anyone wore a mask. Évariste Ndayishimiye himself had his face uncovered.
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Heir of Nkurunziza
The new head of state is one of the key players in a power that carried out a deadly repression that left more than 1,200 dead and led 400,000 Burundians to exile, after the controversial candidacy of the former President Nkurunziza to a third term in April 2015.
He did not prevent the atrocities against opponents, human rights activists and independent journalists, committed in particular by the Imbonerakure, the youth league of the CNDD-FDD. Despite everything, he was not personally implicated in such abuses, and is seen as more tolerant than his predecessor and not part of the most intransigent part of the regime.
The disappearance of Pierre Nkurunziza, who was to remain very influential, could give him a little more elbow room. But analysts question its ability to free itself from the group of generals who hold the reality of power and to reconcile a country still traumatized by the crisis of 2015.
If he seeks to reform, “he risks encountering obstacles, reluctance on the part of these generals who have an interest in protecting themselves,” predicts Carina Tertsakian, of the Initiative for Human Rights in Burundi.
During the investiture ceremony, the Archbishop of Gitega, Mgr Simon Ntamwana, who had publicly opposed in 2015 the third term of Pierre Nkurunziza, called on the new president to bring “peace between Burundians”.
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The international community, including the main donors of Burundi (EU, Belgium, Germany, etc.), which have imposed sanctions on it since 2015, seems ready to give Évariste Ndayishimiye a chance.
He has launched some signs of openness towards him and could seek to get his country out of its isolation, which is so economically damaging.
Burundi is ranked among the three poorest countries in the world by the World Bank, which estimates that 75% of the population lives below the poverty line, against 65% when Mr. Nkurunziza came to power in 2005. Évariste Ndayishimiye had promised during the campaign to make the eradication of poverty and development of the country his priority.
Its first challenge, however, will be the epidemic of new coronavirus. Mr. Nkurunziza had maintained the elections and refused to confine the population, assuring that Burundi was protected by “divine grace”.
But Burundians wonder today if the ex-president, who, according to a medical source contacted by AFP, was in “respiratory distress” at the time of his death, did not himself succumb to this disease .
The country has officially recorded 104 cases of Covid-19 for a single death. This assessment leaves many doctors skeptical, according to which many cases and deaths of people showing symptoms of the virus have been excluded from official figures.
After having ignored it for a long time, the authorities seem to have become aware of the gravity of the situation and have slightly changed their speech in recent days. Mr. Ndayishimiye could thus devote part of his inauguration speech to the epidemic.
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