Just another bunch of elites!

We were sitting at Café Gourmand terrace the other day with one of my friends… I don’t quite remember what we were talking about when I said, “Erega we’re just another bunch of elites!” She was a bit shocked and not quite ready to believe me (nobody wants to be called an ‘elite’ these days, like Eeww) so I had some explaining to do…

… It all started about a year or two ago…

I was hanging out with friends at the Cappuccino Food Bar in town (if you know where this is, then I’m sorry to say you’re just ANOTHER elite too). Some guy called one of the guys I was with, who then asked the caller to come join us at the Bar. My friend – who’s very bad at giving directions… like REALLY bad – passed me the phone saying “please tell this guy how to get here” and we all burst out laughing… We were like, “how can ANYBODY in this city NOT KNOW where Cappuccino is?! It’s like the one of the most conveniently located places in town!” But after the laughs and making fun of the poor chap, I sat there trying to figure out HOW somebody cannot know where the place is… then it hit me…

Surely the restaurant is conveniently located in town, but it’s like 100m away from the nearest public transport route. The neighbouring ‘public access’ places are two bank branches, a car dealership, a GENUINE phone/accessories shop, a square that nobody goes to, a gallery that accommodates a wine bar, a Thai restaurant, a gym and a few rather expensive clothing shops, and a petrol station. True that the road that passes just in front goes to Quartier Asiatique, hence anybody who’s walked from there to the central bus station (i.e. Université Sagesse d’Afrique students), or has been there to, say, buy construction materials, surely knows where Cappuccino is! But how many people in Bujumbura (let alone Burundi) can say they’ve done that? And please bear in mind that there are other routes to get there.

Therefore, a person who knows where the bar is has either done business in the neighbourhood (hence, they have money), owns a car (or at least has easy access to one), or has the wallet to afford the prices on the menu. This brings me to my second point…

Downtown Bujumbura

Downtown Bujumbura, by night. By Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha

There’s this girl I used to work with on some project. She’s from Kinama. She’s very fluent in English and Swahili, so she often gets translation gigs at the UNHCR (you know, they deal with Congolese refugees). When this happens, she has to be in town for like the whole day; and so has to eat there. One day she complained to me about how food is so expensive “in this area”. She was like: “a plate of rice, beans and isombe costs 2500 when I can get the same or even more at 800 in my neighbourhood!” I was like, DAMN! First because whenever I step out to eat, I never go with less than 5000 Francs in my pocket (although I’ve had one of them 2500 plates… quite a few times actually). But 800?! I felt like somebody has been robbing me all my life. Second was when she said “Things are expensive in Rohero man!” I was like, did she just say ROHERO?! The neighbourhood where I was born, grew up, and where I spend at least 90% of my time (when I’m not in Kinindo, or Gihosha, or Ngagara… which are also classified as “expensive” by the way)?!

… Did she say ROHERO like some kid in NYC would speak of Manhattan or some kid in London would speak of Chelsea?! Then it hit me (yeah, things keep hitting me). I remembered that I was educated in the best schools around here; I remembered my friends, what they do, what their parents do, what my parents do… and I was like sh**… I’m a flippin’ filthy elite!!

Okay, I’ve always known my lifestyle and life experiences were always way above average compared to the standards around here, but nobody had ever hit me (you see, again!) in the face with it!

I was telling my friend the other day to picture himself in America… like to imagine his dad had the same position and status over there, that he had been to proportionately valued schools and that he lived in a proportionately expensive neighbourhood… Would he have gone to the streets to protest against the “dominance of the 1%”, a few years ago? I don’t think so! Because he would have been in the 1% AND he IS in the 1% here! AND SO ARE YOU!

A few months ago I read this article criticising (okay, let’s say ‘looking into’) how some African governments are promoting the construction of ‘super cities’ that are so out of touch with the realities of their countries. I believe it’s because most of the time these governments are run (and will most likely continue to be run) by elites who, most of the time, have spent some time abroad (in ‘developed’ countries) and come back home full of nostalgia, wanting to have all the facilities they had ‘back there’ in the ‘developed’ World, right here in the ‘third’ one. Isn’t it development we want?! So if Singapore is an example of development, why not just build a replica of Singapore, right here in ‘Africa’?! It makes sense, it’s “noble” (yes, because we want the “wellbeing” of all) so let the money flow… SMH! Utopian fantasies just!

