Copyright World Economic Forum/Eric Miller

The COVID Death of Burundi Ruler, Pierre Nkurunziza

How will Burundi move forward?

The longtime ruler of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, died suddenly on June 8th, quite possibly from COVID-19. This would make him the first serving world leader to succumb to the virus. His death came just days after an election was held, which his handpicked successor easily won. 

Nkurunziza has been president of Burundi since 2005, and in recent years his rule became firmly authoritarian. Political opposition has been suppressed and civil society organizations shut down. This spring, Nkurunziza even booted the World Health Organization from Burundi amidst the country’s worsening outbreak.  

On the line with me today is Yolande Bouka, a professor of political studies at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. We discuss the legacy of Pierre Nkurunziza and what this chaotic moment means for Burundi and the surrounding region. 

We kick off discussing the circumstances surrounding Nkurunziza’s death. We then discuss his fraught time in power This includes a key moment in 2015 when he engineered for himself a constitutionally dubious third term in office and survived a coup attempt. The conflict surrounding that episode lead to the displacement of 400,000 people — the impact of which is being felt across the region today. We also discuss the background of the new president of Burundi, Évariste Ndayishimiye and what his rule may bring for the country.   


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