President Pierre Nkurunziza has died in Burundi, according to the government on Tuesday. Nkurunziza, 55, died of a heart attack in hospital.
The statement, issued by secretary general and Burundi government spokesman Prosper Ntahorwamiye, said Nkurunziza fell ill late Saturday in the northern Ngozi community following a sporting match. He was taken to The Cinquantenaire Hospital: Natwe Turashoboye of Karusi on Sunday.
Nkurunziza later suffered a surprising and sudden cardiac arrest, with medical teams working for hours but unable to resuscitate him. Multiple reports say his wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, is being treated for the COVID-19 virus but government officials are downplaying rumors about his illness.
The president’s death comes just days after Burundi’s highest court confirmed the election of Evariste Ndayishimiye, the ruling CNDD-FDD party candidate and Nkurunziza’s handpicked successor. Opposition CNL party candidate Agathon Rwasa disputed the results of the May 20 election in Burundi, which remains politically fragile following years of violence and human rights violations associated with Nkurunziza’s tenure.
His administration took power in 2005 and Nkurunziza served two terms before deciding in 2015 to run for a third term in violation of Burundi’s constitution at the time. His reelection sparked waves of political violence that pushed the country into what many international observers described as genocide and civil war.
Accusations of human rights violations led Burundi to become more insular, frequently expelling United Nations staff and other aid NGOs and religious groups while suppressing journalists and opposition leaders. The small east-central nation withdrew from its International Criminal Court obligations in 2016 and has consistently denied any human rights violations.
Nkurunziza pushed through a 2018 referendum that would have allowed him to run again in 2020 and beyond, but he instead chose to support the Ndayishimiye campaign.
Burundi plans a seven-day mourning period, although there were no immediate details on services and memorial for Nkurunziza.
Image: Pierre Nkurunziza file