Burundi // 54-project
I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project.
Burundi, a landlocked state, overshadowed in books (and in size) by its better-known neighbors. Burundi is located between Rwanda to its north, Tanzania to the east, and the DRC to the west. Lake Tanganyika butts up to the country's western border. The flag, colored white for peace, green for hope, and red for suffering, also has three stars representing the three main ethnic groups of Burundi: the Hutu (which make up the majority at around 83%), the Tutsi (16%), and the Twa (1%). Both the Hutu and the Tutsi regard the Twa as the bush people.
Since Burundi is landlocked and one of the smallest countries in Africa, there are a lot of roads in the country. Almost the entirety of Burundi is navigable. At the same time, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with over 11 million people and not that much space. It has 5x the population of Botswana, but 23x less space. This has led to many issues with deforestation.
Burundi is often compared with Rwanda because their histories align often. As Rwanda infamously struggled with Tutsi and Hutu conflict, Burundi has been doing the same for decades. In Burundi, the distinction between the two groups originally started with class, not with status. A century ago, if you built up wealth, you automatically could become a Tutsi. (There were also further distinctions within Tutsi itself). As in Rwanda, when Belgium took over after Germany had to forfeit their colonies, Belgium began to further bring out the distinction between the two groups. Conflict and outbreaks of fighting have been plaguing Burundi for the past 2+ decades.
I watched a short documentary called, "Deo: Escape from Burundi". It was about a doctor from Burundi. When the Hutu president was killed by Tutsis in 1993, leading to a war where 30k people died, Deo was a Tutsi at school. He hid under his bed in his dorm, as Hutu's came in ransacking and burning the building. He ends up fleeing the country and making it into Rwanda, 5 days later When he was almost there, he was ready to give up, when an older lady saw him and forced him to continue on. He said that once they got into Rwanda she saved his life by saying that he was her son. (She was Hutu and in Rwanda the conflict was the opposite, so the Hutus were the ones in charge). Once the genocide in Rwanda begins, being a Tutsi and having trouble hiding it, Deo decides to go back into Burundi. He received a temporary visa to the US and didn't speak any English when arriving. He joked about how he had $200 on him when he flew to America and assumed that he would get to stay in a hotel in New York for two weeks on that! He stayed in a rundown Harlem apartment with a man he met at the airport and ended up being homeless in Central Park for a while. Finally, he becomes a US resident and makes his way into medical school. In 2005, he goes back to Burundi to open a medical center.
The official languages of Burundi are French and Kirundi; Swahili and English are widely taught. 98% of Burundians speak Kirundi, something that is rare in Africa.
I really, really wanted to read Baho! this week, but couldn't get my hands out. There is no kindle edition out and couldn't get it shipped to Morocco (where I am right now!). Baho! is the first Burundian novel to be translated into English. I'm excited to read it in August when I get it in the mail and let you know my review. I was able to read Life After Violence: A people’s story of Burundi, recommended by Rachel Strohm. It reviews the recent political and conflict history of Burundi, then going into methodological research carried out by the author on Burundians. Peter Uvin collects data on questions such as, how are youth faring in post-conflict burundi? How do gender norms and expectations influence behavior, how have these changed as a result of conflict? What do youth perceive to be their opportunities for the future?