Bujumbura, Burundi | AFP | Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has died of heart failure, the government said Tuesday, after the former rebel chief spent 15 often turbulent years in power.
An evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to rule the East African nation, Nkurunziza took office in 2005, when he was selected by parliament.
“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi… following heart failure on June 8, 2020,” it said in a post on its official Twitter account.
His death occurred in a hospital in the eastern city of Karuzi, according to a statement from the Burundian presidency.
His controversial and ultimately successful bid for a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.
Violence left at least 1,200 people dead, displaced hundreds of thousands and prompted the authorities to carry out a sustained crackdown on the opposition and media.
Burundi, which the World Bank ranks among the world’s three poorest countries, has been under sanctions from its major donors since then.
More recently, Nkurunziza had come in for heavy criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The country taken few measures to combat the virus, with authorities claiming God is protecting Burundi from its worst ravages.
Officially Burundi has recorded 83 cases and one death, however doctors in Bujumbura speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity say many cases and deaths are going unreported.
In May 2018, Burundi approved in a referendum constitutional reforms that would have enabled Nkurunziza to rule until 2034, after a campaign Human Rights Watch said was marked by widespread repression and abuses.
But in a surprise move, Nkurunziza announced the following month that he would not run again.
His death comes on the heels of elections on May 20 in which his hand-picked successor, Evariste Ndayishimiye, secured a seven-year term as president — a result confirmed by the constitutional court last Thursday.
Ndayishimiye was due to be sworn in in August.
Tuesday’s statement from Burundi’s presidency said Nkurunziza was hospitalised over the weekend and that his health “abruptly changed” on Monday.
“Despite intense, continuous and adapted care, the medical team could not save the patient,” it said.
Like Ndayishimiye, Nkurunziza fought for the ethnic Hutu rebellion during the country’s 1993-2006 civil war with the minority Tutsi-dominated army. The war left some 300,000 dead.
In January legislators passed a law offering a golden parachute to outgoing presidents, including a luxury villa and a one-off sum equivalent to more than half a million dollars.
The ruling party granted him the title of “visionary” earlier this year.
Tuesday’s statement from the presidency said the country would observe seven days of mourning to mark his death.