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Last Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
Burundi's born-again ex-rebel leader
By Charles Bigirimana
BBC Burundi analyst

Former rebel leader and born-again Christian Pierre Nkurunziza has been sworn in as Burundi's new president.

Pierre Nkurunziza
Pierre Nkurunziza has some tough challenges ahead
He was elected by parliament last week, after his Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) won elections earlier this year to both the Senate and the National Assembly.

The FDD was until recently the largest rebel group fighting the Burundi government.

After 10 years of conflict between ethnic Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-dominated army, the FDD joined the peace process in November 2003 paving the way for its entry into government.

Mr Nkurunziza, 41, arrived in Bujumbura in November 2004, to take up his post of minister for good governance.

He belongs to the younger generation of Hutu leaders, whose political and military careers started after the killing of Hutu President Melchior Ndadaye by disgruntled soldiers in 1993.

Before joining the rebels, he was a teacher, not known for his political activities.

"I was pushed into rebellion by the inter-ethnic massacres that were taking place at the university in 1995," he said on Wednesday.

In the bush, he kept a low profile, despite his rise to take over the FDD leadership.


He joined the FDD after narrowly escaping death in combat in 2001 in the central province of Gitega.

Injured in battle and with the army in hot pursuit, he says he saw those who had gone to kill him were eaten by crocodiles near the Maragarazi river, in central Burundi.

When I am in church, I pray and devote myself exclusively to God. And when I am in politics, I do the opposite
Pierre Nkurunziza
He says the experience is proof that he was pre-destined to lead the FDD.

The son of a former governor, he was born in December 1963 in the northern province of Ngozi. His father was Catholic and his mother Anglican.

Now a born-again Protestant, he is described by those close to him as "religious, cool and a gentleman devoid of religious fundamentalism".

He says he is against tribalism and fought for peace, justice and security for all.

"When I am in church, I pray and devote myself exclusively to God. And when I am in politics, I do the opposite while at the same time acknowledging that God is everywhere," he once said.

Although Mr Nkurunziza preaches peace and unity, his rebel group staged several ambushes along major roads killing many travellers, mostly Tutsis.

In 1998, he was sentenced to death by a Burundian court but he received an amnesty under the peace accords.

The FDD now boasts many Tutsi officials, which some say is proof of Mr Nkurunziza's national outlook.

However, others point out that under the new constitution, parties were obliged to have members from both major communities.

The constitution also shares out government posts on an ethnic basis.

Thus, the pro-Hutu FDD was obliged to seek Tutsi members who in turn could fill the posts reserved for them under the peace deal.

Family tragedy

Mr Nkurunziza is married with two sons, aged nine and 11. He had a sister and six brothers, two of whom died during the 1993 killings which followed Mr Ndadaye's killing. Three others died in the bush.

Now only he and his sister remain. He was reunited with his family in December 2003 after the signing of the peace agreement with the government.

Woman with a child
After 10 years of war, Burundians hope they can now rebuild their lives
His father was killed in ethnic violence in the 1970s.

His primary education was in Bujumbura Province and his secondary studies in Gitega Province. He then studied sports education at the University of Burundi.

On completion of his academic studies, he taught at Muramvya high school and the University of Burundi as an assistant lecturer

He also taught at the Burundi military academy, ISCAM, where he formed ties which would later serve him in the bush.

He used his sporting skills to coach the army football team, Muzinga, as well as Union Sporting, a Burundian first division football team.

Mr Nkurunziza relinquished the FDD leadership post after being chosen as a presidential candidate for the forthcoming elections.

As the nation's leader, he faces the challenges of elevating the standard of living of millions of Burundians, which have plummeted during the 12 years of civil war, compounded by endemic official corruption.

His government will also face the hard task of engaging the only active rebel group, the National Liberation Forces, in talks and then reaching a peace agreement.

After so many years of conflict, he will also have to reassure the minority Tutsis, through actions as well as words, that their future is secure in a democratic government led by the majority Hutus.

Timeline: Burundi
05 Jul 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Burundi
26 Feb 04 |  Country profiles

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