By Jean Damascene Hakuzimana

Burundians are mourning the unanticipated death of President Pierre Nkurunziza on Monday, June 8 at Burundi’s Hôpital du Cinquantenaire de Karusi. President Nkurunziza died from heart failure, according to an announcement from the Secretary General of Burundi on June 9. The announcement said that Nkurunziza had attended a volleyball match on Saturday and appeared to be doing well, but that afterward his health quickly deteriorated.

On May 18, Amjambo Africa reported that while the world was struggling to contain the global outbreak of COVID-19, the country organized presidential and legislative elections where crowds and rallies were held without masks or social distancing. Several times in recent weeks social media showed President Nkurunziza – an ardent Christian – appearing at numerous Christian gatherings, minimizing the risks associated with the pandemic. In one post that went viral he said that COVID-19 passes through the air, but that God had purified the air so as not to contain the virus.

The Guardian reports that some media outlets are conjecturing that the president may have contracted the new coronavirus, with complications from the virus causing his sudden passing. Denise Nkurunziza, his wife, was rushed to Kenya for health care on May 28, and the Daily Nation reported that she was being treated for COVID-19 and an underlying condition.

“If it is proven that President Nkurunziza died from coronavirus, it should teach a lesson to leaders who still disdain this disease and are not helping their populations to contain it,” said a Burundian refugee now resettled in Concord, New Hampshire. She was caught off guard by the news on the morning of June 9. She said she has been talking to family members in Burundi who confirmed to her that the state was censoring publication of information about COVID-19.

The passing of president Nkurunziza has left hanging the passing of the baton to his successor, General Evariste Ndayishimiye, who won the May 20 presidential election. Ndayishimiye was due to start his term in August, and it is unclear now who is taking over for Nkurunziza, and exactly how the situation will evolve between now and August, 2020