Burundi is on the verge of losing its 15-year-old president, but to acquire a “supreme guide to patriotism”, according to the official title that will be given to Pierre Nkurunziza once he resigns after Wednesday’s elections.
He will also receive a retirement allowance of $ 540,000 (£ 440,000) and a luxury villa. But it’s not clear if he’s going to get out of the spotlight and spend more time on other things, like his beloved soccer.
The accumulation of ballots – in which seven candidates are vying for the president – has been marred by violence and accusations that the vote will not be free and fair.
But whoever wins will be required by law to consult Mr. Nkurunziza on matters of national security and national unity. It is not clear whether they should follow his advice.
Five years ago, Mr. Nkurunziza’s third term began in the midst of political unrest. His announcement that he would run for a new five-year term sparked anger as some questioned its legality.
The coup attempt failed, hundreds of people died in clashes and tens of thousands fled the country. His election in July 2015, with nearly 70% of the vote, was called a “joke” by opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, who boycotted the poll.
This time, Mr. Nkurunziza was allowed, after a change in the constitution, to stand for re-election, but he seems to have opted for a calmer life.
Vote amidst the virus
Wednesday’s election was also criticized for taking place during the coronavirus era.
The country has registered only 15 cases of the virus, with one death, but the wisdom of organizing mass rallies has been questioned.
A government spokesman said in March, when no case had been registered, that the country had been protected by God.
Burundi has resisted the imposition of severe restrictions, with the government only advising people to follow strict hygiene rules and avoid crowds as much as possible – except of course during electoral rallies.
But the government insisted that foreign election observers be quarantined for 14 days from their arrival in the country, which some saw as a way to discourage them from leaving.
“Very questionable elections”
“What we have seen in recent months is that the political space in Burundi is quite limited,” Nelleke van de Walle, who works in Central Africa for the think tank Crisis Group, told the BBC.
“It is therefore very doubtful that the elections are free and fair.
“The fact that no election observer will be allowed in the country to see what’s going on – I think it also increases the risk of electoral fraud, corruption and human rights violations in the run-up to the elections . “
The government insists that it warned possible observers of the quarantine in April, amply informing them.
The diplomats also expressed concern about the election.
Independence gainedfrom Belgium in 1962
Average income$ 272 per person
Main exportscoffee, gold and tea
Source: World Bank
But for the past five years, Burundi has found a way to deal with its international critics either by completely denying the allegations of abuse, or by ignoring them. And so far, it has worked for the government and the ruling party.
The country succeeded with little donor support, much of which disappeared after the turmoil in 2015. As a result, these elections were fully funded by the government – a first in the history of Burundi and rare on the continent.
All of this made the local authorities confident that they would move forward.
Candidate for the government of the CNDD-FDD party
Left University to join the FDD rebel group in 1995
Acted as spokesperson for FDD high command
Served asinterior minister from 2006-2007
Done chief of staffto the presidency in 2015
Elected Chefof the CNDD-FDD in 2016
Source: BBC Monitoring
Of the seven presidential candidates, only two are considered to be real contenders.
Nkurunziza supports the ruling CNDD-FDD candidate for the party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was celebrated at huge rallies.
He is the party’s secretary general, a former interior minister, and was a rebel commander alongside Nkurunziza in the FDD during the civil war that ended in 2003.
Opponents “tortured and killed”
Rwasa, the former leader of another rebel group, the FNL, called for “a profound change in all areas of national life” when he met with supporters of his National Congress to Liberty (CNL), which was formed last year.
Despite his withdrawal from the race in 2015, when he was a candidate for another opposition party, he still won 19% of the vote, his name remaining on the ballot.
The two are confident that they have the support base to win, but it has been a difficult battle for Mr. Rwasa. Human rights groups say the government has used its power to intimidate and suppress the opposition and its supporters.
First opposition candidate
Born in 1964
Led rebel group the National Liberation Forces (FNL)
Lived in exile from 1988 to 2008, back after the peace agreement
Finalist in 2015despite boycotted ballot after printing of ballots
Vice President-electof the Parliament in 2015
Formation of a new partyNational Congress for Freedom (CNL) in 2019
Source: BBC Monitoring
According to Human Rights Watch, there have been at least 67 documented killings, including 14 extrajudicial killings, in the past six months. There have also been disappearances, cases of torture and more than 200 arrests against real or suspected political opponents.
The security forces have been accused of using excessive force to put an end to the activities of the opposition.
Hope a new start
Since independence from Belgium in 1962, Burundi has experienced a wave of violence between a Hutu ethnic majority and a Tutsi minority, which dominated the country.
There has never been a lasting period of peace after a change of leader.
Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, was elected president in the country’s first democratic elections in 1993.
But hopes of seeing democracy take root were dashed just three months after his presidency, when a group of soldiers from the Tutsi-led army mutinied and murdered him, as well as a number of members. of his cabinet and of political allies.
Hutu rebel groups, including FDD and FNL of Mr. Rwasa, then took up arms during a decade of civil war, which killed some 300,000 people.
The tumult of 2015 ended another period of relative peace. But the question is whether the next president can restore the country’s reputation in the eyes of international observers.
Mr. Nkurunziza, armed with his title of “supreme guide of patriotism”, can hope to continue to maintain a certain influence.
But even if the candidate of his party wins, there is no guarantee that he will be able to pull the strings if he wishes.
In Angola, longtime president Jose Eduardo dos Santos is expected to continue to have a say in government after the election of João Lourenço to replace him in 2017. But his hand-picked successor backfired him, dismissing and even pursuing some of Mr. Dos Santos’ children and close allies.
Party quarrels and the jockey for the position should not, however, interfere with the main task of the next head of state.
The World Bank estimates that seven out of 10 Burundians live below the poverty line, and the country’s 11 million people hope that whoever ends up becoming president will make their lives better.
Additional reports by the Great Lakes BBC service.