The Old School, New School Media Battle Over Whether a Coup Took Place in Burundi
Burundian military officials used local radio to announce a coup d'état on Wednesday. But the president, who is currently in Tanzania, rejected those claims on social media.
After weeks of protests against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term in office, a Burundian general announced on Monday that he had overthrown him in a coup. Now, rival claims are being broadcast over both traditional and social media as to who is actually in control of the country’s government.
Nkurunziza, who is currently in Tanzania for meeting with other East African leaders to discuss Burundi’s recent violence, used what appears to be his official Twitter account to claim the claims of a coup were false. Tweeting in French, Nkurunziza said there had been a coup attempt but that it was “under control” and that there “was no coup d’etat in #Burundi.”
He then then said an attempted coup had failed, and tagged the Twitter handles for Radio France Internationale, BBC’s Africa division, one RFI reporter, and a reporter for a Burundian publication.
His latest tweet called the coup a “fantasy” and linked to a Facebook post on the official Burundian presidential account that once again dismissed allegations of the coup.
Meanwhile in Burundi, the military official purportedly behind the coup, Major General Godefroid Niyombareh, reportedly read a statement to reporters at a military base and broadcast an announcement confirming the coup on a private radio station in Burundi. He said he has put in place a “national salvation committee” comprised of police officers and military officials and that “President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties.”
According to the BBC he used the radio broadcast to say that “the masses have decided to take into their own hands the destiny of the nation to remedy this unconstitutional environment into which Burundi has been plunged.”
“The masses vigorously and tenaciously reject President Nkurunziza’s third-term mandate,” he continued. “The government is overthrown.”
Peaceful demonstrations Wednesday quickly erupted into cheerful celebrations, according to reports from those on the ground in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital.
According to Burundi’s constitution, a president can only be elected to office twice, and protests erupted on April 26 after Nkurunziza, who has completed two terms, announced that he would run for reelection. First appointed to the presidency by an act of parliament in 2005, Nkurunziza argues he has only run for election once and therefore qualifies for a third term.
Many Burundians disagree and see his attempt to secure a third term in office as a violation of the constitution. Within 24 hours of his April announcement, five had died in the subsequent violence, with dozens injured. Amid the turmoil, the government shut down or restricted the use of radio stations.
The protests continued amid increasing international pressure on Nkurunziza to renounce his bid for a third term. Protesters opposed to Nkurunziza’s reelection effort have in some instances become violent: A grenade attack on May 1 killed two police officers and wounded 17 people. Police officers have reportedly also opened fire on peaceful protestors. Thousands of Burundians have fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, raising fears of a looming humanitarian crisis in poorly resourced refugee camps there.
Presidential elections are scheduled for June 26, and the European Union and the United States have urged Burundi to consider postponing them. But Nkurunziza has stood his ground, and maintains that even amid a coup attempt, he is still in control of the country.
“It is with regret that we learned a group of soldiers rebelled this morning and made a fantastical declaration about a coup d’etat,” his Facebook post read. “The Burundian president asks the Burundian population and outsiders living in Burundi to keep calm and peace.”
LANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images