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CORONAVIRUS

Nkurunziza pays price of denial

Burundi responded to the pandemic naively, with a fatalistic business-as-usual posturing.

In Summary
  • The First Lady, and others may have contracted the virus because of the denials that undermine Burundi’s official response to the crisis.
  • The president denied the reality of the virus, and then ejected the World Health Organization official delegation from Burundi.

The tragedy in the Pierre Nkurunziza Clan, even if partially confirmed, shows how critical contact tracing is in the fight against the spread of coronavirus. But possible coronavirus infections in the Burundi First Family also expose the folly of denial in the face of a global pandemic.

Wherefrom the coronavirus sprang or where Covid-19 was brewed have zero value. The reality is, there is a soaring global health crisis to confront. The politics of the crisis is diversionary. Communities and countries have to deal with the invasion the best way they can to contain the spiral.

Burundi has responded naively, with a fatalistic business-as-usual posturing. Now, the tiny East African country is paying the price of denial, and official policy blunders. The consequences of the blunders are staggering.

 
 

Outgoing Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza died last week due to what Bujumbura furtive power sources reported as a ‘heart attack’. The President’s mother Domtillie Minani was also reported dead. His sister and wife were still hospitalised when the president died.

Further reports indicated President-elect Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was due to take over from Nkurunziza later in the year, was also admitted at Bumureki Hospital in the capital Bujumbura.

National Assembly Speaker Pascal Nyabenda, who should be acting president, was also reported sick and hospitalised. Burundi constitutional court last week ruled Ndayishimiye take office immediately to avoid a power vacuum.

The count of Covid-19 casualties could have been lower if the president had responded differently, like many other countries, to the virus. True he claimed Burundi does not have the capacity to respond, but Bujumbura could have domesticated basic preventive protocols. Burundi’s Covid-19 casualties are not declared.

Social media, which often thrives on unverified or alternative news, drove the narrative of the tragedy in the Nkurunziza clan. The ties that bind the sick or those reportedly indisposed are an astounding illustration of the importance of urgent contact tracing.

The count of Covid-19 casualties could have been lower if the president had responded differently, like many other countries, to the virus. True he claimed Burundi does not have the capacity to respond, but Bujumbura could have domesticated basic preventive protocols. Burundi’s Covid-19 casualties are not declared.

The fact-checked knowns, so far, are that the Nkurunziza died when his wife was admitted at a private hospital in Kenya. She has since been discharged. Independent media have attributed these cases to coronavirus infections.

Fake news suffers huge veracity deficits, but sometimes fictionalised news rides on slippery gradients of factoids. The death of the president’s mother was disputed, but her sickness was confirmed. 

 
 

The web of presidential contacts cannot be underestimated. Neither can the networks of the contacts be understated. Coronavirus rides on such contacts to spread infections and deaths.

The First Lady, and others may have contracted the virus because of the denials that undermine Burundi’s official response to the crisis. The president denied the reality of the virus, and then ejected the World Health Organization official delegation from Burundi.

Bujumbura also discounted other WHO protocols like social distancing, wearing masks, avoiding crowded places, sanitising and other preventive measures.

Burundi conducted crowded election campaigns last month. The people queued to vote on May 20, without respect for social distancing. The president was still playing his preferred sport, football, with close tackles in crowded fields.

The president left the lives of Burundians in the hands of God, even though knowing God helps those who help themselves. It is like a believer who leaves a briefcase containing Sh2.5 million in the backseat of his unsecured car in a crowded parking lot, along a busy Nairobi street.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe’s signature tune in Kenya’s fight against Covid-19 is worth paraphrasing: If we behave normally in the face of the nimble germ, Covid-19 will treat us abnormally.