Pierre Nkurunziza (born 18 December 1963) is a Burundian politician who has been President of Burundi since 2005. He was the Chairman of the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), the ruling party, until he was elected as President of Burundi.
In 2015, Nkurunziza was controversially nominated by his party for a third term in office. Supporters and opponents of Nkurunziza disagreed as to whether it was legal for him to run again, and protests followed. More than two months of anti-Nkurunziza protests, which were often violently repressed, left at least 100 dead.
On 13 May 2015, a coup attempt against Nkurunziza occurred while he was out of the country; the coup leader, Godefroid Niyombare, claimed to have ousted Nkurunziza, although Nkurunziza loyalists disputed the claim. Facing resistance from Nkurunziza loyalists, the coup collapsed and forces loyal to Nkurunziza appeared to be back in full control by 15 May. Independent media was shut down and many opponents fled, joining an exodus of more than 150,000 Burundians.
Amidst an opposition boycott, Nkurunziza was re-elected for a third term in the July 2015 presidential election.
Nkurunziza was born in 1963 in Burundi’s capital city of Bujumbura. Nkurunziza was raised in the province of Ngozi in northern Burundi, the son of a Tutsi mother and a Hutu father.He attended primary school in Ngozi.
His father, Eustache Ngabisha, was elected to the Parliament of Burundi in 1965 and later became governor of two provinces before being killed in 1972 during the Burundian Genocide of 1972 when ethnic violence claimed the lives of between 80,000 to 210,000 Burundians.
After rising through the ranks, Nkurunziza was appointed deputy secretary-general of the CNDD-FDD in 1998. In 2001, he was elected chairman.There was a split in the group in late 2001. He was re-elected to the post of chairman in August 2004.
During the war Nkurunziza is said to have survived a near death experience.
Beginning in late 2003 and after the ceasefire agreement, he was appointed Minister for Good Governance in the transitional government of President Domitien Ndayizeye.
Following a series of CNDD-FDD victories in elections held during June and July 2005, Nkurunziza was nominated as the party’s presidential candidate. He was elected president unopposed by members of parliament (acting as an electoral college) on 19 August 2005 and took office on 26 August 2005.
He was re-elected in 2010 with more than 91% of the votes amidst an opposition boycott and sworn in for his second term on August 26, 2010.
In March 2014, Nkurunziza banned jogging, due to “fears it was being used as a cover for subversion.” According to the BBC, “The tradition of Saturday morning runs started during Burundi’s long years of ethnic conflict”, as residents in the city of Bujumbura, where the surrounding hills were home to armed militants before 2005, “would try to vent their fear and frustration and claustrophobia, by running, often in a group.” That same month, twenty-one supporters of the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) Party were sentenced to life in prison for using “jogging” as a way to organize “an illegal demonstration that turned violent.”
In April 2015 Nkurunziza announced that he would seek a third term in office. The opposition said that Nkurunziza’s bid to extend his term was in defiance of the constitution, as it bars the president from running for a third term. However, Nkurunziza’s allies said his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament and not directly by the people.
On April 26 police clashed with demonstrators protesting Nkurunziza’s announcement that he will seek a third term in office. At least six people were killed in the first two days of ongoing protests. The government shut down multiple radio stations and arrested a prominent civil society leader, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa.
UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said, in a statement, that he had despatched his special envoy for the region, Said Djinnit, to Burundi for talks with Nkurunziza. African Union commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said she welcomed a decision by Burundi’s Senate to ask the Constitutional Court to rule whether Nkurunziza could stand for re-election. More than 24,000 people have fled Burundi in April, as tensions mount ahead of presidential elections in June, the UN refugee agency said.
On May 13, 2015, Burundi Army General Godefroid Niyombareh declared a coup via radio while Nkurunziza was abroad attending a summit in Tanzania with other African leaders. Niyombareh had been dismissed from his post as head of intelligence in February 2015. Despite reports that gunshots had been heard and people were celebrating in the streets of the capital, government officials dismissed the threat and claimed to remain in control.
Nkurunziza tried to return to Burundi promptly, but he was unable to land at the airport in Bujumbura because it had been taken over by rebel soldiers. Nevertheless, loyalist forces managed to retain control of the state radio and television broadcaster, the key means of communicating with the broader population, fending off attacks by rebel soldiers on 14 May.
Later on the same day, Nkurunziza announced that he had returned to Burundi, although his specific location was not given for security reasons. He congratulated “the army and the police for their patriotism” and “above all the Burundian people for their patience