Nkurunziza pictured in 2014
|President of Burundi|
26 August 2005 – 8 June 2020
|Vice President||First Vice-Presidents|
|Preceded by||Domitien Ndayizeye|
|Succeeded by||Évariste Ndayishimiye|
|Born||18 December 1964|
|Died||8 June 2020 (aged 55)|
Denise Bucumi (m. 1994)
|Alma mater||University of Burundi|
Pierre Nkurunziza (18 December 1964 – 8 June 2020) was a Burundian politician who served as the ninth president of Burundi for almost 15 years from August 2005 until his death in June 2020. A member of the Hutu ethnic group, Nkurunziza taught physical education before becoming involved in politics during the Burundian Civil War as part of the rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD), of which he became leader in 2000. The CNDD–FDD became a political party at the end of the Civil War and Nkurunziza was elected president. He held the post controversially for three terms, sparking significant public unrest in 2015. He announced his intention not to stand for re-election in 2020 and instead ceded power to Évariste Ndayishimiye, whose candidacy he had endorsed. He died unexpectedly on 8 June 2020, shortly before the official end of his term. He was the longest-ruling president in Burundian history.
Pierre Nkurunziza was born on 18 December 1964 in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, shortly after the country's independence from Belgian rule in 1962. He was one of six children born into a family from Buye in Mwumba, Ngozi Province, where Nkurunziza spent his early years. His father, Eustache Ngabisha, was a politician from the Hutu ethnic group and a Catholic. Ngabisha was involved in the nationalist politics under the ruling Union for National Progress (Union pour le Progrès national, UPRONA) and was elected to the National Assembly in 1965. Ngabisha became a provincial governor but was killed in the genocidal violence of 1972. Nkurunziza's mother, Domitille Minani, was an assistant nurse from the Tutsi ethnic group who was Protestant. Nkurunziza himself was considered to be Hutu.
Nkurunziza attended school in Ngozi and studied at the prestigious athénée in Gitega after his father's death. He enrolled at the Institute of Physical Education and Sports at the University of Burundi and obtained a degree in physical education in 1990. He taught at a school in Muramvya before becoming an assistant lecturer at the University in 1992. He was a football coach for Muzinga FC and Union Sporting in the country's first division. However, he was not known to be politically active. He also taught at the Higher Institute for Military Cadres (Institut supérieur des cadres militaires, ISCAM) where he made important personal contacts with future leading rebels. He married Denise Bucumi in 1994.
The newly elected president Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated in an attempted coup d'état in October 1993. The killing sparked a wave of ethnic violence between Hutu and Tutsi factions and the start of the Burundian Civil War. Nkurunziza was still teaching at the University of Burundi but was forced to flee in 1995 after hundreds of Hutu students were killed. He spent several years in hiding in the bush and was himself was sentenced to death in absentia by a government-backed court in 1998 for planting land mines. At the time, he became associated with the moderate rebel group National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie – Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie, CNDD–FDD), largely supported by ethnic Hutus. By 1998, he had risen to the position of General Secretary of the CNDD–FDD and was in charge of coordinating the political and military wings. He fought for their militia and gained the nickname "Pita". He was nearly killed near Gitega in 2001 but interpreted his survival as a sign that he was destined to lead the group. Nkurunziza himself became a born-again Protestant and supported the integration of Tutsis and other minority groups into the CNDD–FDD. All five of Nkurunziza's siblings were killed in the Civil War, three of whom while fighting for the CNDD–FDD.
Nkurunziza became the president of the CNDD–FDD on 28 August 2000 and presided over the movement as it moved towards a political compromise with the government. A series of agreements in 2003 paved the way for the CNDD–FDD to enter national politics, and allowed Nkurunziza to be reunited with his wife and surviving family members. He became Minister for Good Government and the General Inspection of the State in the transitional government of Domitien Ndayizeye which was considered "a springboard post at a moment when electoral preparations were under way to complete the transition". He was re-elected president of the CNDD–FDD, now a political party, in August 2004, and became its candidate for the forthcoming legislative and presidential elections. The elections brought Nkurunziza and the CNDD–FDD to power with a large majority of the vote. He succeeded Ndayizeye as the President of Burundi.
