SHAFAQNA – This week’s assassination of opposition leader Zedi Feruzi has underscored the influence of Muslim figures in Burundi – despite the small size of the country’s Muslim minority, which accounts for less than five percent of the national population.
Burundian Muslims played a major role in Hutu-Tutsi reconciliation during the civil war that ravaged the country – and left hundreds of thousands dead – throughout much of the 1990s.
Following the war, many Muslims in Burundi decided to pursue careers in politics.
Zedi Feruzi, head of the opposition Union for Peace and Democracy Party, was killed – along with a bodyguard – in a drive-by shooting on Saturday.
The incident comes amid political upheaval sparked by ongoing protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial decision to seek a third term in office.
In recent years, Feruzi had been considered one of Burundi’s most influential Muslim personalities, especially after the controversial dismissal of veteran politician Hussein Radjabu – Nkurunziza’s personal mentor – from the ruling CNDD-FDD Party, of which he had been a co-founder.
“Radjabu’s dismissal from the party was unlawful,” one CNDD-FDD member told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The party source said the decision to dismiss Radjabu had been made during an extraordinary meeting in 2007 of the party’s leadership.
“We always consider all resolutions of this meeting to be null and void,” he said. “Radjabu is still our leader.”
Another prominent Burundian Muslim figure is Sheikh Mohammed Rukara, the current Ombudsman of the republic, elected by parliament in 2011.
Sheikh Rukara, a Swahili language teacher at the University of Burundi, is respected across the political spectrum – despite being an active member in the ruling party.
Sheikh Rukara has helped resolve numerous disputes between land owners and the Burundian government.
During the country’s current political and security crisis, Sheikh Rukara was among those who had stressed the need to respect the Arusha Accords, which were signed in 2000 in the Tanzanian capital between Burundi’s warring camps.
Sheikh Rukara also enjoys close ties with Abdallah Kajandi Sadiki, Burundi’s mufti.
The list of influential Muslim figures in Burundi also includes several women.
One of these is Hafsa Mossi, a former Burundian minister for the presidency in charge of the East African Community (EAC).
Mossi, a former journalist, spent three years in the ministerial position since her appointment in 2009.
Another prominent Burundian female Muslim is Leontine Nzeyimana, the country’s current minister for EAC affairs.
Born in the southern Makamba province, Nzeyimana was elected to parliament in her hometown in 2010 legislative polls.
Nzeyimana, in her 30s, is one of Burundi’s few Muslim women to win a seat in the country’s parliament.