While the East African Community is in a meeting which is aimed at resolving the crisis in Burundi, a former intelligence officer has announced the ousting of the President of the country for violating the country’s constitution. Major-General Godefroid Niyombare was speaking at one of the remaining radio stations after a number were shut down by those loyal to President Nkurunziza in an attempt to crack down on the unrest that has engulfed the capital city of Bunjumbura and other parts of the East African country.
When President Pierre Nkurunziza and his party announced that he would seek another term in office, protesters went into the streets arguing that he was violating the country’s constitution that ushered him to power in 2005, which limits the president to two terms in office of five years each. They argue that he has served his two terms and should not seek re-election. His supporters, on the other hand contend that he still has another term to serve as he has only served one term in which he was directly elected by the voters. One of Nkurunziza’s supporters, Patrick Havyarimana (25) said, “We voted for the president once,” implying that Nkurunziza is right in seeking a third term in office. He adds that the solution was not protesting but rather going to the polls.
After a series of outbursts by donor organisations and civil society groups condemning the president and the neighboring countries for their silence in condemning his bid to run for a third term as president, the East African Community finally relented and called the president to Tanzania, where they were expected to appeal to him to postpone the elections, which they feel cannot be held in the current environment in Burundi. They were expected to express concern at the current state of affairs, where there are protests which have led to the death of up to twenty people.
While he was away, a former army intelligence chief, Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, who was fired by Nkurunziza went to the airwaves on Radio Isanganiro and announced that Pierre Nkurunziza was not longer the president since he had formed a National Salvation Committee, accusing him of violating the constitution. Announcing the coup, Niyombare accused Nkurunziza of “cynicism” and of creating circumstances favouring violence, adding that the security forces had decided to take the destiny of the country in their own hands. According to his message, the country would be run by Permanent Secretaries and some sources added that the army had arrested Nkurunziza’s alleged right-hand man, former intelligence chief Adolphe Nshimirimana, who has been accused of organising the ruling party’s youth wing to harass the president’s opponents. In addition, the sources added, the army had also released prisoners, most of whom were demonstrators from the country’s prisons. Major-General Niyombare also announced the closure of the country’s airport and the borders.
Reacting to the news, the presidency of the country rubbished the claims and said that no such coup had occurred. In their response issued via Twitter, the presidency said, “the situation is under control, there is no coup in Burundi”. It is, however, not clear if the entire army is committed to the coup but according to Radio France Internationale, there are some troops that are loyal to Nkurunziza who are said to have prevented some demonstrators from entering the country’s radio station.
Furthermore, some sources in the military have said the army had arrested Nkurunziza’s alleged right-hand man, former intelligence chief Adolphe Nshimirimana. He is said to have been instrumental in organising the notorious Imbonerakure (those who see from afar), the ruling party’s youth wing who have been committing atrocities against the opposition, particularly during the protests. In support of this assertion, Sarah Jackson of Amnesty International, says ” The Imbonerakure have been regularly implicated in abuses of human rights, including beatings, intimidation and the obstruction of political party meetings, including unlawful killings between 2012 and 2014.”
The East African Community, a regional grouping which includes Tanzania, which chairs the group, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, while condemning the coup, have appealed to Nkurunziza to postpone the elections, which are due to be held on the 26th of June. “The current situation is not favourable to holding elections,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, adding that regional leaders had planned to meet again in two weeks to reassess the situation.
The situation is, however different on the streets as masses of the protesters welcomed the development of the army taking over and the setting up of the National Salvation Committee. “We swear Nkurunziza will go to The Hague,” some sang as they carried banners and waved banana tree branches, referring to the International Criminal Court while another protester said, “If this is confirmed, it is great news to all Burundians!”