#Burundi | Finding new perspective by looking back
She was born in Burundi during the colonial era, in 1935. Time has marked all its many years of companionship with long and curved wrinkles on her beautiful face. She has lived through all the major events of the Burundian history: Belgium colonization during her childhood, the dissolution of Ruanda-Urundi in 1953 as a young adult, the independence of Burundi in 1962, and the tumultuous years of political instability that followed including a bloody civil war that started in 1993 and culminated in 2005. She has also survived the death of her husband, a prominent teacher, killed-among many others- in 1972 during a chaotic and violent time in our country. Tragically, she never had a chance to bury him since his body was never found.
She. Is. My grandmother.
On July 1st 2016, I am sitting next to her at church and I can’t keep my eyes off her wrinkled face deepened by grief on that day. We are at my uncle’s memorial service. My aunt’s husband was assassinated on July 1st, 2015, ironically on Burundi’s Independence Day. At the time, Bujumbura was experiencing heightened violence caused by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s contested bid for a third term. After a long day of work, my uncle was on his way home when he was caught in the middle of gunshots and grenades, on a day that is supposed to commemorate freedom.
When deep silence finally fills the chapel with peace and stillness, I am vividly reminded of the tragic impact of war. Burundi’s devastating war-torn history has left many women widowed and burdened with the difficult task of raising their children alone. I stare at my grandmother who mourned her husband when my mother was still a child, and 43 years later, history is repeating itself. I see her watching her other daughter, my aunt, who is now suffering the same tragic fate. I also look at my young cousins, and feel very saddened that politics robbed them the chance of growing up with the comforting presence of a father just like I did.
July 1st , 2016 marked 54 years of independence in Burundi. But what does independence mean when freedom of press and speech is completely muzzled? Moreover, is a population truly independent if the country is still locked by heavy chains of poverty? When, every day, many stomachs loudly growl of hunger and people’s motivations mainly stem from satisfying basics needs? Then, where would they gather strength to fight for democracy and social development?
During its post-colonial era, Burundi has not been able to secure peace, stability and prosperity. How do we achieve the vision of unity and progress set forth by our independence pioneers and heroes? To answer this question, a simple proverb from Senegal comes to my mind: “Quand tu ne sais plus où tu vas, retourne-toi et regarde d’où tu viens” (“When you do not know where you’re going, turn around and look at where you came from”).
It might seem like a very simplistic suggestion to solve a complicated political situation, but before Burundians can find peace, they will need to embrace their pre-colonial origins to seek more honesty, truth and solidarity.
As another year ends with Burundi placing 2nd as the poorest country in the world, I strongly urge the Burundian government to revisit and reflect on Burundi’s history while thinking about the many men and women our country lost due to bad governance. Let’s not be afraid to look back to know how we can finally come together to build a true independent nation.
From a personal perspective, I will continue to look into my grandmother and mother’s eyes to remember that my heritage is strength, resiliency and assertiveness in the midst of adversity; but also compassion, love and humour. These values are what will continue to guide my daily steps towards a brighter future … without never forgetting where I come from.