It’s July 1. Independence Day in Burundi. A quick word about what this day is about, or should be about if it weren’t for all the political and security issues.
After WWI, the “fun” of colonization began to wear off. The powers who were lording over their African territories were gradually coming to grips with the fact that these arrangements weren’t working out. The war had fundamentally changed people’s world view. Europe no longer had the stomach for imperialism that it once had. With the exception of Mussolini’s rather insane venture into Ethiopia in 1935, the overall trend was that self-government was just a matter of time. While it would be wonderful to spin the end of colonialism as Europe deciding that it was the right thing to do for the African people, the reality was that it no longer making sense for Europeans.
During WWII, however, the European powers showed they were in no hurry. They took advantage of the distraction (and the African people/resources) to procrastinate in providing full autonomy. After the war, the justification for delaying was that time was needed to build African leaders to run these future nation states. Constitutions needed to be drafted. Many believed that the transition would take decades and thus there were generally no real structured strategies put in place to pull this off effectively. Adding to that you had increasingly antagonistic relationships between Africans and their colonial leaders that sapped the will of the powers to make the necessary efforts for a truly successful transition.
But the Belgians, who possessed the massive and unwieldy Congo in addition to little Ruanda-Urundi (possessed by Germans prior to the end of the war), after experiencing riots and seeing the ugly rebellion in Algeria, decided it was time to make their hasty departure. They pulled out of the Congo in 1960 and two years later from Ruanda-Urundi (currently Rwanda and Burundi) leaving the entire territory split along ethnic and regional fault lines. The new countries were well prepared for civil war and anarchy and unprepared to function as a nation. The stage was set for the tumultuous 53 years that bring us to where we are today.
Normally a speech during a ceremony for a country’s independence would be filled with phrases like “look how far we’ve come.” To be honest, the events of today bear a striking resemblance to what the country was like in the mid-1960s. Solving problems by force seems to always have been a way of life here, both on a macro and micro level. Over the past five ears we’ve had several instances where staff received death threats due to some sort of disagreements. Over the same time period, weekly, if not daily, I have read about someone being killed, often by a family member, as a result of a land conflict. It’s unfortunately how things are often settled here. I’m not sure how you change that. We make attempts through some of the work we do here but our work can be undermined if all levels of society are not committed demonstrating the same changes. All countries have deep rooted problems that constrain them and this seems to be the Achilles heel for this country.