My mum visited some African country (I won’t say which one, as I don’t want to start a war here) some time back; and when she came back she was super pissed. See, she had only been to the capital of that country before that specific trip which, this time, took her into the deep countryside. According to her, the things she saw (i.e. malnutrition, lack of infrastructure, poor health conditions and ‘ignorance’) were almost worse than what she had witnessed in Burundi. But what pissed her off the most was that the capital is immaculate; a ‘model’ African city… She was like “donko aba bantu bakubura imbere y’irembo gusa?!”  Hah, another victim of the Utopian fallacy!

A few years ago, I would have cheered when somebody said that Burundi needs faster Internet connection speeds and less power cuts to ‘develop’. Today, I’m proud to say that life has taught me better… I know for a fact that my needs are NOT and SHOULD NOT be a priority when it comes to developing this country, because my needs are of a standard that is ‘out of this World’. I have WAY MORE than I need than A LOT of people. And the airport is always open, and planes always flying out for when I feel like a need more comfort in my life.

Development isn’t about me! It’s about the malnourished kid; the kid who eats relatively well but is being intellectually poisoned by an unqualified teacher (nevertheless, in a school covered with metal sheets donated by the Government of some ‘partner state’ to support our ‘promotion of education’ campaign SMH); it’s about her father who’s struggling to make ends meet with his public servant salary in this expensive city; it’s about her mum who has to cue for hours at the Mutuelle to get medication for her sick baby (while the rest of us can dash in and out of Pharmacie Salama, always open 24/7, because that’s what ‘development’ is about! SMH). The day we manage to get all these things in order is the day we should start complaining about the very poor Internet connectivity at Aroma (sorry, but I had to!)

I submit!

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15 thoughts on “Just another bunch of elites!

  1. Sorry but quite simplistic view and understanding of economic development.
    To make it short, economic development is many things. Among them is job creation which takes people out of poverty.
    So yes economic development is also about investing in you, so you can start your own business and create jobs, thus taking people out of poverty; it’s about encouraging Aroma to provide excellent service (internet included), attracting more clientele and opening a chain in East Africa, Africa and the rest of the world (think BIG)…Economic development is about more taxpayers, increasing income to the government who can then re-distribute/subsidize basic services to the poorest of the poor (health, education)…
    And many more things…
    Dude you should read about the role of middle-class in economic growth/development…. and open your eyes,…

    http://williameasterly.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/34_easterly_middleclassconsensus_prp.pdf

    • I had a discussion with a friend about the views expressed in this post. We came to the conclusion that I may be a socialist (I had never thought about this before); and looking at your comment, I think you’re a capitalist; so let’s agree to disagree. 😀

      On a serious note though, there is a point I didn’t really emphasise on. The ‘elites’ here (at least the ones I’ve met) seem to be so disconneted from the realities and hold views of ‘development’ that have nothing to do with what this country needs. I’m not pointing fingers, I have been there (I’m probably still there, go figure). And I’m yet to see a middle class here. Those that are supposed to constitute it are broke employees (public and private sector included). Voilà!

  2. Your article is not about socialism and capitalism. If you read my post above you would rather say that I am a socialist since I support Government intervention in economy. But I believe in mixed economies: a capitalist with generous welfare state.

    How will your development model (focusing on the poorest) will be financed and sustained if you don’t invest in a competitive economy? Through infinite aid?

    What are the views of “development ” of the “elites”that you think have nothing to do with what the country needs? What do you think the country needs?

    And no, there is no middle-class/ drivers of growth in Burundi….which is a worrying indicator.

    (Cool advise: read, learn, think…)

    • Let me start with a confession: (although I’m an Economics major) I really don’t enjoy reading theories. I’m more of a history and biography books guy. This also reflects in my learning style: I prefer learning from experiences and things that have actually worked.

      Therefore, knowing that THERE is NO middle class in Burundi (which you admitted to) I don’t even take interest in learning about what middle classes can do. Instead I prefer looking at facts and the main one about this post is: most of the people that can push the economy forward do not know what it really needs.

      I could demonstrate my idea of what could be done to develop this country but it would become a whole blog post – maybe I’ll write it one day.

      Sur ce, Tugire Amahoro!

