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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 15:01 GMT
Burundi's electrical president
By Prime Ndikumagenge
BBC News, Bujumbura

President Domitien Ndayizeye
Mr Ndayizeye was supposed to stand down last November
Has Burundi's president lost his tool box?

This is the question many people are now asking themselves when they see President Domitien Ndayizeye's veiled manoeuvres to seek more time in power.

Until very recently, Mr Ndayizeye, a Belgium-trained electronics engineer, used to say that right after his three years in government, he would pick up his tool box and continue earning a living in an ordinary way.

Like many other ethnic Hutus of his generation, President Ndayizeye fled Burundi in 1972 when the military Tutsi dominated government carried out a massive repression of a Hutu insurgency.

He and his fellows began politics in exile first in Belgium and then in Rwanda where he worked after his graduation.


He returned to Burundi in the 1990s. The Burundian president is a jovial man, short and round. He is married and has six children.

When the 2000 Arusha peace agreement took effect in November 2001, Mr Ndayizeye's Frodebu party appointed his as President Pierre Buyoya's vice president.

Burundians in refugee camp
Many thousands of Burundians have fled a decade of conflict
As agreed after 18 months, he became president himself.

His mandate was due to expire on 1 November last year, but the regional peace initiative for Burundi gave him an additional six months to prepare and organise elections in which he would not be allowed to stand.

The electoral process is scheduled to be completed by April, when members of parliament will elect a new president.

But as the deadline drew near, the president's office introduced a controversial debate on changing some articles of the draft constitution before it is even approved by the people in a referendum.

The referendum has already been postponed three times and is now scheduled for 28 February.

Mediator's warning

Two proposed changes are particularly controversial.

One would allow Mr Ndayizeye to contest elections - he is currently banned because he was involved in the transitional set-up.

A Burundi government soldier
Rebels want a restructuring of the Tutsi-dominated army
The other would introduce direct popular elections for the president, instead of him being elected by parliament.

Mr Ndayizeye explained that the people had expressed a number of wishes when the draft constitution was being publicised.

But even his own Frodebu party rejected these arguments.

Last week - and in spite of a ban on public demonstrations - the president's supporters organised a demonstration in the capital, Bujumbura, demanding the people's right to vote for the president.

The demonstration was timely, organised on the eve of a visit by South Africa's deputy President Jacob Zuma, the chief mediator in the Burundi peace process.

Mr Zuma clearly indicated that regional heads of state who have been backing the Burundi peace process did not want anything to be changed from the constitution before it is approved by the people.

Presidential spokesman Pancrace Cimpaye defended the president's views but he did not make any public comments on Mr Zuma's warning.

Before Mr Ndayizeye's predecessor Pierre Buyoya handed over power in April 2003, he had also spent some time trying to explain in vain that people still needed him to carry on negotiations with the Hutu rebel movements.

It seems the same is true with Domitien Ndayizeye.

And if sparks fly, he at least should have a tool box somewhere.

Warning for Burundi's president
26 Jan 05 |  Africa
Burundi peace poll postponed
15 Oct 04 |  Africa
Tutsis boycott Burundi cabinet
03 Sep 04 |  Africa
Country profile: Burundi
26 Feb 04 |  Country profiles

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