opinionBy Rachel Kabejja
Although he holds political significance within the East African region, I came to realise that President Jean Pierre Nkuriziza is a down to earth man.
He leads a choir of about 28 people, men and women he fought with, while other members were drawn from the regular army. He rides a bicycle once in a while from his presidential lodge at Ngozi to Bujumbura, a distance of over 90 kilometres in four hours.
Every Saturday in Burundi is a communal day where everybody participates in general cleaning and doing something for the community from 6a.m - 10a.m. The cleaning goes beyond household level to the streets and town centres. And the president is not left out either.
The Saturday I was there (we had gone to attend a crusade organised by the Republic of Burundi), he joined a community at Ruhande to build a school - Ruhande Secondary school. "We are committed to supporting you, we will provide you with the materials but you will do the work yourselves. We are together as a nation in doing this, education is very vital in our economy and we need it so much, however Burundi, don't forget where the Lord has taken you from."
He went on to tell his countrymen to work hard and pray, pray and work; this is his motto and his manifesto during the campaigns. We joined the queues and passed bricks to each other until they finally got to the builders as well as joined the women who were singing songs of praise to their God. All the shops during this time were closed and everyone was participating.
A brief history
Mr Nkuruziza was born on December 18, 1963 to Mr and Ms Eustache Ngabisha in Bujumbura Town. He went to Ngozi Primary School before joining Kitega Secondary and Burundi University where he graduated with a degree majoring in Education and Sports.
He is married to Denise Nkuruziza and the couple has got four children. Jonathan Nkuruziza the third born sings with his father in the choir. President Nkuruziza has a passion for God; you can see it in his eyes. He won't end a sentence without making a reference to the goodness of God.
He is the first president I have heard openly calling people to repentance. "If you don't repent and obey God, it's up to you." He continued to tell his subjects, "Leave these other gods and follow God alone, he alone can make you happy, I will pray to my God everyday because God makes all things possible." He leads a country where he has passed on orders to all mobile phone service providers to send their subscribers a daily Bible verse for inspiration.
Although I don't know the ratio of Christians to non Christians in this country, some people I believe think this is an intrusion to people's freedom. But it is law.
During a state dinner the day before, the president shared with us, some of the momentous occasions in his life, how he went to the bush (he was a lecturer at Burundi University before the civil war broke out) with only ten men and all were killed except one and how the surviving gentleman, now a general, wanted to assassinate him.
"I visited him the day before he was to be hanged, looked at him and asked, 'You were among my closest friends, all have gone except you, why did you want to kill me?' I looked at him again and told him you are forgiven but demoted."
He emphasized the value of forgiveness because the gentleman whose life he had saved later on learnt about a plot by some other army men to assassinate the president and he told him. "The man whose life I had saved, saved mine in the end. If I hadn't saved him, I might be gone by now."
After the bush war, the president went to every church asking to be forgiven for the terror and insecurity he had caused the nation. "Fellow Burundians, supporters and country men, I ask you all to forgive me for causing you so much pain and suffering. Let's now work together for the betterment of our country and the future of our children," he went on telling the different congregations.
Most people in his army right now are Christians, they do double work, sing for the Lord and guard. They look so simple while on stage but there is no doubt that they are army men. You can prove this once you dare mess around with their president.
They don't dress in army uniforms while with the president and they are the only people who gave me access to him without asking for my card or identification, or checking my camera.
It is believed that in order to see the president, this bunch of guards will pray and seek the Holy Spirit's direction, once the spirit confirms you, they let you in.
When I was able to get a few minutes to talk to him, I asked his purpose of inviting Pastor Robert Kayanja and he told me that he had always heard and read about him as a great man of God, and therefore wanted him to come and celebrate that day with him and the people of Burundi and also to pray for the country.
He doesn't believe in leadership secrets and says it's only God who appoints leaders. "Look at me, one person out of the eight million people in Burundi. I also asked my mother if she knew that I was going to become president but she didn't.
Leadership is a gift from God and only godly leadership holds respect." He says leadership cannot be attained by reading books although these are good. Nkuruziza looks at his country in the near future as one rebuilt and new.
"I want to see the whole country united and reconciled at heart, I want to deal away with all our differences - I believe and know that we can succeed in everything we are planning if we are together."
He prides himself in the fact that although their army is small, they have been able to send peace keeping troops to Somalia, Ivory Coast and Sudan. He looks forward to training, modifying and expanding this army to international standards. If you asked me to describe him in three words, I would say he is handsome, godly and down to earth.