KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) – Burundi is kicking out the World Health Organizationâ€™s top official in the country just days before the presidential election and after the WHO raised concerns about crowded political rallies.
A foreign ministry letter seen by The Associated Press 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 WHO experts also must go.
The letter has 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.
The day that election campaigning in Burundi began late last month, images circulated online of crowded political rallies. The head of the WHO Africa region messaged the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about it, the Africa CDC chief has said.
The Africa CDC chief, John Nkengasong, on Thursday called Burundi’s action â€œunfortunateâ€ and said any difference should be addressed by dialogue instead of actions that affect the pandemic response,
â€œWe donâ€™t have the luxury of kicking out the WHO,â€ he told reporters. â€œThis war has to be won in a coordinated fashion, and coordination is key. Weâ€™re in dire need of expertise. … We encourage countries to do the right thing .â€
Burundi has 27 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but some have raised concerns that more cases exist. Authorities have been accused of downplaying the virus, and rights groups have alleged squalid conditions and lack of access to quarantine facilities,
Burundi is using virus restrictions to limit election observers, however, telling the East African regional bloc that any arriving foreigners would face a 14-day quarantine. The election is May 20.
The previous election in 2015 sparked deadly political turmoil as President Pierre Nkurunziza successfully ran for a third term that some said he had no right to pursue. This time he’s not running, but critics have accused the ruling party of targeting the leading opposition party and its supporters ahead of the vote.
Some fear further unrest if this election’s results are disputed over allegations of rigging.
Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.