By Millicent Zighe
Burundi ruling party has named army General Evariste Ndayishimiye as its presidential candidate signaling an apparent end to President Pierre Nkurunziza rule.
Ndayishimiye, among other leaders have continued to pledge allegiance to the incumbent even as he prepares to leave office in May.
“The CNDD-FDD party will always be our parent; we will always remember that even if we grow up, we will never be superior to our parents. We’ll always respect leaders’ of our party because a child can never compare himself to his parents,” Ndayishimiye said.
Despite criticism from International communities, Nkurunzinza, believes he is leaving behind a country on a democratic path. “We have achieved a lot, God is our witness. When I took oath in 2015 in front of the National Assembly, I said that this was my last term and again I said it in June 2018. A real man doesn’t change his words but lives and stand by his words,” he said.
As a token of appreciation, parliament passed a legislation that will effectively hand in the former rebel leader a generous retirement package of one billion Burundian Francs, ($530,000), a luxury villa in the location of his choice, benefits equivalent to those a serving vice president for seven years after he steps down and a lifetime salary equal to that of a law maker. In addition to that, Nkurunzinza is to receive the title ‘paramount leader’ something his close allies have lauded saying he was the champion of patriotism and leadership core.
Known as one of the most ruthless leaders in Africa, President Pierre Nkurunzinza has ruled Burundi with an iron fist since a landslide victory in the 2005 elections. His controversial third term in 2015 is what ultimately plunged Burundi into an upheaval that led to the killing of 1700 and forced an estimated 400,000 people to flee into neighboring Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda. His time in the office has been marred by rampant human rights violations including murder, torture, arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, and enforced disappearance as well as muzzling of the press.
The tough talking leader who also happens to be an ordained minister waged a war of intimidation against anyone in opposition to his regime. From fellow politicians, civil societies organizations, journalists to locals, many have borne the brunt for going against his policies. His message was clear when he issued a stern warning to those planning to sabotage the 2018 referendum, promising to deal with dissent.
Months before the public vote, the ruling party youth military wing Imbonerakure and the security forces killed, raped, beat and intimidate anyone perceived to be anti-Nkurunzinza. In an election marred by irregularities, Burundi voters approved the proposal extending the presidential term from five to seven years something that would have allowed the incumbent to rule for 14 more years after the end of his current term. In an unexpected turn of events, he promised to step down soon after signing the new constitution in law. Nonetheless, many took the decision with a pinch of salt believing the leader may change his mind last minute. One particular leader Charles Nditije, a staunch critic of President Nkurunzinza and the leader of UPRONA party is of the opinion that Nkurunzinza is stepping down but will not go away even after the May elections. He also questioned the credibility of the upcoming elections calling on leaders to boycott them.
Nkurunzinza whom members of the ruling party named the eternal supreme guide, has limited the civil society and media space in an attempt to hide the true extent of the abuse in the country. Almost all non-governmental organizations have been shut down including United Nations human rights office. Hundreds of human rights defenders have fled the country while those who opted to remain have already been killed, tortured suffered or arrested. For instance, human rights activists Germain Rukuki was sentenced to 32 years for threatening state security and participation in an insurrectional movement. Scores of journalists have also disappeared under peculiar circumstances. Jean Bigirimana, a reporter from Iwacu Press Limited has been missing since 2016. On January 30, four journalists from the same media house namely Agnès Ndirubusa, Christine Kamikazi, Egide Harerimana, Térence Mpozenzi were jailed for 30 months for undermining state security.