President Nkurunziza, who is already serving a controversial third term in office, has been granted this new title just months ahead of a national referendum that could allow him to rule until 2034. His last re-election in 2015 led to violence in the streets, leaving more than 1 000 people dead and displacing hundreds of thousands more.
Jeremie Minani, the leader of the opposition Rally of Burundi Democrats (RDB), told Burundi Radio Publique Africaine: “President Pierre Nkurunziza’s naming himself the leader of the ruling party is part of his plan to reach his goal and to make it easy for him to eliminate every challenge.”
In response to this latest development, critics are saying that an almost cult-like following is developing around 54-year-old Nkurunziza.
As if to prove these sentiments, Secretary-general Evariste Ndayishimiye said in a video sent to AFP, “He is our leader. Therefore, in our party, no one is comparable to him. He is our parent; he is the one who advises us. That is why I ask all our members to respect that because a home without the man (its head) can be overlooked by anybody. For us, we have the best.”
In the run-up to the referendum, rights groups and the opposition are alleging that authorities have embarked on a massive operation that involves the forced registration of voters, including minors, as well as inciting violent action against any opponents of the referendum.
Opposition parties are warning that the constitutional changes that would stem from a referendum that ended in Nkurunziza’s favour could deal a death blow to the Arusha peace accords, which helped to end the 1993-2006 civil war, in which more than 300 000 people died. The accords stipulate that no president can govern the country for more than 10 years.