FIFA’s ex-boss Joseph “Sepp” Blatter has revealed that he was requested by powerful western nations to persuade the troubled Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to step down in exchange for a job as Africa’s football ambassador.
“I proposed to the President…if it could be an advantage for him or his country, FIFA could deploy him as an ambassador for football in Africa,” Mr. Blatter says in his book, Sepp Blatter: Mission Football.
Mr. Blatter adds that he was asked by Swiss authorities to help prevent Burundi’s political conflict by offering President Nkurunziza a job at FIFA. Responding to claims by Mr. Blatter, the Swiss foreign ministry released a statement confirming that indeed it asked for Blatter’s help but denied requesting President Nkurunziza’s resignation.
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“The intention was to contribute to a peaceful solution in order to prevent the current crisis in Burundi,” the statement read.
According to Mr. Blatter, who resigned as FIFA’s President in June 2015 amid corruption scandals, the offer was made to Nkurunziza in May 2015, shortly after his controversial announcement that he would be vying for a third term as the President of Burundi.
Nkurunziza turned down the offer and went ahead to be reelected for the third time. Political unrest followed, costing hundreds of people their lives and displacing thousands more from their homes.
In a report published by the BBC, President Nkurunziza’s office confirmed Blatter’s claims, saying that he was being used by powerful western nations to persuade the Burundian President to step down. The spokesperson didn’t name the western nations involved, however.
Genuine Intervention or Meddling?
Mr. Blatter’s new revelations have stirred a very emotive debate on Western interference in African affairs. Many are questioning the motive behind the Swiss authorities’ request to have Nkurunziza step down.
In July 2015, before the disputed elections in Burundi, the African Union, European Union and United States had expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the looming political crisis was being handled. The African Union even refused to send its election observers to Burundi, citing a likelihood that the elections wouldn’t be free and fair.
The EU further requested President Nkurunziza to put the welfare of his country ahead of his own ambitions, warning that an election would only exacerbate the profound crisis. Then in November 2015, the US issued sanctions against several Burundian government officials, including the minister of public security, over ongoing violence in the country.
Despite these sanctions, killings have continued, with more Burundians seeking refuge in neighboring countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.