Bujumbura, Burundi | AFP | Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has died of heart failure, the government said Tuesday.
“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.
A statement from Burundi’s presidency on Tuesday said Nkurunziza was hospitalised over the weekend and that his health “abruptly changed” on Monday. It said the country would observe seven days of mourning beginning Tuesday.
The development comes ten days after Burundi’s first lady was flown to a hospital in Nairobi, where it was feared, she was being treated after she contracted COVID-19.
First lady Denise Bucumi was flown out of Burundi on a Pilatus plane by the AMREF air ambulance service, according to a source at the Melchior Airport in Bujumbura.
A high-ranking government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that Bucumi had gone to Nairobi “for treatment as she caught the coronavirus”.
This was confirmed by a source in the presidency, also asking not to be named.
However a separate source in the presidency denied it and said she was going for an “endoscopic ulcer exam”.
URGENT: Le Gouvernement de la République du Burundi annonce avec une très grande tristesse le décès inopiné de Son Excellence Pierre Nkurunziza, Président de la République du Burundi, survenu à l’Hôpital du Cinquantenaire de Karusi suite à un arrêt cardiaque ce 8 juin 2020. pic.twitter.com/PP46kKzAM5
— Burundi Government (@BurundiGov) June 9, 2020
In Kenya, a source at the health ministry, requesting not to be named, said Bucumi had been admitted to hospital and was being treated with “complications of difficulty in breathing”.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical Christian, and his wife Denise, who is a pastor, have regularly played down the seriousness of the pandemic in their speeches and sermons.
Burundi is one of few countries in the region not to take action against the virus, and recently held general elections, with heaving crowds attending campaign rallies. Voting took place with scant attention paid to the outbreak.
Four weeks ago Burundi expelled the World Health Organisations (WHO) expert team backing the coronavirus response in the country.
During national prayers to thank God for the ruling party’s victory in the election, Nkurunziza repeated claims that Burundi was saved from the virus due to “the hand of God”.
“If all over the world we talk about the coronavirus pandemic, but we were able to gather without any problem, hold an electoral campaign without any problem, send our children to school and go to the market without worries …. it is the hand of God which shows he has placed a special sign above our Burundi,” he said.
“Look here, is anyone wearing a mask?” he asked the packed crowd.
Nkurunziza was set to leave office after 15 years and his handpicked heir Evariste Ndayishimiye was declared the winner of the election. He was due to be sworn in, in August.