The desperately autocratic, manipulative and bloody rule of president Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi must not cloud our obuntu (humaneness). A human being is dead. At a young age. Now forever lost to his wife and family.
We have all been there. The death of a loved one is traumatising. My heart goes out especially to Madame Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, who is also recovering from an acute illness that is reported to be Covid-19. President Nkurunziza was almost certainly killed by Covid-19.
In the absence of his medical records, one leaves room for another cause of death. However, his reported symptoms, his wife’s illness from Covid-19 and his mother’s acute illness in hospital suggest that he was felled by the new coronavirus. A general rule of medicine is that common things occur commonly.
But then let us not quibble over the cause of his death. They say it was a heart attack. Fine, it was a heart attack. All humans eventually die by a “heart attack,” so to speak. It is the terminal event, the heart being the very last thing to stop before doctors declare the person dead.
It changes nothing, for the real tragedy, besides his death, is the lie about Burundi’s Covid-status, which continues a week after his passing. This refusal by his courtiers to acknowledge Nkurunziza’s fatal error of denying the mortal threat posed by the new coronavirus is unconscionable arrogance.
No, it is more than that. It is a selfishness that endangers other Barundi who are left to carry on as though things are normal.
Nkurunziza’s claim a couple of months ago that God had spared his country a visit by the new coronavirus was extraordinarily reckless. Whatever possessed him to indulge in such nonsense was a fatal attraction propelled by the usual deception that self-proclaimed pastors, prophets and apostles dispense in the name of a false god they have substituted for the true risen Son of God.
Whereas I am not privy to God’s mysterious agenda for humanity, I am certain that there is no special “covenant between God and Burundi.” God is not in the business of playing favourites. There is nothing that Nkurunziza did in his 15 years in power to earn his country a special trophy from God.
Blood, rivers of blood, not always Nkurunziza’s fault, but a large percentage of it on his hands. Repression of a frightened country of 11 million people whose basic human rights were abused because Burundi’s strongman was really a weak and frightened ruler.
Two years ago, Burundi’s soccer-loving president took Halleluya FC, his team, to play against a team from Kiremba, Southern Burundi. Not used to any serious challenge even on a soccer field, Nkurunziza was angered by Kiremba defenders, who tackled him and, as in any normal game, brought him down.
Cyriaque Nkezabahizi, the coach of the Kiremba team, and his assistant, Michel Mutama, were arrested and thrown in jail. The charges? “Conspiracy against the president.”
Don’t laugh now. We are not in the mood for writing fiction in these troubled times. Then early last year, three teenage schoolgirls were arrested because they had allegedly defaced Nkurunziza’s photos in their textbooks.
Tingasiga, if a soccer team’s expected conspiracy to defeat an opponent was criminalised, what chance did political opponents who had the potential to legally remove Nkurunziza from power have? If teenagers’ pranks and doodling on images threaten a man three times their age, should we be surprised by reports of heavy-handed repression, including extrajudicial killings, stolen elections and his attempt to prolong his rule by amending the constitution?
Don’t you see that this man was your classic insecure tinpot dictator in the mould of the unforgettable soldiers that seized power in the 60s and 70s? At least those fellows were semi-literate bumblers.
Nkurunziza was of good stalk. Born to an MP and a nurse, he was a university graduate, high school teacher and assistant university lecturer. That, plus the benefit of exposure to the dark and destructive history of his sad country, should have humbled him and turned him into a leader of his people.
Instead, like many of his educated peers, he chose to be a ruler, not a leader; a terrorist against his own people, not a healer and peacemaker that Burundi desperately needed.
While he went around claiming to be a Born-Again Christian pastor anointed by God to deliver his people to the promised land, Nkurunziza depended on the Imbonerakure, a ruthless militia group that he formed around 2010. Imbonerakure, which means “those who see far,” is Burundi’s equivalent to Uganda’s “Crime Preventers” and Abdalla Kittata’s Boda Boda 2010 that terrorised and tortured Ugandans on behalf of our rulers.
Here are two things I found even more depressing than the terrorist politics in Burundi. First, a little more than a year ago, a $22 million presidential palace was opened in Mutimbuzi, just north of Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi.
This massive “gift” from the Chinese government houses the president’s office. Burundi, with its horrendously poor healthcare services, did not ask the Chinese to forget a glamorous building in Mutimbuzi and, instead, build state-of-the-art fully equipped and staffed hospitals in some of its towns.
Second, in negotiating his terms for quitting the presidency, Nkurunziza demanded and obtained a $530,000 cash-buyout, a luxury villa and a lifetime salary. This coming from a man who had been working for top dollars and living off the State for 15 years.
In the event, the president and his wife took ill. There was no facility in Burundi that could take care of Denise Nkurunziza. She was flown 1,200 km northeast to Nairobi. Meanwhile, the president, stricken while in Karuzi, just 158km northeast of Bujumbura, had no access to life-saving facilities.
A ventilator, reportedly one of the very few in the country of 11 million people, 72 per cent of whom live on less than $1.90 per day, was hurriedly flown from Bujumbura to Karuzi.
It was too late. Nkurunziza was dead, probably a victim of his corrupted “Christianity” that denied the presence of a deadly enemy, and also his regime’s skewed priorities that promised him great luxury but assured him of preventable death.
Some say he did some good things. To me, when you kill others because of your insecurities, and when you endanger a country because of your distorted religion, the good you do amounts to nought.