Nkurunziza's term as president began on 26 August 2005 and he soon adopted a number of popular policies. He presided over the reconstruction of the Burundian state on the basis of the inter-ethnic compromise enshrined in the Arusha Accords which mandated the partition of state positions between Tutsi, Hutu, and the minority Twa ethnic groups. The Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People – National Forces of Liberation (Parti pour la libération du peuple Hutu – Forces nationales de libération, PALIPEHUTU–FNL), the final Hutu rebel faction in the Civil War, was demobilised in 2008. Burundi became actively involved in the African Union and the state's outstanding public debt was cancelled in 2009 by the "Paris Club". However, Nkurunziza's reputation became increasingly tarnished in the face of political factionalism, corruption, and continued insecurity. Hussein Radjabu, a leading figure in the CNDD–FDD, was imprisoned for insulting Nkurunziza in 2008. However, Nkurunziza was re-elected for a second term in July 2010 with a big majority but was effectively unopposed, as the polls were boycotted by opposition parties.
Nkurunziza's second term saw rising discontent with his leadership. Outdoor jogging was banned in June 2014 out of fear that group exercise might be used as cover for political meetings. Dissent came to a head with the public announcement on 25 April 2015 that Nkurunziza would stand for a third term in the presidential elections scheduled for June that year. This appeared to be contrary to the term limits established in the Arusha Accords and sparked widespread protests in Bujumbura and elsewhere which led to violent confrontations. However, the Constitutional Court ruled on 5 May that the projected third term was legal. The protests then escalated and dozens were killed.
A military uprising was attempted on 13 May 2015 by soldiers loyal to Godefroid Niyombare but collapsed after extensive fighting in Bujumbura. Assassinations of opposition politicians and critics took place and it was reported that detained protesters were tortured or raped at so-called "black sites" by regime loyalists. However, the following months also saw the assassination of a number of CNDD–FDD officials and loyalists including Adolphe Nshimirimana. A rebel group emerged as the Republican Forces of Burundi (Forces républicaines du Burundi, FOREBU) and large numbers of civilians fled into exile. Despite the instability and a continuing opposition boycott, the elections took place in July and Nkurunziza was re-elected for a third term.
Nkurunziza's third term saw the country's increasing isolation in light of international condemnation of the repression which accompanied the 2015 unrest. The East African Community and African Union attempted to mediate the conflict unsuccessfully and Nkurunziza's regime became increasingly isolated. Fearing an outbreak of genocidal violence, the African Union attempted to despatch a peacekeeping force to Burundi in 2016 but this was blocked by Nkurunziza. As well as being widely condemned, the 2015 crisis led to 350,000 refugees fleeing across the border into Rwanda and other neighboring countries in addition to another 110,000 being internally displaced. Poverty increased and many middle-class Burundians emigrated. Nkurunziza withdrew Burundi from the International Criminal Court in 2017 and advocated constitutional reforms which would allow longer presidential terms which were approved in a disputed referendum in May 2018. However, in June 2018 he announced that he would not be standing for a fourth term and that he would consequently step down in 2020. The same year, he was given the title of "Permanent Visionary" by the CNDD–FDD.
The CNDD–FDD's presidential candidate for the elections of 2020 was Évariste Ndayishimiye, whom Nkurunziza specifically endorsed. The elections took place in May 2020 and resulted in a large majority in favour of Nkurunziza's candidate. However, the elections occurred against the backdrop of criticism of Nkurunziza's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Burundi during which representatives of the World Health Organization (WHO) were expelled. Election monitors from the East African Community were also kept out.
Nkurunziza died unexpectedly on 8 June 2020, aged 55, at the Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital in Karuzi. The Burundian government gave his cause of death as a heart attack, but some in the media suspect he died of COVID-19. A week earlier, The Standard reported his wife had flown without him to Nairobi, Kenya, for COVID-19 treatment.
Nkurunziza death occurred after the 2020 elections, but ahead of the projected hand-over of power in August. It had been announced in May 2020 that he would continue to remain prominent in public life in the post of "Supreme Guide of Patriotism" with a retirement award of $540,000 (USD) and a villa provided by the Burundian state. Seven national days of mourning were announced following his death.
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