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Burundi: Nkurunziza inauguration surprise

Ole Tangen Jr.August 20, 2015

With little notice, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza was sworn in for a third term in power Thursday following weeks of protests and a failed coup.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza
Image: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

In a statement from the presidency, Nkurunziza took the "oath for a new term of five years." The ceremony was announced only a few hours in advance.

Even journalists in Burundi were surprised to wake up to the news of the swearing-in ceremony.

"Senior military officials knew nothing about the ceremony until this morning but were asked to appear today in full parade uniform," DW's correspondent Amida Issa in Bujumbura said.

"There is no security in Burundi in general so maybe the officials thought that if they kept the calendar as it was bad things could happen. Maybe that is why they changed it at the last minute," said Innocent Muhozi, head of the Burundian Press Observatory.

While an official transcript of the speech has not been released, an attendee said that the president announced a new era of prosperity and warned Burundians or foreigners who may try to interrupt this era.

A tweet from the presidency and some media reports say that representatives from Egypt, China, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa , Russia and the Vatican attended the ceremony.

Why now?

It has only been a few weeks since the election which Nkurunziza won with 69 percent of the vote. The president-elect had to be sworn in before August 26 which is the last day of his present term.

Thijs Van Laer, a Burundi specialist for the Belgian NGO CNCD 11.11.11, believes that this move will not help Nkurunziza's standing abroad.

"It is true that he [President Nkurunziza] is in a strong position because he won the election, but the international community has made it very clear that they are refusing to recognize either the election or the elected president and this will affect his diplomatic standing," said Van Laer.

The constitution of Burundi states that a president can only be elected twice. Nkurunziza insists that he was only elected in 2010 and was selected by parliament in 2005. Opposition parties, civil society and the international community object to this interpretation.

Yolande Bouka, a Burundi expert at the ISS in Nairobi, believes that the president decided to move up the date because of pressure coming from opposition lawmakers against his third term.

"It allows the government to be in control of the political landscape and the security situation as people were anticipating some sort of increased instability," she told DW.

DW correspondent Apollinaire Niyirora in Bujumbura says that the mood is fearful in the capital city.

"People are still scared because almost every night there is violence," he said.

When Nkurunziza announced in April that he was going to run for a third term, violence broke out and over 100 people were killed. The violence has continued with reports that four men were shot dead at a restaurant in Bujumbura. It is believed that one of the persons shot was a member of the ruling party. Another two persons were shot to death on the road out of Bujimbura in an ambush.

Africans react

Africans around the continent are reacting to the surprise swearing-in on social media. Michael D'Avincci from Angola wrote on the DW Facebook page that this is typical for African leaders.

"They find dirty tricks in order to stay in power like in this case they changed the constitution. This is Africa," he wrote.

Burundi election
Opposition groups are still contesting the results of the July election.Image: DW/S. Schlindwein

Others wondered why other African leaders and the international community are so silent on this move.

"Where is the African Union? Where is the UN?," asked Penicela Maxava from Mozambique.

Isaya Sambo from Dodoma, Tanzania asked: "Nkurunziza why didn't you first sit down with the opposition as stipulated by the UN to solve the pending issues before being sworn in? That shows arrogance and you will surely pay the price."