11 March 2012

Burundi: Bujumbura - a Beautiful Tale of Peaceful Co-Existence

That is how former ZBC newscaster Joseph Madhimba used to pronounce Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi in the late 90s. Then the country was gripped by a protracted civil war that dominated news bulletins across Africa.

The way he said it evoked mental images of gun-toting soldiers clashing with civilians, explosives being detonated everywhere with innocent souls dying in the process.

Madhimba's deep distinct voice was effective in portraying the unfolding war that resulted in more than 300 000 Burundians dying needlessly in clashes between the Hutu and the Tutsi tribes.

But how things have changed; Bujumbura is no longer that damned place where the news was all about violence and destruction. A visit by The Standard to Bujumbura two weeks ago showed a completely different picture of a peaceful city that is under massive re-construction, where maximum security measures have been put in place.

Arriving at the airport at around 1am, one could not imagine getting a taxi to the hotel in Bujumbura, some 30 kilometres away. But taxis were all over the airport waiting in those wee hours.

On the way to the city, groups of soldiers and policemen milled alongside the road on patrols to make sure that there were no armed robberies or violence. They were so friendly to the extent of waving to all cars passing-by.

Unlike in Zimbabwe, drivers in Burundi use the right side of the road. It was easy to identify Hutu from Tutsi or vice-versa as every aspect was explained upon arrival. The Hutus are short, stout and round faced, while the Tutsis are slim, tall with long faces.

After the end of ethnic clashes in 2005, the two ethnic groups agreed to bury the hatchet. They are now following the agreement biblically such that there no-longer is any public fighting in the streets or at drinking outlets, a violation which attracts a jail term or heavy fine.

As a result, Burundi has become one of the most peaceful countries in Africa. The country has limited land for construction; hence they have a lot of storey buildings. But from the look of things, most of the buildings may not be strong as the country has limited supplies of cement and metals used to construct standard buildings.

Construction of road networks is still in progress as most of the roads are still to be tarred.

The one that leads to the President's residence is the only one in good state. The former Belgium colony is enjoying an improved inflow of foreigners who visit the country to see their natural wonders which include Lake Tanganyika.

As a result, lodges have sprouted all over Bujumbura more than anything else. The literacy rate is still low, pegged at 25%, but a few schools are visible around Bujumbura with one university right at the top of a mountain.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza (48), whom they call "Man of the People", has emphatically made it clear that there should not be any form of violence in the country.

Being a former footballer, Nkurunziza spends much of his time playing football. He has built a state-of-the-art stadium at his house which is even better than Prince Louis which is used by their national team, the Swallows.

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