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President and spy chief battle for Burundi’s future


President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

President of Burundi Pierre Nkurunziza. Image source defenceweb

Brothers-in-arms during Burundi’s civil war, President Pierre Nkurunziza and former spy chief General Godefroid Niyombare are now vying for power.

Both command loyal forces battling for control on the streets of the capital Bujumbura.

Whichever man wins will hold the central African nation’s future in his hands.

The president: Pierre Nkurunziza
As leader of the CNDD-FDD Hutu rebels, 51-year-old Nkurunziza came out on top after Burundi’s 13-year civil war that pitted various Hutu rebel groups against a Tutsi-dominated army.

Nkurunziza is eager to extend his decade-long rule, and has sought to change the constitution even at the risk of undermining the Arusha Agreement that ended the war.

The former sports-teacher, football fanatic and born again Christian has ruled his party, and country, with a firm hand.

He has little patience for dissenters, but unlike in neighbouring Rwanda, economic benefits have not followed autocratic rule.

Nkurunziza is a political and battlefield survivor who devotes much of his attention to his Hallelujah FC football club and believes he has a divine right to rule Burundi.

The spy chief: Godefroid Niyombare
A career soldier, in his 40s, Niyombare fought alongside Nkurunziza in the CNDD-FDD rebel group. When the civil war ended he was named chief of the army and oversaw the building of an ethnically-mixed military that helped keep Burundi stable.

Niyombare earned a reputation for professionalism and integrity, commanding respect among rank and file soldiers, and the broader population.

Niyombare subsequently served as Nkurunziza’s top security advisor and, briefly, ambassador to Kenya before being named head of national intelligence in December, a position that put him at the heart of government affairs and the president’s powerful security apparatus.

But Nkurunziza loyalists regard him as a traitor after he questioned the president’s desire to run for a third term, leading to his dismissal in February.

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