World Tour Reporting from around the globe

Burundi’s unexpected upheaval

International | The president’s death could disrupt a crucial political transition
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/12/20, 01:28 pm

Burundian flags flew at half-staff on Wednesday to mourn the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza just weeks before he would have overseen the country’s first democratic transfer of power. At the presidential palace, senior government officials and foreign ambassadors wearing face masks because of the coronavirus pandemic queued up to sign a condolence book.

Nkurunziza, 55, held the presidency for 15 years. Rumors are still swirling about how he died. Doctors admitted him to a hospital on Saturday night, and he went into cardiac arrest on Monday, according to a government statement. Local media reported his wife, Denise, flew to neighboring Kenya on May 29 after testing positive for COVID-19, raising speculation that the president died from the disease.

Nkurunziza opposed coronavirus-related restrictions and allowed political rallies and sporting events to continue as usual during the pandemic. Days before the May 20 election, the government kicked out a World Health Organization official after the agency raised concerns about crowds. The country of 11 million has reported 83 infections, 45 recoveries, and one death.

“We saw in the run-up to the election that no measures were taken by the government to protect its population from the virus,” said Nelleke van de Walle, the central Africa deputy project director with the International Crisis Group.

Gen. Évariste Ndayishimiye, the ruling party’s secretary-general, won the election and is scheduled to take office on Aug. 20. The government called an emergency Cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss what to do next. Pascal Nyabenda, president of the National Assembly, the lower chamber of parliament, will serve as the interim leader until Ndayishimiye’s inauguration.

Van de Walle noted that Nkurunziza wanted Nyabenda to succeed him, while other generals backed Ndayishimiye. Nkurunziza’s absence likely will cause a power tussle. “In a way, there’s a small vacuum, and some generals might try to get more power or support for their candidate,” she said.

Nkurunziza, a one-time rebel leader, assumed power in 2005 at the end of the country’s civil war that killed some 300,000 Burundians. His government cracked down on dissent and used political violence for years. Nkurunziza claimed a contested third-term victory in 2015 that sparked widespread unrest and triggered an economic crisis. Hundreds of people died, and some 400,000 others fled the country.

In 2017, Nkurunziza withdrew Burundi from the International Criminal Court after the United Nations Commission on Inquiry requested an investigation into his government for crimes against humanity, including killings, imprisonment, torture, and rape. In March 2019, the Burundian government forced the UN Human Rights office to shut down after 23 years in the country.

Nkurunziza announced in 2018 he would not seek a fourth term, though he was expected to assume the newly created title of “supreme guide of patriotism.” The position would have required the new president to consult Nkurunziza on issues of national security and unity. Nkurunziza was also set to receive a $500,000 gift and a luxury villa.

Ndayishimiye’s victory signaled the country’s potential return to a functional democracy. In a message shortly after his win, the president-elect vowed to promote democracy and urged exiled Burundians to return home.

Van de Walle said Ndayishimiye belongs to the same ruling party political structure, but he appears more open to change. She added that the country’s dire economic situation likely will encourage the new leader to mend relations with other nations: “He needs the support from the international community and from international investors.”

Associated Press/Photo by Ahn Young-joon (file) Associated Press/Photo by Ahn Young-joon (file) Activists launch balloons in Hwacheon, South Korea, in 2010.

Seeking peace on the peninsula

South Korea on Wednesday said it will pursue charges against two activist groups that sent anti-government leaflets into North Korea. Yoh Sang-key, a spokesman for South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said the groups created tension between the two nations and endangered the lives of people living along the border. The ministry also plans to push for legislation to ban sending anti-government material to the North.

North Korea cut all communication lines with the South and threatened to shut down contact with the nation if the leaflet distribution continued.

South Korean activists, including North Korean defectors, attach items to balloons and float them over the border. Others send items across the sea to the North. While some of the illicit shipments contain rice, others carry flyers criticizing North Korea’s human rights record and nuclear aspirations.

The charges may trigger protests. “We will respond not with words but with action, by flying even more leaflets to North Korean people,” said Park Sang-hak, a North Korean defector who leads one of the two groups. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Muhammad Sajjad (file) Associated Press/Photo by Muhammad Sajjad (file) A Christian woman at St. John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

Christians unwelcome

Instead of housewarming gifts, a neighbor greeted Pakistani Christian Nadeem Joseph’s family with insults, vandalism, and gunshots. In a video from the hospital, Joseph said Salman Khan, a Muslim, harassed his family for moving into Peshawar’s TV Colony neighborhood and shot him and his mother-in-law, International Christian Concern reported.

Joseph said Khan asked him before attacking him, “How dare a Christian family live amid Muslims?” Khan called Christians and Jews “opponents of Muslims” and said the family “cannot stay in this house,” according to Joseph.

As religious freedom deteriorates in Pakistan, community persecution of Christians and other religious minorities remains widespread and often unpunished. Some communities denied or limited Christians and Hindus access to food aid during the coronavirus pandemic. Religious minorities also face false blasphemy allegations, mob violence, attacks on places of worship, and forced conversions to Islam. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Sunday Alamba (file) Associated Press/Photo by Sunday Alamba (file) A camp for people displaced by Islamist extremists in northeastern Nigeria

Terror attacks plague northeastern Nigeria

Suspected Boko Haram insurgents rode into a village in northeastern Nigeria on Tuesday and opened fire. The two-hour rampage left at least 81 people dead.

Malam Bunu, leader of a local defense group, said the insurgents returned on Wednesday to kill one more person and set the community on fire. They also kidnapped seven people, including the village head, according to Borno state Gov. Babagana Zulum.

The attackers likely wanted to retaliate for when community members killed two terrorists two months ago, Bunu noted. The pandemic has not slowed attacks in Borno state, the birthplace of Boko Haram. Last month, extremists killed at least 20 people in another village. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko (file) The Rev. Vasily Gelevan (right) with a sick woman in Moscow

Comforting coronavirus patients

An Orthodox priest in Moscow adapted to the coronavirus pandemic without giving up visits with the sick, including COVID-19 patients.

“I felt I must answer the call,” said the Rev. Vasily Gelevan, who regularly visited the ill for several years before the crisis. Now, he dons a white biohazard suit to visit, pray, and bring communion to sick Russians in their homes or hospitals each day.

Empathy helped him overcome fear of the disease. “For me, the visit of a priest giving Holy Communion would be the most desirable thing,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that I wouldn’t see his face.” —J.A.S.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

Read more from this writer


You must be a WORLD Member and logged in to the website to comment.
    Posted: Fri, 06/12/2020 08:18 pm


    Should we be buying stuff Made in Pakistan?

    Obama said we aren't a Christian nation. I don't know about that, but isn't Freedom of Religion more than just about Christians?

  • Kingdomnetworker
    Posted: Mon, 06/15/2020 01:21 pm

    Update on Burundi: The president-elect will be sworn in early. Thanks for reporting.