On 16 May 2020, the ruling CNDD FDD party held its final campaign rally in Bujumbura, the now economic capital of Burundi. The ruling party candidate, Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye also known as “Neva or Never” had been on the campaign trail since 27 April trying to win over voters. The retired General kept insisting on a few things that the country should expect from his administration if he wins the elections. He called on the need for the country “to take off” but for that he said that many things needed to happen at the same time.
Security he said would be a priority of his government, which has the mandate to protect the citizens and the country’s borders. As a former Deputy Chief of Defense Forces he said that he would focus on modernizing the army by constantly providing capacity building to the Burundi National Defense Forces (BNDF) and Burundi’s National Police (BNP) to improve their skills, discipline and by providing them with modern equipment to ensure that they are ready to confront enemies of the country, to deal with disasters and to participate in peace operations in the region, the continent and beyond if they are called to serve.
Evariste Ndayishimiye appealed to the refugees who had fled Burundi to return home because the country needed its sons and daughters to rebuild the shattered economy. He promised that his administration would put in place a task force that would focus on engaging refugees in neighboring countries and in Europe, America and elsewhere to return home. He also promised to focus on Internally Displaced People in the country and to build villages that would provide them with better housing and make it easy for the government to provide them basic services.
The fight against impunity was also a recurrent theme. He stressed that impunity has been a cancer since the country gained its independence and had led to a globalization that pitted communities against each other. In one of the meetings he stressed that “ If a member of the CNDD FDD commits a crime, he is a criminal not a member of the CNDD FDD, if a Hutu or a Tutsi commit a crime, they are criminals and do not speak for the ethnic groups.” He said that he would continue to support the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work with the objective of reconciling the people of Burundi.
Inclusivity was also mentioned in the many provinces he visited. He asked Burundians to see themselves not as ethnic Hutus, Tutsi or Twa but Barundi and promised that his administration will ensure that all are represented. This was an important message for a country where the marginalization of communities depending on who was in power was the norm rather than the exception. Inclusivity he said also meant that we must ensure the rights of women and girls are protected; give a chance to the youths and look after the elderly.
Ndayishimiye’s key message was on the need to create jobs to fight poverty. He referred to himself as the “ Commander in Chief of Development” who would organize battalions to fight against poverty. He talked about the need to invest in modernizing agriculture so that Burundians can feed themselves but also transform products from agriculture and export them in the region and beyond. He talked about the need to look into new technologies including robotics and artificial intelligence to transform our economies. He also promised to support cooperatives and the equal distribution of resources for all provinces and to unveil a new scheme on retirements. He lamented that retirements were not properly planned and that it was often a painful experience to retire for the many workers that make up Burundi’s civil service.
The retired General who completed his law degree while studying at night also called for more investment in the education sector so that the country can produce a workforce ready for today’s job market. He insisted on scientific research and the need to train Burundi’s students to be job creators not job seekers.
Another recurrent theme was the need to upgrade the country’s infrastructure particularly health infrastructure and roads. He talked about the need to build quality hospitals across the country and the need to be ambitious and perhaps transform the country into a “Health Hub” for the region. He promised that if elected a new airports will be built and that tourism will be given the attention that it deserves.
The protection of the environment he said was also a priority and called on the population to continue planting trees as part of the program “Ewe Burundi Urambaye” (A well dressed Burundi Covered with Trees), a national reforestation project. Ndayishimiye also said that he would mobilize partners to support “green jobs” or environment jobs in the country.
On the last day of the campaign and during a press conference he talked about what would be the country’s foreign policy under a Ndayishimiye administration. He said that Panafricanism, solidarity and the dream to see regional integration become a reality would drive Burundi’s foreign policy. He stressed that Burundi with its partners will seek a relationship that is based on mutual respect, mutual accountability, strategic dialogue and demand driven support. He said that Burundi will continue to respect its international obligations and that his program was aligned with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The 52 year old, Catholic who presents himself as the servant of the people knows that the task at hand will not be easy and that he will need the support of everyone. As he concluded his remarks, he repeated the theme of his campaign “ Turikumwe Twese Birashoboka!” ( All of us together It is possible).