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Hardliner Takes Charge in Burundi

New Prime Minister’s Appointment Shows Little Desire for Reform

Security minister Gervais Ndirakobuca is sworn in as the new Burundi Prime Minister in Bujumbura on September 7, 2022. © 2022 AFP via Getty Images

On September 7, Burundi’s president, Évariste Ndayishimiye, removed government officials he said he no longer trusted. Most significantly, he replaced the prime minister, Alain Guillaume Bunyoni. Given Bunyoni’s poor record on human rights, including at one time overseeing security forces who committed serious violations against real and perceived opponents, his ouster might otherwise be commendable. But his replacement, Gervais Ndirakobuca, is likely a step back in terms of safeguarding fundamental rights in Burundi.

Ndirakobuca was a combatant when Burundi’s current ruling party, the National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (Conseil national pour la défense de la démocratie-Forces de défense de la démocratie, CNDD-FDD), was still an armed group. He rose through the ranks of the CNDD-FDD to key leadership positions in the police and intelligence services during periods of violence and killings. His alias, Ndakugarika, translates from Kirundi to “I will kill you.”

Ndirakobuca was also former President Pierre Nkurunziza’s chief advisor for police affairs during a violent crackdown in 2015, when police shot live rounds at demonstrators opposing Nkurunziza’s third term. That same year, the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Ndirakobuca, including travel restrictions and asset freezes. The US Treasury Department noted that “In early June 2015, witnesses claimed Ndirakobuca shot a civilian … during a clash between patrolling youths and Burundian police.” The EU said he had issued “instructions that led to disproportionate use of force, acts of violence, acts of repression and violations of international human rights law against protestors …”

Ndirakobuca’s appointment shows President Ndayishimiye may prefer an enforcer over someone committed to meaningful human rights reform. International actors should insist Ndirakobuca prove, through concrete actions, that he no longer lives up to his alias. Otherwise, Burundians can likely expect more of the same violent repression against any supposed opponent of the ruling party.

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