Dignity

98% of the people who are going to read this probably know me as “Mister Burundi” or “KRis/Chris the blogger”. Some would even call me an “activist”, a title I’m not quite comfortable with. Very few know that there is something I actually I enjoy more than writing and sharing stories: …my job!

What do you do, you ask?

In 2011, my mum, some cousins and I started a non-profit organization called Sacodé. We’re engaged in community health and development in Burundi, and we work especially with women and the youth. During the organization’s first few years, I worked in the background; but in 2015, I decided to quit my high-pay-trips-abroad-permanent-contract job at the Revenue Authority/OBR (a decision many still call “foolish”) and dedicate all my resources to the work we do at Sacodé. I’ve never made a better decision in my life! It came with its own set of challenges, but what really comes easy in life?

I love this job because it takes me beyond just complaining about the problems in Burundi to taking concrete steps towards actually fixing some of them! I know this sounds cliché, but as I write, the lives of 16,856 women and youth in Burundi have changed or have a better chance of changing for the better, thanks to the work we do. Among them are schoolgirls and female high school students whose school attendance and performance have significantly improved, thanks to a product we developed specifically for them, but which can also benefit millions of other girls and women in Burundi. Details are in the 5 minutes long video below.

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The self-fulfilling prophecy

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Photo by Aristide Muco

As much as I sometimes love to call myself a patriot, I’ve never actually believed Burundi is “the best country in the World”. (This sentence feels like a “déjà read”. I’m sure it’s not the first time I write it.) I mean, the mountains, the valleys, the Lake and all that are pretty, but there is so much more beauty out there in the World that competes with whatever we have in Burundi. Bujumbura has like one road that’s decent enough for a photo (does anybody else hate the “Kuri Leo” Roundabout as much as I do?) Resource-wise, we’re not that endowed either, even though we love to boast about our fertile soil and our reserves of Nickel which, realistically speaking, are not enough to make us the “first World country” we claim we could be… not in our lifetime at least. But for some reason, I’ve always felt proud of my Burundian-ness. Sometimes I tell myself I didn’t really have a choice but to be proud, but I think I’ve finally put the finger on what I think makes Burundi, or being Umurundi, “special”.

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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…

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Dear Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo,

Concerns: your article titled “Why Burundi needs a sex scandal to be noticed” published on theeastafrican.co.ke, on the 24th of June 2013

Allow me to begin by thanking you for being so concerned with Burundi’s image within the EAC. I appreciate your desire to see my homeland get just as much (positive, I hope) exposure as the rest of the partner states.

Second, allow me to thank the good Lord whom I believe had seen your article before you let it out into the wild and allowed the famous American rapper Rick Ross to tweet that he had just landed into “the beautiful country of Africa”, so that I may use this incident to make a few points with regards to your article.

You see, one should not assume that the mister’s uninformed remark was due to a lack of a good marketing campaign to promote Africa as a continent and not as a country; but one should call it what it really is – ignorance! While I have no intention of insinuating that Kenyans (or any other East Africans) are ignorant, allow me to believe that some of those around you – especially those who may have encouraged you to write the article – do need to expose themselves a little bit more to current affairs.

In fact, one should not allow Burundi to be blamed if somebody, somewhere, does not know the name of our President, or that there are other currencies in the World other than the shilling. Burundi, or Burundians, should not be blamed if somebody does not know that, unlike in other EAC partner states, our financial year starts in January; hence our budget reading actually takes place towards the end of the year. Should Burundi have held a regional awareness day to inform the community about this different way of doing things? I don’t think so.

You and your readers should also know that Burundi, and Burundians, are different when it comes to airing dirty laundry in public. We do not engage in such activities which are contrary to our culture and values. Sex scandals we have, but we do not publish them in newspapers or talk about them on TV. In fact, our new (rather controversial) press law prohibits this kind of practice – something which I thought you, a journalist who seems to have an “interest” in East African affairs, ought to know. Also, if you’ve had the privilege of meeting and hanging out with Burundians, I’d assume you’ve realised that being a gentleman – like Kidumu – isn’t something exceptional. We’re all like that. And I believe that one of the reasons why you have characters like the “Dr Chameleon” is because… well, they aren’t Burundians!

In this day and age, when the answer to almost any imaginable question is at one’s fingertips, thanks to technology, it is unacceptable that Burundi be blamed if somebody fails to know that the East African Community is composed of 5 partner states, Burundi being one of them! Do you know that a Burundian student will not be allowed into secondary school unless they know the capital of Kenya (or of any African state) and how to at least say hello, goodbye and present themselves in French, English, Swahili and Kirundi (the unique mother tongue of all Burundians, in case somebody fails to make the link)?

Burundi and Burundians should not be blamed, if somebody is unaware that a Burundian lady, Lydia Nsekera, was the first woman ever nominated on the FIFA Executive Committee… That Francine Niyonsaba is the current 800m World Champion…That Marguerite Barankitse was declared African Woman of the Year 2012… that Burundi won, for the 4th time in a row, the award for best African exhibitor at the International Tourism Borse exhibition in Germany… That Gérard Niyondiko recently co-invented the first ever Anti-Malaria soap… That Burundians are the CAVB Junior Men’s Beach volleyball champions (we have natural white sand and blue water beaches here too by the way!)… That Burundi hosted, for the first time, the prestigious International Cup of Excellence competition, that our coffee actually won some awards… And that our President plays football better than yours! We are not to blame if your media companies deliberately choose to ignore all these events (I’ve mentioned only a few) that all took place between June 2012 and today alone!

Yes, we may not be good as our neighbour(s) at marketing ourselves, and we may not share the same views as to what to put forward to make us ‘known’, but please give us a break! You should actually question why (some of) your people are clueless! Who is to blame: is it your education system, your media, or both?

Thank you, and kind regards.

Just a random Burundian.

Peace, from Burundi!

Peace, from Burundi. Photo by Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha

Why is Africa full of “First-World” wannabe a-lot-of-things… and people?

Music. Movies. Parties. Restaurants. Clubs. Hangouts. Beaches. Churches. Streets. Neighbourhoods. TV Shows. Radio Shows. Schools. Offices. Jobs. Banks. Businesses. Policies. Garages. Supermarkets. Malls. Shops. Markets. Farms. Salons. Lounges. Fast foods. Hairstyles. Clothes. Fashion agencies. Fashion shows. Friendships. Families. Personalities…. All victims of the “First World” wannabe syndrome!

Definition of wannabe: Poser, follower, a charlatan of sorts. One who copies or imitates all or most of the aspects dealing with their idol. They may wish to have certain clothing, skills, vocabulary, etc., of their idols instead of their own. Most likely a wannabe is lacking in self-confidence and is looking for guidance. (Source: urbandictionary.com)

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For a long time – maybe, for as long as it has been known as “Africa” – Africa, or at least a huge part of it, has been referred to as a “Third-World”, in opposition to the “First World” which in general refers to Europe, North America and quite a few Asian countries today. Since then, some Africans, wherever they are, have been striving to push their countries to First place. Looking at the competition World we live in, I think it’s a normal reaction. Nobody wants to be third – and last actually – when there’s first place.

But WHAT makes us third? Who said we have to be like Europe and America to be “worthy”? What’s the standard here? Spare me your lectures in Economics; I had a lot of those in University. What I’m talking about here is what really matters… WHAT REALLY MATTERS?!

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