“Out of Africa” 2. Burundi.
Like Rwanda, Burundi is a small but heavy populated country inhabited by two tribes, the Hutu and the Tutsi. In Rwanda, the Hutu majority killed off the ruling Tutsi minority in 1962 and governed the country until 1994. In 1972, the minority Tutsi regime in Burundi was challenged by a Hutu rebellion, which also had genocidal proportions, but the regime held power, although it was disrupted by several coups afterward. When I joined the World Bank in 1972, I was tasked to develop the Bank’s non-existing lending program in both countries and we had succeeded relatively well when I changed jobs in 1979. In 1994, the tribal conflicts resumed in Rwanda when Tutsi refugees from Uganda took power again after a horrific genocide in which up to a million people lost their lives. It started when the Rwandese president’s plane in which also traveled the Burundi President was shot down while landing at Kigali airport. Everything we had achieved was destroyed in Rwanda’s civil war. In Burundi, it was not much better. Rwanda stabilized in 2003, but Burundi remained plagued by repeated rebellions. Most horrific was the rebel’s and the Burundi army’s use of children between the ages of 10-16 in direct combat. The UN and the African Union had to intervene. Working on most of Africa was tough.
This picture shows me with the driver of the Peugeot 404 at the border post between Rwanda and Burundi in 1975. My Director, whom I accompanied on this trip took the picture.
The old colonial Paguidas Hotel where I stayed. Greek-owned. A Greek restaurant next to the hotel served fatty Greek dishes and meager chicken without meat. At night, ‘single male guests’ were surprised by knocking on their door, hearing a soft female voice saying, “c’est moi.” I suspected they were led to our rooms by the receptionist, who probably got a cut if the ladies found a willing customer. Complaining did not help: hungry families needed to eat and jobs were scarce. Later, they built a modern Meridien Hotel across. But the ‘nightly custom’ of whispers and knocks remained.
First visit of a World Bank Vice President (leaning over on the picture) to Burundi, which I had arranged to ‘put Burundi on the map.’ It succeeded: he approved proceeding with the proposed strategy and project operations. I am the one with the camera hanging from my arm. We were wearing sweaters as the temperature in Burundi (800 meters above sea-level) can be pretty cool. The picture was taken by someone who did not have color film in his camera. We were watching a spectacular drum and dance group performance Burundi was famous for.
I caught one of these fabulous dancers up in the air. Despite all fighting, tribal hatred and misery, the Burundi people showed a remarkable resilience.
Lake Tanganyika near Bujumbura town. Fishermen, mostly Hutus or Twa, a pygmy minority tribe, gathering on shore near their boats to fish sardines, which they dry onshore and sell at the market. A protein-rich fish Barundi people enjoy. At night they use torches to attract the fish which offers a fascinating view of dancing lights seen from the top of the hills on the outskirts of Bujumbura town. Read about it in ‘The Tutsi Queen’ https://amzn.to/2Ny1Ll6. On Kindle, only 99cts.
Lake Tanganyika by day. Across is the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kivu area, from which Hutu rebels invaded Burundi to unseat the Tutsi regime. The lake is inhabited by hippos and crocodiles. Expats used it for sailing. An expat club was located at the lake, not far from Bujumbura airport. Once, a lady swimmer was attacked by a hippo in the water near the club, where people often took a swim. She lost half her bottom but survived. Coming back at night in my (borrowed!) car from the airport, where I had said farewell to a friend, I almost ran into a hippo crossing the small road. A weird sight seeing such a huge animal emerging from the grass on the right and slouching to the other side. Remarkably, it did not seem bothered by my headlights and just strolled on and disappeared. Had I run into the huge colossus, it would have been certain death.
CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
I don’t know if some still remember Emperor Bokassa. He possessed three Boeings 707 while the country was dead poor. McNamara, then President of the World Bank, reportedly told him he was mismanaging his country but only achieved that Bokassa got rid of one Boeing. I set foot in this place in 1987, under a new regime but still ruled like a dictatorship. I managed to put a transport sector reform project together of $140 million in which many donors participated. The World Bank agreed to do so despite a major disagreement with the French Government that had committed to financing an earth road right through the Central African rainforest, the so-called ‘4th parallel road’. Construction eventually failed because unrest broke out and the Government toppled, once more. Our ‘TSP’ took off but implementation also suffered from government failure. Some pictures follow below.
The path of the 4th parallel road straight into the jungle. Pygmees and wildlife galore, including bush elephants. I found it an environmental disaster but the French Government – the former colonial power – won.
Supervising the 4th parallel road construction. The French engineer behind me found this job the dream of his life: constructing a road through a completely fresh terrain and on top of that a jungle. In the background a bulldozer hard at work, destroying beautiful tropical trees. But the precious wood got sold pretty good.
Trying to swing with the lianas of a tropical tree like Tarzan.
A waterfall near the forest.
Crossing the Oubangi River separating the Central African Republic from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A favored escape route for bandits and overthrown rulers.
Next time: Côte d’Ivoire and Cameroon.