Burundi: Sepp Blatter Tried to ‘Bribe’ Our President to Step Down

The disgraced former football chief claims he was asked to intervene in Burundi's political crisis -- and did.

Abidjan, IVORY COAST: Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza heads the ball as he attends a students training sessions at the ASEC Mimosas Academy in Abidjan 226 February 2007. Nkurunziza arrived in the Ivocy Coast the previous day on a three-day official visit.     AFP PHOTO / KAMBOU SIA (Photo credit should read KAMBOU SIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abidjan, IVORY COAST: Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza heads the ball as he attends a students training sessions at the ASEC Mimosas Academy in Abidjan 226 February 2007. Nkurunziza arrived in the Ivocy Coast the previous day on a three-day official visit. AFP PHOTO / KAMBOU SIA (Photo credit should read KAMBOU SIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Abidjan, IVORY COAST: Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza heads the ball as he attends a students training sessions at the ASEC Mimosas Academy in Abidjan 226 February 2007. Nkurunziza arrived in the Ivocy Coast the previous day on a three-day official visit. AFP PHOTO / KAMBOU SIA (Photo credit should read KAMBOU SIA/AFP/Getty Images)

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is an evangelical Christian who loves soccer so much that he has his own club team, Hallelujah FC. Last year the president was accused of kicking a soccer ball around on a private pitch while citizens took to the streets to protest his bid for a third term as president of his small Central African nation.

And on Thursday, Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former president of the international soccer association FIFA, said the sport was considered important enough to Nkurunziza that Swiss authorities asked him to offer the embattled president a job as an international soccer ambassador to avoid a political crisis over the push for a third term. (Nkurunziza’s opponents said the third term was unconstitutional, and Nkurunziza's camp disagreed.) 

“I spoke with the Burundi president, I told him he would have the international recognition of FIFA, that he would be an extraordinary ambassador for us,” Blatter is quoted as saying in his biography, Sepp Blatter: Mission and Passion Football, which was released on Thursday. “He said, in French, ‘I am very touched, I want to look at that and speak with my people’ … but the mission failed.”

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is an evangelical Christian who loves soccer so much that he has his own club team, Hallelujah FC. Last year the president was accused of kicking a soccer ball around on a private pitch while citizens took to the streets to protest his bid for a third term as president of his small Central African nation.

And on Thursday, Sepp Blatter, the disgraced former president of the international soccer association FIFA, said the sport was considered important enough to Nkurunziza that Swiss authorities asked him to offer the embattled president a job as an international soccer ambassador to avoid a political crisis over the push for a third term. (Nkurunziza’s opponents said the third term was unconstitutional, and Nkurunziza’s camp disagreed.) 

“I spoke with the Burundi president, I told him he would have the international recognition of FIFA, that he would be an extraordinary ambassador for us,” Blatter is quoted as saying in his biography, Sepp Blatter: Mission and Passion Football, which was released on Thursday. “He said, in French, ‘I am very touched, I want to look at that and speak with my people’ … but the mission failed.”

Willy Nyamitwe, a top adviser to Nkurunziza, confirmed to Foreign Policy Thursday that Blatter did approach Nkurunziza with the offer and that the president “rejected it immediately.”

The president “rejected the proposal as he believed it was a bribe and even a trap,” Nyamitwe said. “He couldn’t fail the members of the Ruling Party who wanted him as their candidate.”

Nkurunziza went on to win the third term, although political chaos ensued. Some 250,000 people have fled the country and another 400 have been killed in violent unrest. The government’s opposition claims they are being suppressed and targeted by the Nkurunziza’s military and police. 

“We knew some countries were trying their utmost to get a regime change in Burundi,” he said, without elaborating. “We were then committed to resist as we could.”

The Swiss foreign ministry said in a statement Thursday that although they did seek Blatter’s help as an intermediary, they never asked Nkurunziza to step down. “The intention was to contribute to a peaceful solution in order to prevent the current crisis in Burundi,” the statement said.

Blatter said he made the offer last May, shortly before he was forced out of his seat as FIFA president amid allegations he was embroiled in a massive corruption scandal. He has since been banned from international football activities for six years due to ethics violations.

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