By Eddy-Claude Nininahazwe

President Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi has elevated his predecessor, the late Pierre Nkurunziza, with the title of “Supreme Guide for Patriotism.” The opposition and much of civil society is outraged. They consider Nkurunziza a “traitor president” and strongly reject the glorification of his administration.

We consider it shameful to nominate a controversial figure to the rank of a hero while some Burundians are still suffering from his selfishness and his inability to serve people with dignity.

— Bigirimana

Ndayishimiye bestowed the new title in tandem with legally establishing a new federal holiday dedicated to patriotism, which now will be celebrated every June 8. The law establishing the holiday was enacted on the eve of the one-year commemoration of Nkurunziza’s unexpected death. He died June 8, 2020, in Karusi, denying to the end the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic in Burundi, more than two months after Burundi’s health minister confirmed the country’s first two cases of the deadly virus.

The new law describes the late president’s “exceptional dedication to the defense of national sovereignty, to his awakening of the conscience of Burundi to the primacy of God, the value of the Burundian people, and love of the Fatherland.”

President Evariste Ndayishimiye

National Patriotism Day commemoration
As Ndayishimiye presided over the festivities of the new national day of patriotism, his clothing was festooned with an image of his predecessor. The festivities took place in Gitega, the political capital of Burundi, where Nkurunziza was laid to rest. In a speech, Ndayishimiye called on Burundians to tackle the challenges of the nation by fighting poverty, consolidating peace and security, and working for social cohesion between the different sectors of the Burundian citizenry. He pledged to construct a center for patriotism on the grounds that house the tomb of the late president.

Supreme Guide, a controversial honorary title
The opposition in parliament registered dismay at singling out Nkurunziza to receive the superlative title. Agathon Rwasa, president of the National Congress for Freedom CNL party, which came in second in the most recent elections in May 2020, said, “Everyone at home loves their country, but some politicians want to make it seem that there are citizens who are more patriotic than others. Patriotism Day is not different from July 1, when the Burundians won independence at a dear cost. Those who helped achieve independence in 1962 deserve to be [called] patriots.”

The opposition accuses Nkurunziza of grave human rights violations during his administration against those he believed to be opposed to his party, the Conseil National Pour la Défense de la Démocratie – Forces pour la Défense de la Démocratie. Tools of control are widely said to have included extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, and torture.

“Granting this honorary title to the late president is further proof that the party in power in Burundi is aligning itself with crime, impunity, and tyranny,” said Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, president of the Coalition of Burundian Political Opposition Forces for the Restoration of the Arusha Accord. The group says the title is a shameless maneuver to exonerate the late president from guilt.

Frédéric Bamvuginyumvira, president of Cfor Arusha)

Administration of Nkurunziza as fifteen years of tragedy
Pierre Nkurunziza’s administration was marked by the elimination of political opponents, according to many in civil society. Pacifique Nininahazwe, president of the Forum for Consciousness and Development, said June 8 will serve as a day of remembrance and an annual occasion for victims of the Nkurunziza regime to seek justice. “The regime of Pierre Nkurunziza was characterized by tragedies in the years 2005 to 2015,” said Nininahazwe.

Attorney Janvier Bigirimana of the organization Tournons la Page recalled that Nkurunziza and a small circle of army generals made major decisions, including those that led to serious human rights violations. He said this unofficial, parallel governance structure led to disasters in all sectors of national life.