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.