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Burundi's Former Intelligence Chief Assassinated


A death yesterday in the East African nation of Burundi has given us a moment to pause and reflect on that country. The man who died was a mastermind of political terror and assassinations. Now he has been assassinated himself. The conflict surrounding this death came from a discredited election. Burundi's president won an unconstitutional third term. Here's NPR's Gregory Warner.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: There are many in Burundi who might have wished for the death of Gen. Adolphe Nshimirimana, the ruling party's most feared enforcer, said to torture and kill human rights activists and civil protesters and accused of ordering the death of three elderly Italian nuns who criticized government corruption. The nuns were raped and beheaded last fall. The general's own murder on Sunday was a surgical strike. Gunmen in army uniforms fired an RPG at a car containing him and his bodyguards and then moved in with guns to confirm the kill. Jean-Regis Nduwimana, an independent journalist, was one of the first on the scene. He says the assassination could only have been pulled off by soldiers from Burundi's own military.

JEAN-REGIS NDUWIMANA: Now we are in a war. Burundi is in a war, but a new kind of war.

WARNER: A war unlike the civil war in the 1990s, where the lines were clearly ethnic. This battle has pitted Burundi's army against itself because while Burundi may be an impoverished, aid-dependent, landlocked country with few good schools or roads, its army is recognized as a model of postwar reconstruction and ethnic integration, its officers sent around the globe for training. And though this may not feel like a reward, thousands of Burundian soldiers serve in Somalia as peacekeepers paid by the U.N. Yolande Bouka analyzes Burundi for the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi.

YOLANDE BOUKA: The Burundian army does not pay very well, and being deployed in all these missions provides additional income not only to the government but to these individual soldiers. So there's a great sense of pride but also financial incentives to maintaining this reputation of a Republican army.

WARNER: The assassinated general and his tactics were a threat to that reputation in propping up a president, Pierre Nkurunziza, who clung to power by fiat. And using violence to ram through a discredited election for the president's unconstitutional third mandate, he helped turn Burundi into a pariah.

INSTITUTE FOR SECURITY STUDIES: Those who are opposed to Nkurunziza's third mandate are not done destabilizing the country.

WARNER: If a military coup were to come, it would be Burundi's seventh in 50 years of independence. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.