Pierre Nkurunziza,55, Burundi’s mercurial leader un-expectedly died this week leaving a shocked nation in turmoil soon after a contentious general election in which his party, CNDD-FDD, allegedly won, hands down.

Allegedly, because international poll observers were denied entry into the country using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse.

Considering Burundi’s past history in vote rigging many Burundians are voicing severe doubts about the election results. No surprise there considering the country’s long history of instability and ethnic strife.

But, that is a topic for another day.

In a country deeply awash in rumors and deeply steeped in bizarre conspiracy theories, Nkurunziza’s sudden demise in the middle of a pandemic is fodder for street talk and bar philosophy.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza arrives at a polling station during the presidential, legislative and communal council elections, under the simmering political violence and the growing threat of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ngozi, Burundi May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Clovis Guy Siboniyo

For a man in his prime, seemingly in excellent physical shape, fanatic about soccer and an avid cyclist, I can understand why there are serious doubts about him succumbing to cardiac arrest.

Here is my take: Burundi, and particularly President Nkurunziza never took the pandemic we are going through today worldwide seriously. Scenes of thousands of people at campaign rallies, all thumbing their noses at social distancing, masks and all, leaves one to wonder why science has been cavalierly ignored in spite of hundreds of thousands dead in the world due to the pandemic.

And what was NKURUNZIZA’S reasoning? “God loves Burundi”, therefore He will spare the country.

See, there are astounding similarities between Nkurunziza and Trump. One prayed too much. The other tweets tirelessly. One governed poorly and ineffectively, the other has created a leadership vacuum in The White House.

President Pierre Nkurunziza with the First Lady during the National Prayers

I can understand the shock Nkurunziza’s supporters, especially in rural Burundi, are experiencing. Through his many ecumenical prayer stints, the man had assumed a near messianic aura, falsely presenting a pious personality. His simplicity and openness deceived many, and his showmanship hoodwinked an entire nation.

But his record of 15 years in power says otherwise.

Hear me out, and for a minute let’s put the man in the dock.

In 15 years of his turbulent rule, 300,000 Burundians perished due to ethnic cleansing and out of control political assassinations. The International Crimes Court (ICC) took up Burundi’s case to investigate alleged rampant human rights violations. What did Burundi do, in response? They withdrew from the ICC in 2017.

The man ruled with an iron fist, arresting journalists, cracking down on the opposition and shutting down media houses.

During his rule, corruption got out of control, the economy started limping and finally collapsed, as ethnic tensions became rife.

President Pierre Nkurunziza being blessed

But to the consternation of Burundi’s clergy, prayer rallies became common events, and always, “Pastor Pierre” was at the helm, dancing and amusing his unsuspecting followers. You have to give the man his due : he was a prolific dancer.

A few years ago, while attending an official function in Tanzania, there was an attempted coup. Poorly planned, and half-heartedly executed it failed, and Pierre Nkurunziza triumphantly entered Bujumbura with a swagger, making it known he was the Boss.

It was all a culmination of his failed policies, a failed economy and general malaise in the country. To cover it all up, Nkurunziza blamed Rwanda for planning his dethronement, ignoring the fact that were his allegations credible, all would have gone according to plan, and with stealth speed.

FDLR Fighters in DR Congo

But Rwanda has no reason or cause to destabilize Burundi with which we have deep historical ties — never mind that INTERAHAMWE under Nkurunziza have been warmly welcomed, and are working in tandem with their murderous and thuggish brothers in arms, IMBONERAKURE.

But, all said and done, there is a window of opportunity to repair relations between Rwanda and Burundi. Evariste Ndayishimiye, the in-coming President-elect has a real chance to work from a clean slate and mend fences. He will not have the “Supreme Guide of Patriotism” breathing down his neck to continue his divisive policies and combative rhetoric.

The people of Burundi deserve better, and it has been long in coming.