Two Burundi officials have been arrested after their town’s football team allegedly “roughed up” President Pierre Nkurunziza who was playing during a match with his personal team, legal sources and witnesses said Friday.
A legal source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the administrator of the northern town of Kiremba as well as his deputy, who is in charge of sport, had been charged with “conspiracy against the president” on Thursday.
It all started when the Kiremba team played a match earlier this month against Nkurunziza’s Allelua FC team, which includes the president.
Several town residents told AFP that the administrator Cyriaque Nkezabahizi and his deputy Michel Mutama had recruited players among Congolese refugees living in a camp in the town.
“These Congolese obviously didn’t know President Nkurunziza because they roughed him up during the match, attacking each time he had the ball and making him fall several times while the Burundian players were careful not to get too close to him,” one witness said.
Nkurunziza, who is a “born-again” evangelical, spends at least half of every week travelling with his team Allelua FC and his choir “Komeza gusenga” which means “pray non-stop” in the local kirundi language.
He also participates in community development projects, in which he can be seen lugging around rocks or mixing cement.
The 54-year-old president, a former sport professor at the University of Burundi, continues to practice swimming and cycling and plays up to three football matches a week.
He built a 9,000-seat stadium in his home town and dozens others across the country.
Critics say he is allowed to score several “bogus” goals during each match, with no player daring to seriously take him on.
In power since 2005, Nkurunziza is leading a push for a referendum in May on changes to the constitution that would allow him to run in elections in 2020.