By Jean Damascene Hakuzimana

Burundi’s constitutional court ruled that Evariste Ndayishimiye should be sworn in as president after the abrupt death of the incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza, whose term was set to expire in August 2020. Burundians and their friends mourned Nkurunziza’s unanticipated death on Monday, June 8, at Burundi’s Hôpital du Cinquantenaire de Karusi.

President Nkurunziza died from heart failure, according to an announcement by the Secretary General on June 9. The announcement reported that Nkurunziza had attended a volleyball match on Saturday, June 7, and appeared to be doing well, but that afterward his health quickly deteriorated.

Political pundits were in a dilemma about who would take over from Nkurunziza, who died near end of his tenure. According to Al Jazeera, the constitutional court said that an interim period was not necessary, and that the elected president should be sworn in as early as possible. 

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 it would not contain the virus.

The Guardian reported that some media outlets conjecture the president may have contracted the new coronavirus, which caused his death. Denise Nkurunziza, his wife, who had been rushed to Kenya for health care on May 28, returned to Burundi after the passing of her husband. 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, who 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. Nkurunziza might be the first president to die from COVID-19, reports the New York Post