Ndayishimiye: Meet Burundi's new Leader

Evariste Ndayyishimeye

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Burundi's new president who was elected last month has been hastily sworn in to replace his late predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, but who is Evariste Ndayyishimeye?

BURUNDI – A candidate of the ruling National Council for the Defence of  Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), General Ndayishimiye won the 20 May presidential election, polling 68.72  percent of the vote ahead of opposition candidate Agathon Rwasa of the  National Council for Liberty (CNL) who managed 24.19 percent.

Ndayishimiye's predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, whose term was due to end on August 20, 2020, died unexpectedly on 9 June following a heart attack, according to the Burundian government.

Born in 1968 in Gitega province of central Burundi, Evariste Ndayishimiye was a close ally of the late Nkurunziza during the country's civil war which ended in 2005 with the latter becoming president. Ndayishimiye, a 52-year old father of six has a reputation for being a fervent Roman Catholic who shares Nkurunziza's doctrine of including God in the world of politics.

He has a reputation for being pious and humble aside from his position as an influential military leader when Nkurunziza ascended the presidency.

He and Nkurunziza share the same fate as assassination survivors during the turbulent period in Burundian politics in the mid 1990s and eventually fled into exile where he joined the rebel movement which was aimed at bringing down the Tutsi-led government in Bujumbura.

Both men played an instrumental role in striking a peace deal in Arusha, Tanzania in 2003, leading to a power-sharing arrangement between the government and the rebel movement.

Mr Ndayishimiye attended the University of Burundi as a law student and took active part in student activism before 1993 when the instability sparked by the killing of incumbent president Melchoir Ndadaye began.

A year after his "friend and protege" Nkurunziza took power, Ndayishimiye became Interior minister.

He was also an adviser to the presidency about military matters and rose through the ranks of the ruling party becoming its secretary general last January. 

To many in Burundi, there was something inevitable about Ndayishimiye being handpicked by Nkurunziza to be his successor, given their close personal and political affinity dating back to their days as rebel fighters.

However, Ndayishimiye takes over a time of increasing diplomatic isolation for Burundi which in the last five years under Nkurunziza was something of a pariah state over its human rights record following the clampdown on opponents.

In a region where mutual suspicion between neighbouring states determine relations, it would be interesting to observe how the incoming Ndayishimiye would manage soured relations with Rwanda.

There is no indication yet whether there is any chemistry between President Evariste Ndayishimiye and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame.

Observers say it would be important how he handles the situation of Burundians who were forced to flee by the political disturbances in 2015 triggered by Nkurunziza's decision to run for another term despite the national constitution limiting him to two shots at the presidency.