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Nkurunziza at an independence day celebration in 2015. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

Burundi's government says President Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, has died of a heart attack — though his death follows reports that he and his wife may have contracted COVID-19.

Why it matters: Burundi has reported few cases of coronavirus and done little to mitigate the spread. It expelled World Health Organization officials last month, accusing them of "interference," and went ahead with elections on May 20 that were widely viewed as rigged but saw Nkurunziza's chosen successor declared the winner.

Where things stand: The government says Nkurunziza was hospitalized on Saturday after feeling unwell, and that he went into cardiac arrest on Monday.

  • But observers noted that Nkurunziza's wife had reportedly been taken to Kenya days earlier for medical treatment, likely for coronavirus.

Between the lines: Nkurunziza would be the first sitting world leader to die of coronavirus, if that was determined to be the cause.

The big picture: Nkurunziza was due to step down as president in August and be named “supreme guide to patriotism," per the Economist.

  • Burundi, a country of 11 million which borders Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has seen significant democratic backsliding on Nkurunziza's watch, according to Freedom House.
  • He defied constitutional term limits in seeking a third term in 2015, but surprised some by stepping aside this time around.
  • Like in Tanzania, the government has refused to implement many restrictions, and a government spokesman said the country would be protected by God. The ruling party held large rallies ahead of the elections.

What to watch: "The big question here is whether [Nkurunziza] died from Covid-19 (and whether authorities will admit it if he did)," says Simon Allison, Africa editor for the Mail and Guardian.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hold steady at 65,000 per day — CDC declares racism "a serious public health threat" — WHO official: Brazil is dealing with "raging inferno" of a COVID outbreak
  2. Vaccines: America may be close to hitting a vaccine wall — Pfizer asks FDA to expand COVID vaccine authorization to adolescents — CDC says Johnson & Johnson vaccine supply will drop 80% next week.
  3. Economy: Treasury says over 156 million stimulus payments sent out since March — More government spending expected as IMF projects 6% global GDP growth.
  4. Politics: Supreme Court ends California's coronavirus restrictions on home religious meetings
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

Second senior Matt Gaetz aide resigns amid federal investigation

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walking out of the Capitol in January 2021. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Devin Murphy, Rep. Matt Gaetz's legislative director, has stepped down amid a federal investigation into sex trafficking allegations against the Florida Republican congressman, the New York Times first reported and Axios has confirmed.

The latest: "It's been real," Murphy wrote in an email, obtained by Axios, to Republican legislative directors on Saturday morning, with the subject line: "Well...bye."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw says he'll be blind for a month after eye surgery

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) in Washington, D.C., in December 2020. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) said in a statement Saturday he will be blind for roughly a month after getting surgery to reattach the retina in left eye.

Why it matters: Crenshaw, who lost his right eye and sustained severe damage to his left eye during his third deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, said he will be "pretty much off the grid for the next few weeks."