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Burundi's Government Calls for “calm, prayers” Following the President’s Death

Late President Pierre Nkurunziza and wife Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza at a national Prayer for Peace in Bujumbura.

Government officials in Burundi have asked the citizens of the East African nation “to remain calm” and to pray for the soul of their country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza who died Monday, June 8 at the age of 55.

The Government spokesman, Prosper Ntahorwamiye announced in a Tweet Tuesday, June 9 that “the unexpected death” of President Nkurunziza  had occurred “at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020.”

The Government Spokesman called on citizens of the East African nation “to remain calm and continue praying for the soul of the President,”

“Burundi has lost a son, a President and a key figure of patriotism. He was an example to the people of Burundi as someone who loved and respected God,” Mr. Ntahorwamiye tweeted.

He further disclosed that the late President Nkurunziza had attended a volleyball match on Saturday afternoon and was taken to hospital that evening after falling ill.

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He added in referent to President Nkurunziza, “Although he appeared to recover on Sunday and spoke to those around him, his condition suddenly deteriorated on Monday morning. He then suffered a heart attack and despite an immediate resuscitation attempt, doctors were unable to revive him.”

A seven-day period of national mourning has been declared in the country beginning Tuesday, June 8 and flags will be flown at half-mast.

President Nkurunziza was expected to hand over the leadership of the country in August to his political ally Evariste Ndayishimiye who won the May 20 general election that the Catholic Bishops in the country denounced alleging “many irregularities” and the opposition party contested at the constitutional court.

On June 4, Burundi's Constitutional Court upheld the results of the Presidential election, rejecting the complaints filed by opposition leader for failing to provide sufficient proof of his claims.

Following court ruling, the Catholic Bishops have, after clarifying their status as a religious entity that was not party to the case at the Constitutional Court, congratulated the President-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye and assured him of their prayers for "the realization and success of his noble mission."

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In line with the country’s constitution, the President of the National Assembly, Pascal Nyabenda was sworn in Tuesday, June 9 as Burundi’s acting Head of State. He is expected to hand over to the President-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye in August.

Son of a Catholic Hutu connected with the royal family, the late President Nkurunziza came to power in 2005, when he was selected by parliament.

He was re-elected in 2010 and in 2015 when he won a controversial third term despite opposition protests and international condemnation.

“President Nkurunziza was very close to the people. He was also very social and that is something very interesting,” Fr. Silas Nsabimana, a Burundian Missionary Priest serving in Ethiopia told ACI Africa in an interview Tuesday, June 9.

“His closeness to people made his party very popular. It showed his simplicity,” Fr. Silas, a member of the Missionaries of Africa added.

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Fr. Silas also remembers President Nkurunziza as a man who encouraged the planting of trees in Burundi.

“After becoming President, (Nkurunziza) had a project to plant trees in the country and seeing him join other Burundians Plant trees was very nice,” the Burundian Cleric said.

Recalling the 15-year presidency of Nkurunziza, Augustin Katihabwa, a Catholic Christian based in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura told ACI Africa, “It was very painful hearing the news about the death of President Nkurunziza.”

He added, “The first 10 years of his leadership were successful because he respected the constitution of Burundi. But there were many cases of killings, tortures, kidnapping, and disappearance of citizens during his leadership.”

“Death is our destination and it's not the end of the human being because there will be a resurrection. In everything we do, happiness will never depend on what we eat, drink, and areas visited, but what we did matter. Good actions pay positively and vice versa,” Augustin said during the Tuesday, June 9 interview with ACI Africa.

Meanwhile, the President-elect, Ndayishimiye posted on Twitter in reference to the late President, “He leaves us a legacy that we will never forget and we will continue his high-quality work that he has done for our country, Burundi,”

Controversy surrounds the cause of President Nkurunziza’s death with Burundian human rights activists linking it to COVID-19 and calling for “real investigation.”

“The coronavirus kills many Burundians to the silence of the government. We would like Nkurunziza's death to be a moment of awakening about this serious pandemic in Burundi. We then call for a real investigation into the reasons for the president's death,” human rights activist, Pacifique Nininahazwe has been quoted as saying in an interview.

Burundi is reportedly the only African nation that has not so far enacted any significant policy to contain the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the government went on to expel from the country the World Health Organization team that was tasked with helping the East African nation respond to the pandemic. The recent general elections were conducted amid COVID-19.

The late President Nkurunziza’s wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza is currently admitted at Nairobi’s Aga Khan University Hospital after contracting COVID-19, Kenya’s Daily Nation reported.

Various African Heads of State have expressed their solidarity with the citizens of Burundi following the death of President Nkurunziza, offering prayer.

“May his soul rest in the hands of Almighty God whom he so diligently served,” says President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Felix Tshisekedi has said, “On behalf of the Congolese people and in my own name, I present my deepest condolences to the Burundian people, as well as to the biological family of the deceased. May his soul rest in peace.”