Burundi’s newly sworn-in President Maj. Gen Evariste Ndayishimiye says he will pursue renewing Burundi’s relations with the neighbours and the international community but warned that his country will not allow foreigners to be part of the dialogue towards reconciliation.
The 52-year old who took over from deceased President Pierre Nkurunziza said in a lengthy speech after swearing-in at Ingoma Stadium in the country’s administrative capital of Gitega that while Burundi will seek better ties, the country’s interests will come first and will not tolerate interference.
In a ceremony which was not attended by any leaders from the region and beyond due to New Coronavirus restrictions, Ndayishimiye, commonly known as Gen. Neva seemed to suggest that he will work towards reinvigorating Burundi’s international relations as well as bilateral ties with neighbours.
In what could be a turning point, Ndayishimiye promised to reconcile all Burundians and vowed to ensure that all Burundian refugees return home.
“We will ensure that there are no more Burundian refugees outside our country. We call on them to return to their country because it is peaceful,” Ndayishimiye said in reference to at least 300, 000 Burundian refugees still outside the country following the 2015 post-election conflict.
Rwanda still hosts at least 73, 000 Burundian refugees who have been reluctant to return home but Bertrand Niyigize, a Burundian refugee who still lives in Rwanda says that despite the reassurances by Ndayishimiye, they are still not confident to return home but said that there is hope.
“We are confident because he made some remarks which seem to go against what the establishment, which he has been part of, stands for. He seems to understand that the country is still divided and there are many nationals still living as refugees in neighbouring countries,” the 38-year old former businessman said.
Ndayishimiye, who has been congratulated by a couple of African leaders on the occasion of taking oath, including the African Union President, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, said that he intends to reconcile Burundians.
“I will not go against the unity charter, the constitution of the republic and other laws. I will uphold unity among Burundians, peace and justice for all. I will fight the genocide ideology and discrimination,” Ndayishimiye.
Genocide scholar Tom Ndahiro said that it could be a promising start for Gen. Ndayishimiye who takes over from Nkurunziza, whose reign was seen as divisive, escalated by his determination to get a third term in 2015 against all odds.
“I am impressed he said in his oath that he will defend national unity and fight genocide ideology. This is something I never expected. He sounded conciliatory in his words. Let us wait and see,” Ndahiro observed.
Ndayishimiye said that he will devote all his efforts to defending the superior interests of the nation and ensure the national unity and cohesion of the Burundian people, peace and social justice prevail.
The ceremony was attended by Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu and former Tanzanian President Jakaye Kikwete and several ambassadors and representatives of international bodies. Measures against COVID-19 were observed minimally but the new Head of State was seen using a hand sanitizer several times.
In his speech he vowed to continue fighting against the new coronavirus, which he said has been contained, despite reports of increasing numbers.
Several reports have confirmed that former President Nkurunziza succumbed to the virus despite the government attributed his death to a cardiac arrest.
Also present was the East African Community (EAC) Secretary General Liberat Mfumukeko. Ndayishimiya emerged victorious in the predictable May 20 elections but was expected to take office in August but his swearing-in was fast tracked following the demise of President Nkurunziza last week.
He faces an uphill task to reconcile a country torn apart by political strife and ethnic differences and has been isolated from neighbours and the international community.