Exclusive: Burundi coup plotter says he had ‘no other option’

General Godefroid Niyombare pictured during an interview with FRANCE 24 in December 2011
General Godefroid Niyombare pictured during an interview with FRANCE 24 in December 2011 FRANCE 24

Explaining the reasons for Wednesday’s coup, Burundi's General Godefroid Niyombare tells FRANCE 24 he had “no other option” but to react against his former rebel comrade, President Pierre Nkurunziza. A portrait of one military man’s rise and fall.


During Burundi's 13-year civil war, which ended in 2006, Niyombare (pictured) fought alongside Nkurunziza, who led the rebel National Council for the Defense of Democracy–Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD).

While serving as army chief of staff in 2010, Niyombare announced that 12 soldiers and one officer had been arrested after being accused of plotting a coup against Nkurunziza.

Niyombare was appointed head of the Burundian army in 2014, replacing Adolphe Nshimirimana. Niyombare had a reputation for professionalism and integrity, commanding respect among rank-and-file soldiers.

He later served as Burundi's ambassador to Kenya.

From rebel mate to coup plotter

Last December Niyombare was appointed head of national intelligence, placing him at the heart of government affairs as well as Nkurunziza's powerful security apparatus.

But his rise came to an abrupt end less than three months later, when he was fired in February for privately opposing Nkurunziza's intention to run for a third term.

Demonstrators and opposition figures say Nkurunziza’s bid for another five years in office violates a two-term limit outlined in the constitution and the Arusha peace deal, which ended an ethnically fuelled civil war in 2005 that killed 300,000 people.

Speaking to FRANCE 24 just hours after announcing Nkurunziza's ouster on a private radio station Wednesday, Burundi’s former intelligence chief acknowledged “it was not necessary to do what we did” in a democratic country. But, referring to weeks of deadly protests over Nkurunziza’s re-election bid that had killed at least 20 people, Niyombare noted that “when you see what goes on in this country, what happened over the past six weeks, we had no other option”.

At the time of his dismissal, a senior CNDD-FDD official said Niyombare and his deputies – intelligence chief of staff General Leonard Ngendakumana and the head of the domestic intelligence division, General Sylvestre Ndayizeye – were punished for asking the president not to stand for re-election in June

Western nations, including the United States and the European Union, have criticised Nkurunziza's decision to run again.

While Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to attend a regional summit on Burundi's political crisis, Niyombare announced the president's removal from office and the dissolution of his government.

"President Pierre Nkurunziza is removed from office, the government is dissolved," General Niyombare said in his radio broadcast.

"All people are asked to respect the lives and property of others," he added.


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