(penned as a response to the 24 June 2013 article by Charles Onyanga-Obbo ‘Why Burundi needs a sex scandal to get noticed‘ published in ‘The East African’)
By Ketty Nivyabandi
Always use key words such as ‘poor’, ‘landlocked’, ‘inadequate’, ‘lagging behind’, ‘computer illiterate’, ‘neglected’, ‘corrupt’, ‘worry-free’, ‘naïve’.
Begin your articles by describing how beautiful the country is: the misty mountains, the glorious sun, and the hot beaches. The incredible Lake Tanganyika. But do not be too precise in your praise. Pause and note what a great tourism attraction the country would be if it weren’t for the (innate?) Burundian inability to innovate.
Describe the beautiful women everywhere (insist on ‘everywhere’ and give several specific examples), their curves and the sexy legends surrounding them. Allusions to sex are always a powerful hook in authoritative socio-political analysis. Never mention Burundian women’s successes. Do not talk about Francine Niyonsaba, current 800m world champion; or Marguerite Barankitse, a very likely future Nobel laureate and her children village which has welcomed over 10,000 orphans. Do not talk about Consolata Ndayishimiye, former Chairperson of the East African Business Chamber and president of the Burundi Chamber of Commerce and her success in rebuilding the Burundian private sector. Do not ever mention Lydia Nsekera, and the colossal glass ceiling she has shuttered by becoming the first woman in history to be elected on the FIFA executive board. These stories are completely irrelevant to your analysis. Do NOT entertain them.
Focus instead on how lazy the local people are. Do this with a few bright touches, by revealing for instance how ‘everyone’ in Bujumbura still has a siesta after lunch. Or insisting on Sunday being a national jogging, prayer or drinking day. Discuss the Burundian drinking extensively. It is a subject which calls for your undivided attention. Talk about the various brands of beers, how good they are, and how the warm Burundian people live for their beer moment. Do not discuss the small businesses, which sell and distribute these beers. Only focus on the beer itself. And the drinker, of course.
Stress, at large, how the 10 years civil war has crushed the country, its infrastructure and, most of all, the social fabric. Mention briefly the Arusha peace accords, but do not dwell on the reconciliation. Do not illustrate the success of this process. You will bore your readers to sleep. Examples of a now fully integrated army and grown men happily teasing each other’s ethnicity in the workplace, on buses, are not to appear in your articles. The same applies to peasants calling in to daily live radio-shows and denouncing corruption on their hills. Such liberated examples will weaken the pertinence of your study.
Vaguely evoke Bujumbura still having clean and decent roads after decades of war (insist again on the war) and economic slumber (insister on slumber). Discuss very briefly the role of the press and civil society, but do not dwell on their accomplishments. Do not talk about the press uniting in one powerful synergy while reporting the last two general elections. Never mention this being unprecedented landmark being taught to other media and journalism students in the region, much less on the continent. This is just too distracting.
Lightly discuss the country’s crawling economy, and avoid such boring subjects as Burundian entrepreneurship (young entrepreneurs and their successes are taboo). Never, under any circumstances, discuss the possibility of innovation in Burundi. Things like young Burundian software designers or a Burundian student winning international awards for inventing an anti-malarial soap are irritatingly inappropriate. Focus.
Do not mention young people tweeting or debating social issues on facebook. Remember the keywords: “computer illiterate”? This is very important. Insist greatly on Burundians inability to speak or understand English. Never mention a Burundian blogging, much less in English. Do not interview or talk about young Burundians being on Tedx, or organising a Tedx in Burundi. That would be entirely beside your point (it doesn’t matter if you do not really recall what your original point was).
Speak briefly about the Burundian wonderful coffee -do not elaborate – and how the country has failed to market it (by now you should know not to mention Burundian female-owned coffee trading companies selling directly to Starbucks). And never report Burundi repeatedly winning the first prize in the International Tourism Fair. For three consecutive years.
Instead, always insist on the Burundian nagging inability to integrate in the East African community. This is quite a potent observation, and you must explore it fully. Do not mention that the average schoolchild learns Kiswahili and English on top of Kirundi and French by standard three. And if you must, then emphasize how confusing this is to the poor child.
In fact, focus largely on Burundi’s inabilities. And how frustrating these are. Always stress on Burundi’s great potential. Then quickly point back to the Burundian inability to cease and develop this potential. Do not – I repeat- do not, talk about or seek success stories. They are your worst enemy. They will contaminate you and inflict you with severe equatorial diseases. In fact, as soon once you arrive in the country, run away from them. They may meet you in the airplane or in your ride from the airport so use extreme caution. Use a powerful success story repellent and don’t forget your sunglasses.
Be wary of young Burundian entrepreneurs, filmmakers, bloggers, artists, photographers, activists, journalists, designers, or writers. Do not waste your time meeting them. In fact assume they do not exist. Ignore emerging original artists like Steven Sogo, or internationally acclaimed ones, singing in swahili. Khadja Nin, who hangs out on stage with Sting and others, is definitely not Burundian. Of course do not ever mention that there are great jazz-rock Burundian bands. Or cool literary scenes. Much less that Burundi hosts a major annual African film festival. With foreign press and all.
Talk briefly about Burundi’s sole minor accomplishment, AMISOM, but quickly insist on how accidental this success is. Do not investigate the competence of Burundian soldiers on the ground, abstain from any statistics (they are dangerous), and do not interview these soldiers or mention that they are the most respected and feared of all the contingents in Somalia.
Stay clear from any other contribution to the continent’s stability. Things like the African Union’s mediator to one of the continent’s most explosive conflicts, Mali, being a former Burundian president are so overrated. So is the fact that he handed over power peacefully a decade ago. Not to mention having four former presidents, from different ethnic groups, not living in exile, but co-hosting talks on political dialogue or exchanging occasional jokes at the Senate where they regularly sit together.
In short, remember the key points: Burundians are a simple, carefree, fun-loving (do mention the wonderful nightclubs several times in your socio-political analysis), lazy and incompetent people. They are mostly illiterate and disconnected from the rest of the region. But they are very nice (insist on this). Their country has great potential, if only their people weren’t snoozing so deeply. Remember to insinuate that you are ingeniously attempting to awaken them with your articles. Subtly suggest how much the country needs rescuing from itself. And do recommend a few profound solutions, such as grooming drunken musicians to become regional ambassadors or, better still, developing an elaborate national sex scandal.
But do not conduct further research on their country, regardless of how experienced you are. Burundians are a gullible and snoozing people, remember. And you are a veteran journalist after all. They really do not qualify for the same standards of journalism used in the rest of the region. In fact, consider writing about Burundi as a licensed luxury journalism vacation, all expenses paid. You are actually doing them a favour; they would not get it anyway. Position yourself as an expert on the country with these highly perceptive articles. