Exclusive: Sacked Burundi Defence minister flees to exile


Maj Gen Pontien, former Burundi Defence minister


Sacked Burundi Defence minister, Maj Gen Pontien Gaciyubwenge, is currently in exile, we have learnt.

Pontien, and some of his colleagues were tricked into a military coup allegedly sponsored by President Pierre Nkurunziza himself and executed by his Chief of Staff, Prime Niyongabo.

The May 13, coup attempt was led by Maj Gen Godefroid Niyombare, a former military intelligence chief in the Burundi army while Nkurunziza was in Arusha Tanzania attending a summit of EAC Heads of State on Burundi.

In our earlier story “Untold Story: Nkurunziza had a hand in Burundi coup”, we explained how the coup was planned and how Pontien was betrayed by National Intelligence Service under the leadership of Major-Gen Adolphe Nshimirimana and Willy Nyamitwe, the presidential spokesman.

The coup failed and Maj. Gen Habarugira, Colonel Kazungu, Cyrille Ndayirukiye and colleagues were arrested while Niyombare disappeared.

Though still alive, Niyombare’s whereabouts are still unknown.

Pontien withdrew from the coup rather too late after being told by the interior minister that the so-called take over was actually a sham planned for the start by the ruling party.

On May 18, Nkurunziza fired Pontien and replaced him with Emmanuel Ntahonvukiye, a civilian, as his new defence minister.

The near arrest and fleeing Burundi

On the same day, as we have been told, Nkurunziza sent a special squad to the residence of the Defence minister.

Their orders were to arrest him immediately shortly after his sacking.

Pontien, according to reliable sources, had already studied the situation aforehand and fled from his home.

He went into hiding for days before finding his way out of Burundi.

Reports of his exile are still uncoordinated with some saying he is in Belgium and others insisting he is in Germany.

But they all confirm the former minister is now exiled in Europe.

A few years ago, Lieutenant-General Germain Niyoyankana, then Minister of National Defense and Veterans Affairs, said that 34 years of military life, he had never seen such a strong social crisis within the Force Defense Nationale (FDN) at that time.

According to, it took a mini cabinet reshuffle to replace Lieutenant-General Germain Niyoyankana by Major General Pontien Gaciyubwenge.

Pontien would be hailed as knowledgeable and a military genius who ended controversies in Burundi Amisom continent.

He was to later be named as best Minister of Defence of all time, behind Colonel Firmin Sinzoyiheba.

Nkurunziza violates Arusha accord with civilian Defence minister

Analysts tell us that even the appointment of  a civilian Defence minister, Emmanuel Ntahonvukiye, is another violation.

“A civilian instead of a member of the former Burundi Armed Forces (FAB) or former rebels is another violation of Arusha and puts the army as an institution at risk,” said a source who is conversant with Arusha proceedings and the Burundi constitution.

The National Army was merged with former rebels to create Burundi’s current army in a 50/50 composition agreed upon in Arusha.

The top command is also supposed to be 50% percent former national army and 50% former rebels.

This means that if the Chief of Staff is an ex-rebel, then the minister of Defence should be a former national army member and vice versa.

Now the ex-FAB don’t feel comfortable anymore in today’s situation where instead of their member, Nkurunziza chose a civilian to be a defence minister hence sidelining them.

We are told army units are currently at a standby, wondering which unit is going to attack the other.

The source about 1,000 soldiers have deserted the army since the coup attempt.

Army chiefs are also not happy with a civilian defence minister and as a matter of fact, Ntahonvukiye was locked out of a High Command meeting days after his appointment.

Burundi’s 13-year civil war between the former Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels — made of up several sometimes competing factions — ended in 2006, leaving some 300,000 dead.

As part of the Arusha Agreement in 2000, which paved the way for a final peace, the army and police were to be reformed with equal numbers of Tutsi and Hutu, in a country where Hutus make up some 85 percent of the population.

About Pontien  

According to Wikipedia, Pontien Gaciyubwenge is a Burundian politician and soldier.

He served as Minister of Defence in the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza until he was fired on 18 May 2015, after a failed coup d’état.

On 2 May 2015, during the 2015 Burundian unrest Gaciyubwenge urged the Military of Burundi to remain neutral and act according with the Arusha Agreements that ended the Burundian Civil War.

He also stated that “all political actors” should avoid the use of violence.

He was replaced as Minister by Emmanuel Ntahomvukiye.

Gaciyubwenge holds the rank of Major general.

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