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Burundi’s Catholic Church steps in as leader


YESTERDAY’S service at the hill-top Kiryama church was packed as Catholic Archbishop Simon Ntamwana delivered a sermon, and a political bombshell, for the small central African nation of Burundi.

Addressing a congregation of hundreds in his central Burundi parish, Ntamwana read from the Old Testament story of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah who rebelled against God and brought destruction on his kingdom.

“We cannot choose other paths than those of love and of mutual respect for the principles that govern our country,” he said.

To his congregation the message was clear: President Pierre Nkurunziza must not stand for re-election in June.

Days before, leaders of the influential Catholic Church penned a newspaper commentary criticising the president’s desire for what opponents say would be an unconstitutional third five-year term.

In the article, Burundi’s Catholic leaders warned that the country must not “fall back into divisions, clashes or war” and recalled that a peace deal that ended the civil war in 2006 and put Nkurunziza in office only allowed for two terms.

Officials from Burundi’s ruling party, the CNDD-FDD, admit the statement has caused “immense damage” to the presidential camp, already hit by accusations of running an election campaign characterised by censorship and repression.

“Catholics represent between 75 and 80 per cent of the population, so it is a social force, an influential force,” said Julien Nimubona, a political science professor at Burundi University in the capital, Bujumbura.

Nimubona said religion can be brought to bear on politics, pointing out that Nkurunziza, a born-again Christian, had once claimed a “gift from God” to govern.

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