Burundians have voted in their disputed presidential election, amidst gunfire and explosions that killed at least three people in the capital city of Bujumbura. Incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza will presumably win a third term in office, in spite of the questionable constitutionality of that third term, if for no other reason than that opposition candidates opted to boycott the election (though their names were reportedly on the ballot). As in most cases of violent public unrest directed toward a national leader, there’s no real way to know what the majority of Burundians think about Nkurunziza remaining in office, but the whole point of having constitutions and laws that govern questions like term limits is that it takes the issue out of the public’s hands. The law is supposed to serve the larger purpose of ensuring that nobody gets to stay in office for life, regardless of how popular any particular individual president may be with the public.
I guess this is one of the many reasons why I’ll never been the dictator, or dictator-lite, of an African nation, but part of me can’t even understand why Nkurunziza is so desperate to stay in office at this point. I get that being in power must seem better than not being in power, but look at what Nkurunziza has managed to do by trying to stay on for a third term:
- dozens of people have been killed in fighting
- tens of thousands of Burundians are now languishing as refugees after having fled that fighting
- the fighting is likely to get worse now
- the African Union has already rejected the results of the election by refusing to send anyone to monitor it
- the EU has cut aid to Burundi and the US is likely to follow suit
- there’s already been one coup attempt against him and it’s very possible that more will follow, any one of which could end in Nkurunziza’s death
- the country is probably ungovernable at this point
What’s the appeal of remaining president in this situation instead of shuffling off into retirement? Let’s give Nkurunziza the benefit of the doubt and say that he must really believe that he’s the only person who can run Burundi effectively and do right by his citizens. That would be a valid, if narcissistic, view, if it weren’t for the fact that events over the past several months have clearly demonstrated that he’s hurting Burundi, not helping it. He may think that he’s the only guy who can put Burundi back together again, but that’s a pretty hollow characterization considering that he’s the guy who broke it in the first place.
Nkurunziza is reportedly a born-again Christian who loves to play football and has received numerous awards for his peace work. He’s now frittered away every shred of his reputation as a peacemaker and, if he really believes in his Christianity, then he must realize that he’s going to have to answer for those 70+ people his actions have killed. Was it really worth giving up his reputation, his faith, and a nice long retirement playing football for the chance to barely hang on as president of a country that he’s wrecked?
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