Nkurunziza skips EAC heads’ summit

03Mar 2016
Edward Qorro
The Guardian
Nkurunziza skips EAC heads’ summit

AFTER many months of speculation on his availability for the much awaited EAC Heads of State Summit, embattled Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza yesterday skipped the meeting, instead sending the country’s vice president.

President Pierre Nkurunziza

Joseph Butore yesterday had to fill in the shoes of his embattled leader who has not travelled outside his country since May, last year.

President Nkurunziza was forced to dodge the EAC extraordinary summit in Dar es Salaam last year when Godefroid Niyombare, a Burundian military officer led a coup attempt against him on May 13, 2015.

Speaking from a private radio station, Niyombare announced that he was deposing the President, who was at the time attending talks in Tanzania.

On the streets, people opposed to Nkurunziza celebrated the announcement, and despite government denials, initial reports suggested that Niyombare's coup had been successful.

Nkurunziza promptly tried to return home but was apparently unable to do so due to rebel control of Bujumbura International Airport.

On Tuesday afternoon, a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Regional and International Cooperation confided to The Guardian that they were yet to receive confirmation from the embattled leader’s delegation in Bujumbura on whether he would make it to the crucial meeting.

The official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said they had yet to receive communication from Bujumbura on the arrival of Nkurunziza at the summit began yesterday.

According to the source, the issue of security and fear of being overthrown by the opposition could be the reason for Nkurunziza's absence at the summit.

"We have not received any word from them...it is unclear whether it is him coming or he'll be sending his representatives," said the official from the ministry.

"As far as we know, Nkurunziza will be in Arusha for the summit...we have not heard anything else contrary to that," he insisted.

In April, last year, the ruling political party in Burundi, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy – Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), announced that the incumbent President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, would run for a third term in the 2015 presidential election.

The announcement sparked protests by those opposed to Nkurunziza seeking a third term in office.

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a total of 245,265 people had by February 24 fled the unstable country and sought refuge in neighbouring countries including Tanzania and Rwanda.