Thousands attend Burundi Nkurunziza State Burial

Thousands of Burundians dressed in white gathered Friday in the capital Gitega to say a final farewell to former President Pierre Nkurunziza at a state funeral following his sudden death earlier this month.

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The coffin carrying the ousted president arrived at a stadium in the city, covered by the green, red and white national flag and carried on top of a military jeep as soldiers marched in steps along it.

The funeral convoy was welcomed by a military band after a 60-kilometer journey from the city of Karusi where Nkurunziza, 55, died on June 8 of what the government said was heart failure.

However, there are speculations that he may have received the corona virus, as his wife had flown to Nairobi for treatment for the virus just two weeks before.

The ceremonies began early in the morning with a “tribute to his wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, his children and those close to him” in an intimate gathering at the hospital where he died, a government source told AFP.

Nkurunziza died shortly after an election won by his hand-picked successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was answered last week and chaired the funeral.

“Nowhere in Africa or the world has a leader been as close to God as President Nkurunziza was,” Ndayishimiye said in a tearful speech, adding that he was also “the closest to the people.”

“We have lost a father, a friend, a rescuer and a head of state,” he said.

Nkurunziza’s wife, Denise, who has recovered from the virus, said that God had given her the strength to accept what had happened.

“The Bible says that we must receive God in everything. There was nothing else to do and I did,” she said.

Nkurunziza, a devout evangelical who believed he was chosen by God to lead Burundi, leaves a deeply isolated country in political and economic turmoil.

His 2015 run for a third term led to protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 dead while around 400,000 fled the country.

A climate of fear characterized by a breakdown of the opposition and the media settled over Burundi, while a cult of personality grew around Nkurunziza which saw the ruling party call him a “visionary” and “sovereign guide to patriotism.”

The UN Human Rights Investigators have said that the period since 2015 has been marked by probable crimes against humanity perpetrated by state forces, citing extradition executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture and sexual violence.

No masks, no distance

Friday was declared a national holiday for the funeral, and citizens, including schoolchildren in uniform, lined the roads, waiting for the funeral convoy to pass.

Inside the stadium, the arrival of Nkurunziza’s remains led to screams, tears and groans from the crowd, who were asked to stand in silence and bow.

The majority did not wear masks or respected social distance guidelines.

Burundi has taken some steps to combat the spread of the corona virus, with Nkurunziza claiming that God had spared the country from its ravages.

During his swearing-in ceremony, Ndayishimiye acknowledged the dangers of the virus and urged Burundians to take care and go to a doctor if they were feeling ill.

Since Burundi announced its first case in mid-March, Burundi has officially registered 144 cases and one death.

A medical source told AFP that Nkurunziza had suffered “respiratory distress” before he died.

A diplomat who attended the funeral told AFP that he had come with a mask but removed it after feeling “ridiculous” because no one else was wearing one.

No foreign presidents attended the funeral. Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete was present as well as representatives from some neighboring countries.

Nkurunziza was buried at the site of a planned monument in Gitega that would be dedicated to victims of the country’s various crises over the years, but was never inaugurated due to disagreements between the opposition and government parties.


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