Nkurunziza’s Unexpected Death Could Set Off Another Crisis in Burundi

Nkurunziza’s Unexpected Death Could Set Off Another Crisis in Burundi
Burundi’s president-elect, Evariste Ndayishimiye, left, is accompanied by President Pierre Nkurunziza after Ndayishimiye was chosen as the CNDD-FDD party’s presidential candidate, Gitega, Burundi, Jan. 25, 2020 (AP photo by Berthier Mugiraneza).

Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent.

Burundi’s outgoing president, Pierre Nkurunziza, who took power in 2005 promising to unify a country emerging from civil war, only to oversee an increasingly brutal crackdown against his regime’s opponents, died suddenly Monday at the age of 55. Officials said he suffered a heart attack, but there is speculation he may have died of complications from COVID-19 after he spent months downplaying the risk of the coronavirus.

Nkurunziza’s death ahead of the August inauguration of his hand-picked successor has officials in Burundi scrambling to head off a succession crisis. Ruling party leader Evariste Ndayishimiye was declared the winner of last month’s vote despite opposition claims of voter intimidation and fraud, as Sam Mednick detailed in a recent article for WPR. But Ndayishimiye’s chief rival, Pascal Nyabenda, the president of the National Assembly, is constitutionally mandated to take over until the swearing-in. Observers fear his elevation could trigger a power grab. The government has asked the Constitutional Court to decide on an interim leader.

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