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Burundi general who launched a coup

Burundi General Godefroid Niyombare, who announced the overthrow of the president Wednesday, is a former spy chief, diplomat and respected army officer.

An ex-chief of staff of the army and one-time ambassador to Kenya, Niyombare has a reputation for professionalism and integrity, commanding respect among rank and file soldiers.

During Burundi’s 13-year civil war which ended in 2006, Niyombare fought alongside Pierre Nkurunziza, who led the rebel CNDD-FDD and went on to become president.

General Godefroid Niyombare
General Godefroid Niyombare

With the end of the war Niyombare rose through the ranks becoming deputy head of the army and then chief of staff. He also served as Burundi’s ambassador to Kenya.

In December he was appointed head of the national intelligence, placing him at the heart of government affairs and the president’s powerful security apparatus.

Niyombare’s loyal rise to the top came to an abrupt end less than three months later when he was fired in February after privately opposing Nkurunziza’s intention to run for a third term.

His deputies at the time, intelligence chief of staff General Leonard Ngendakumana and the head of the domestic intelligence division, General Sylvestre Ndayizeye, were also sacked.

Critics say Nkurunziza’s third term bid is against the constitution and the Arusha peace deal that ended Burundi’s bloody civil war.

At the time of his sacking, a senior CNDD-FDD official said Niyombare and his deputies were punished for asking the president not to stand for re-election in June.

On Wednesday, while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to attend a regional summit on Burundi’s crisis, the general took to private radio to announce the president’s removal from office and the dissolution of his government.


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