  3. LOL!
    First, hope you don’t think I’m attacking you, just trying to debate because you brought up a very interesting subject: the roles of the “elites” in bringing that country to a positive path of development (economic, politic, etc.). And we are not talking about political elites (because I believe they are a bunch of corrupted people with no vision) but rather the young “elites” like you (who grew up in Rohero or Kinindo, etc.). OK?

    Second, what I’m trying to say is that I think development is also about “elites” like you. The “elites” (that had a chance to study or gain work experience, grow in a privileged conditions, etc.) need to be empowered too. Development is about giving them an environment (including this internet you complain about!!) where they can evolve, grow, create jobs, improve the political environment,… and as such take more people out of poverty to join them in a growing middle-class. (By the way I did not admit anything, just stated a fact: there is no middle-class in Burundi, period). IN BRIEF DEVELOPMENT IS ALSO ABOUT YOU, AGREE? NOT?

    Third, you say the main point of your post is that “most people who can push the economy forward (aka “elites”) do not know what it really needs”. When you state something, bring facts please; what is it that the country needs? What are they doing now that make you say that they don’t know/ or they don’t do it? You don’t need a whole blog and theories to explain us that. Examples, experiences will definitely do!
    Thanks!

    P.S: Here is an interesting article
    http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/10/us-africa-investment-idUSBRE9490DV20130510
    When you agree with me, we could debate on what the “elites” like you and I can do in a limiting/ challenging environment (e.g. poor governance, corrupted politics) like Burundi 🙂

    • Ehh, OF COURSE “Elites” (like me, as you said) are VERY MUCH concerned with development. In fact, I believe that all have a duty to invest into the ‘development machine’ some way or the other. By saying “development is not about our needs”, I was saying (why do I feel like I’m repeating myself?), let’s not put our needs first and/or let’s not try to replicate what “we” saw in the ‘developed world’.

      Hama about the examples, I’ll write a dedicated post some time in the future, which ‘facts’, clear examples and all that.

      P.S I’m writing from Burundi, meaning I’m already trying to do something (been at it for the past 4 years 🙂 )

  4. Kris! What do means by “our needs” ?
    Internet is not only about “Facebook”……Imagine if this blog “yours” is written in Kirundi and the majority of young Burundian can contribute to this discussion for example!! The internet infrastructure has to be implemented in our country at the same priority level as water, electricity and roads.
    I think IamwhatIam is wright here!!! I am still waiting your counterargument.

  5. Thanks Keza, me too I am still waiting. I cannot be satisfied with statements that are not backed-up with facts. I cannot write: “XYZ is ignorant” without explaining why I say that.

    P.S: Yes there are Burundians like you in and out of the country who are trying to shake things up!

    • Hehehe. You want names ama? I think that, being in Burundi (and being an ‘elite’ for that matter but one that has learnt quite a few things in the past years) I’m well placed to know what I’m talking about. Hit me up when you’re here and I’ll give you your facts. And I bet y’all are ‘elites’ too who felt a bit targetted and got offended by this post. Pole!

  6. Wow…LOL
    Names?! who cares about names? I’m just asking you to clarify your statement. Something like “most of the elites around me do not know what the country needs. Because they think/ do (XXX) and I believe the country needs (ZZZ)”. We are here to exchange ideas isn’t it? I tried to share my view on development in my comments above. I ‘m just trying o to understand yours because I think your post is incomplete without that clarification.

    Offended?! Why would I be offended? you haven’t said anything offending as far as I know. And I believe your post did not mean to offend, but attempted to share your ideas on development in Burundi and the roles of the elites in it. But as I just said, you need to explain yourself better.

  7. Pingback: My Rwandan experience | Just a random guy...

  8. The comments were actually funny, and i feel like some people took the article to a personal level. Relax, the dude is just trying to voice his thoughts and his view on a matter.
    PS: I know this is almost 6 months later, but I had to say something on this one…

  9. Reading about this post and the comments, it would seem that Kris was talking about the WHAT – needs for development for the country while IamwhatIam was commenting on the HOW – basically the role that both the middle class and the Elite play to bring about development. I could be wrong, but I believe that Kris was also trying to give a reality check to his fellow “elites” on the needs of the country and where they can contribute. And there lies the real debate – How best to serve the development of our country?

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