Burundi sacks WHO officials ahead of May 20 polls

Burundi is kicking out the World Health Organization’s top officials in the country just days before the presidential election and after the WHO raised concerns about crowded political rallies.

A foreign ministry letter says the WHO representative to Burundi, Walter Kazadi Mulombo, has been declared persona non grata and must leave the East African nation by Friday. The letter says three other WHO experts must leave the country as well.

The letter gives no explanation for the expulsions. Reached by phone and asked for details, Foreign Minister Ezechiel Nibigira hung up Thursday morning. The WHO representative, Mulombo, did not immediately respond to phone calls.

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The WHO Africa regional chief, Matshidiso Moeti, described Mulombo as a “very competent person”. He said the WHO was communicating with Burundi “to clarify and understand the reason for the decision.”

When election campaign began late in April, images of crowded political rallies with President Pierre Nkurunziza in attendance went viral.

The Africa CDC Chief, John Nkengasong, described Burundi’s action as “unfortunate” and said any differences should be addressed by dialogue instead of actions that affect the pandemic response,

Burundi has 27 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, even as citizens have raised concerns that there are more cases. Authorities have been accused of downplaying the virus and relying on divine protection, while rights groups have bemoan squalid conditions and lack of access to quarantine facilities.

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There are allegations that Burundi could be limiting election observers virus restrictions. The government had announced that arriving foreigners will be placed under a 14-day quarantine. The election is May 20.

Holding a vote that increases the chances of the virus spread could make it “extremely difficult” to contain it later, the Africa CDC chief said.

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