Burundi’s incoming president vows to unite nation isolated over rights abuses

Burundi’s incoming president Evariste Ndayishimiye was sworn in on Thursday after the sudden death of predecessor Pierre Nkurunziza, and he pledged to unite a country that has been cut off by aid donors due to rampant human rights abuses.

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye of the Burundi’s ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy-Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), arrives at a polling centre during the Presidential, Legislative and Communal council elections, under the simmering political violence and the growing threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) spread, in Gitega, Burundi May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendakumana

Ndayishimiye, 52, a retired army general, won last month’s presidential election of behalf of the ruling party, defeating the opposition’s Agathon Rwasa and five others. He was due to be sworn in this August, before Nkurunziza died earlier this month.

“I will not fail the unity charter, the constitution and other laws, will uphold unity among Burundians, peace and justice for all, (and) fight the ideology of genocide and discrimination,” Ndayishimiye said while taking his oath.

His swearing-in was followed by a 21-gun salute and a military parade in a stadium filled with invited guests garbed in uniform green and white shirts, in the political capital Gitega.

The constitutional court ruled on Friday that Ndayishimiye should be sworn in immediately after Nkurunziza’s death, easing concern that powerful generals would dispute the succession.

The court also dismissed challenges to the election result from the opposition, which alleged violence and intimidation. Ndayishimiye was confirmed as the winner with 69% of votes.

Ndayishimiye headed the department of military affairs under Nkurunziza, and served as minister of the interior and security.

The United Nations said that under Nkurunziza’s rule state security forces and the ruling party’s youth wing routinely gang-raped, tortured and killed political opponents.

The East African nation of 11 million people is one of the world’s poorest countries. It became an international pariah after Nkurunziza crushed protests triggered by his decision to run for a third term in 2015, a move his opponents said violated a peace deal that had ended a civil war a decade earlier.

Donors cut off funding while Nkurunziza shut the U.N. human rights office and withdrew from the International Criminal Court.

Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich