Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has died of a heart attack at age 56, the government announced Tuesday, ending a 15-year rule marked by deadly political violence and a historic withdrawal from the International Criminal Court. The statement posted on social media said the president was admitted to a hospital overnight Saturday after not feeling well. He appeared better Sunday but “to very great surprise” his health abruptly worsened Monday morning, and several hours of effort failed to revive him, the AP reports. The government of the East African nation has declared a week of mourning. Nkurunziza's death comes weeks before president-elect ruling party candidate Evariste Ndayishimiye was expected to be sworn in after winning the May election. It was not immediately clear what the government's steps will be and a spokesman was not available for comment.
"According to Burundi’s constitution, when a president dies in office before handing over power, the speaker of parliament takes over and organizes a fresh election. But I think the leadership will ignore this requirement and go with Evariste Ndayishimiye,” said David Gakunzi, a Burundian author. Despite the government's statement, some in Burundi wondered whether Nkurunziza actually died of COVID-19. “When Nkurunziza’s wife was flown to Kenya suffering from COVID-19, many in Burundi suspected the president himself was sick," said Justin Nyabenda, a resident in Bujumbura. He was referring to reports in Kenyan media that Nkurunziza's wife, Denise, was hospitalized in Nairobi for COVID-19 in late May. Burundi's government has downplayed the virus and held the election and large campaign rallies in spite of the threat. (Click for more on the "dark legacy" of "ruthless repression" he leaves behind.)