Today, Friday, June 26, Burundians are bidding farewell to former President Pierre Nkurunziza who passed away on June 8 following a cardiac arrest according to the government. The former leader will be accorded a state burial in the administrative capital Gitega.
The send-off ceremony is taking place at Ingoma Stade, where the new President Maj. Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye was sworn-in on June 18. The dress code is black and white while special shirts and Tshirts with the pictures of the deceased leader have also been given out.
The cortege with Nkurunziza’s body left Bujumbura in the morning and driven to Gitega, some nearly 100km east of the capital, where he will be buried.
The ruling party National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD–FDD) youths have been reportedly mobilised to line up the road and wait for the cortege as it makes the 2-hour journey to the political capital where Nkurunziza will be sent off.
However, as the East African country bids farewell to the former leader, who was 55 at the time of his death, Burundian refugees who fled the post-election violence that followed Nkurunziza’s decision to forcefully seek a third in 2015 feel no remorse and have little hope to return home.
Emmanuel Nkengurutse, a former Burundian lawmaker now in exile, says that despite the new leadership and the death of Nkurunziza, there is little to celebrate and no hope for refugees who feel that it is not safe enough to return home.
“He is gone, we don’t celebrate death in our culture but again we are not remorseful that he is gone. He is responsible for the problems that made us free our country, even as he goes, he leaves behind a system that will continue his agenda,” Me Nkengurutse told KT Press.
The lawyer and former legislator said that the election of Ndayishimiye, who was part of the establishment, will not change much the status quo because it is still the same CNDD-FDD that remains in power.
“It is the same CNDD-FDD that promotes divisive politics based on ethnicity, the same party that did a power grab through a predetermined election and the same party that murdered people all these years for opposing their agenda,”
“Going by the speech he [Ndayishimiye] made, there is little or no hope for refugees at all. One moment he said that he wants refugees to return and in the same speech he went on to abuse them, using derogatory words. There was nothing to give refugees hope in whatever he said,”
Nkengurutse said that going by Ndayishimiye’s appointments so far, it will be a mere change of guard but the system Nkurunziza built will remain in place, with the same people like Alain-Guillaume Bunyoni, the new Prime Minister, who were pulling the strings in Nkurunziza’s government, already taking up high ranking positions in the new government.
“Bunyoni was instrumental in whatever happened in Nkurunziza’s government. He is the same individual now in the new government, which is why we are not seeing any hope that we will go home soon. There is nothing to give us hope that we will be safe when we go back,”
“The same fears we had while fleeing still remain. The rhetoric in his speech confirms that there was no change,” says Nkengurutse, whose sentiments are shared by Joyeuse Ndikubagenzi who believes that refugees will be hunted when they return home.
“The new President did not make any commitments to disband ‘Imbonerakure’, the youth vigilantes who were involved in the killings in 2015. They are still killing people. They will hunt down returning refugees to punish them,” she says, adding that they will also not be mourning Nkurunziza.
Others like veteran journalist Alexandre Niyungeko also don’t expect much to change or give refugees enthusiasm to return home.
However, others like Eloge Willy Kaneza, an Independent International Journalist, believes that Ndayishimiye could rein in some changes.
“I think Evariste Ndayishimiye will make some improvements, yes. But we have to remember that he also belongs to the same system and qualifies himself as Nkurunziza’s heir,”
“But in all, I am convinced he will work so that he may leave his own legacy. As a journalist who knows him for 8 years and who spent some time in his home town and met him in several political events, I think he has the ability and will to listen to people at all levels, this is important for me,” Kaneza says.
Concerning refugees, Kaneza believes it is always a personal matter when it comes to returning home but some people might return and others not.
“I believe some CNDD-FDD members who fled the country after denouncing another mandate for Nkurunziza in 2015 will return but also many of those who saw Nkurunziza as “their personal enemy,” he says, adding that some refugees he interacted with showed the will to return home.
“I am not seeing a massive movement of refugees going back to Burundi in the immediate future but we are likely to see some make up their minds. Even though the new President was the CNDD-FDD chief, he was not the commander in chief of the country,”
“So, I think many will try their luck and go back to their country but in his speech, I think there was nothing new. He had been saying this for many years as the CNDD-FDD secretary-general and many times he was sent in Tanzania, the country that received many Burundian refugees in the region,” Kaneza said.
Kaneza says that Ndayishimiye’s former companions claim that he is peace-loving, hates corruption and injustice, values he believes are sufficient enough for a leader to make good decisions and put the past behind and focus on the future.
However, Nkegurutse says that while Ndayishimiye is known to be more realistic and could initiate a peace process, his powers are limited by a small click of people were pulling the strings even in Nkurunziza’s government.
For many still in exile, there is no point in mourning Nkurunziza, a highly devout Christian, who they accuse of dividing the country further. There are over 60,000 Burundian refugees in Rwanda, majority of them living in Mahama Camp in Eastern Province.