Evariste Ndayishimiye: the new president of Burundi

The newly elected president of Burundi, Evariste Ndayishimiye, is due to take the oath on Thursday – two months earlier than planned.

Participants were asked to arrive early to allow time to take precautions against the coronavirus, such as washing their hands and checking the temperature, AFP reports.

The accelerated ceremony followed the sudden death of his predecessor, Pierre Nkurunziza, last week. Mr. Ndayishimiye is a former rebel leader, like Mr. Nkurunziza. He was supported by his predecessor and declared the winner of the presidential election in May, which, according to the opposition, was rigged.

Nkurunziza died at the age of 55 on June 8, after suffering cardiac arrest, the government said. Unconfirmed reports indicate that he was suffering from Covid-19.

After 15 years in power, Mr. Nkurunziza was due to retire in August. According to the Burundi constitution, if the head of state dies in office, the president of the national assembly, currently Pascal Nyabenda, must succeed him.

But after a ruling by the Constitutional Court of Burundi, the swearing-in ceremony for Mr. Ndayishimiye in the capital, Gitega, has been brought forward. The new president takes the head of a country diplomatically isolated and on bad terms with the donors.

His predecessor has been accused of presiding over a government that has perpetrated serious human rights violations and repression against the opposition, journalists, and activists. The country is also facing coronavirus, which its predecessor had downplayed.

After the failed coup attempt in 2015, thousands of Burundians fled the country and went to refugee camps in neighboring countries.

Who is Evariste Ndayishimiye?

The 52-year-old general of the army is considered a “humble” and “religious” man. He has been one of the most influential generals since 2005 when his close friend and colleague in rebellion, Pierre Nkurunziza, took power.

General Ndayishimiye, commonly known as “Neva”, was a law student at the University of Burundi when the civil war broke out in 1993 following the assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye. Like his predecessor Mr. Nkurunziza, General Ndayishimiye survived in 1995 an attack against Hutu students on his campus in Bujumbura, then the capital.

He then fled the country and joined the rebel force that was formed to fight the Tutsi-led government of the day. General Ndayishimiye worked closely with Pierre Nkurunziza during the Arusha peace talks between the government and the FDD rebels.

Following the 2003 peace agreement which saw the FDD rebels share power with the government, General Ndayishimiye replaced the head of the Burundi army at the time. In 2006, he was appointed interior minister, before becoming a military adviser to the president, then secretary-general of the ruling party, CNDD-FDD.

Gen Ndayishimiye, a father of six, is known as a practicing Roman Catholic, and like his predecessor, he emphasizes the role of God in politics. His predecessor was accused of having presided over a government that has committed serious human rights violations and repression against the opposition, journalists, and human rights defenders.

Burundi also faces the coronavirus, which has been downplayed by its predecessor.

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