Burundi’s embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza was the first head of state to congratulate Donald Trump as he was announced the new US president on November 9. Other African presidents who have so far sent congratulatory messages to Trump include Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Paul Kagame of Rwanda.
A 70-year-old billionaire, Trump swept to an unprecedented victory in the US election, defeating his rival Hillary Clinton following an ugly campaign.
Burundi’s Nkurunziza, who himself won a third term in a controversial election boycotted by major opposition figures and held amidst claims of vote-rigging and street violence in July 2015, was the first head of state to take to Twitter to congratulate his American counterpart.
“Mr. @realDonaldTrump, on behalf of the people of Burundi, we warmly congratulate you. Your Victory is the Victory of all Americans,” Nkurunziza said in his message on the social media platform.
For Nkurunziza, Trump’s accession to the top seat may come as a relief. As Trump threatened to jail his political opponents during the campaign for the White House, commentators likened his behaviour to that of Nkurunziza, who is accused of throwing opponents in jail on trumped-up charges.
Exiled activists have long been lobbying the West to help stem the extra-judicial killings in Burundi and while Burundi is not a geopolitical priority for the US, it has taken a stand in denouncing abuses and threats to democracy in the small central African nation.
President Barack Obama, imposed a series of sanctions on Burundi, targeting individuals in the government and armed groups that “contribute to the turmoil in Burundi, including by threatening its peace and security, undermining its democratic processes, and committing human rights abuses”.
In November 2015, the US imposed sanctions on Alain Bunyoni, Minister of Public Security, Godefroid Bizimana, deputy director-general of the National Police, Godefroid Niyombare, major general, former chief of Burundi Intelligence Service (SNR), and Cyrille Ndayirukiye, former Minister of Defence.
Obama extended the sanctions to two pro-government officials and a member of an armed opposition group “for threatening Burundi’s peace, security, or stability“ in June this year.
Nkurunziza’s election followed months of violence, which started on 26 April, when the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) party nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election – something the opposition claims violates the country’s constitution and the Arusha Accords peace deal.