Most of you have probably heard about the Nyakabeto case. For those who haven’t, it’s about the Nyakabeto family getting kicked out of their home – by the National Commission of Lands and Property, known as CNTB. They were deemed to be occupying the house “illegally” and it was remitted to its “rightful” owners, “victims” of the grabbing of property which took place just after the tragedies of 1972 – note the quotation marks! The CNTB doesn’t seem to be bothered that Mr Nyakabeto spent more than a decade paying off the mortgage he contracted to legally buy the house; and it certainly isn’t bothered where the Nyakabetos will live from now on, as long as they got out of the house. This is just one case amongst hundreds, maybe thousands, of a similar nature, all over the country.
Just yesterday, as a friend and I were gazing at the mansions that cover the Gasekebuye hills, we couldn’t help ask ourselves where the owners had found the money to build them. See, a house in Gasekebuye costs – excluding the price of land – around 200 million BIF (USD 130,000) to build, and knowing the levels of incomes and interest rates here, it is very normal to wonder where all this wealth came from… especially if you have an idea about the kind of activities the homeowners are engaged in.
I often ask myself how some people seem to get richer while the rest of the country gets poorer; especially considering that, in this part of the World, access to some resources and privileges requires some bending of the rules.
Mr Nyakabeto is of the same generation as my parents; the first or early-second generation of post-independence intellectuals: the generation that was in charge when “things were still good”; the generation that played a major role in shaping the future of this country; and unfortunately, in destroying it as well. This generation had children; children who are now young adults with a lot of noble ambitions for their country; young adults who are stepping into employment, business ownership, and even politics; and have a desire to “see things change”. But what are we willing to give to see this change happen?
Have we considered all the variables? Have we thought about how our parents accumulated the wealth (if any)? Did they have to break any rules? Which ones? Who did it hurt and what were the consequences? May they have been lured into error like Mr Nyakabeto who (maybe unknowingly) bought the house from a person who may have acquired it illegally – which, rumour has it, isn’t the case!
What if the values we want to instil and the ambitions we have for our country and society require us, the heirs of a not-so-transparent generation, to be stripped of some of privileges in the name of repairing wrongs we did not commit? Are we ready to deal with this?
Do not believe anybody who tells you the “ethnic divides” are what’s wrong with Burundi; they are just an excuse used to confuse the population. Most of our problems were and still are caused by small groups of greedy elites who accumulate all the power and wealth and totally marginalise the rest of the population. With time, and because what goes around comes around, the tables turn but the situation doesn’t get any better! Revenge primes over reconciliation, and the result is often the creation of new groups of greedy elites who, again, marginalise the rest of the population.
I often wonder what kind of legacy corrupt politicians and businessmen think they are leaving behind for their children. Do they not know that one day their children will grow up and realise everything they had was acquired to the expense of the wellbeing of many innocent people? Do they expect them to be any better? Do they not see the delicate situations they put their children in by making them innocent targets of the angry people they have oppressed? I’ve always wondered what kids of people with questionable morals and values think of their parents. Do they see role models in them? Do they think they are heroes?
What if our parents aren’t heroes? Would we be ready to stand on the side of justice for the sake of the change that we desire so much? I always hear that “family always comes first”, and that even when you know they’re wrong, you have to be on their side. But how far does this principle go?
I believe that the path to sustainable peace starts with admitting that our inheritance may be somewhat corrupt; and being willing to make the necessary sacrifices to right the wrongs committed by our ancestors. I also believe that revenge can never mend anything. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the only solutions; and obviously taking to justice whoever is directly responsible of any crimes. The key word here is “directly”. People like the Nyakabetos shouldn’t be as severely punished if they aren’t the first responsible. We can at least allow them to get back whatever they invested in the property; otherwise we may just be creating another set of victims who, when the tables turn, will come back looking for us, or our children!