Burundi’s charismatic and enigmatic president Pierre Nkurunziza is no more. The East African country confirmed on Monday the tragic death of the 55-year-old who had ruled the tiny nation with strength and style since 2005.
The former university professor had a penchant for football and nursed the dream of becoming a professional player while in his youth, but academics and politics altered his paths, although without suppressing the passion for the game.
In 2010, he became the first head of state to own a football club while in office, enrolling as one of the players of the team known as Halleluya FC, which connotes his faith as a born-again Christian.
He travelled across Burundi with the team playing against other clubs in official and unofficial matches.
While many citizens saw his football antics as a mere exercise or distractions from the political upheavals in the country, Nkurunziza referred to himself as a talented and serious footballer.
He scored goals most times from his upfront position but local pundits jested that defenders often let him past them, to earn fatter bonuses.
Most of his local detractors contested his professed love for football due to the poor state of the sport in the country.
“We see it as a pure joke. At your age, you don’t need to play professional football to prove your love for the game. He could have converted that love in developing the sport in the country, by investing heavily in infrastructure, competitions, and talent development,” radio journalist Marc André Kwizera told ACLSports from Bujumbura, the country’s largest city.
“It’s not a crime playing competitive football as a president but we would have loved that passion channeled towards building a legacy for the country’s football.”
Burundi was the last African country to suspend all football competitions mid-April in the wake of the Covid-19, and the first and only as of now to resume the game, with the blessings of Nkurunziza.
Many locals have chosen to mourn the loss of their president by wearing copies of his jersey with Halleluya FC, even when they had never been a fan of the club.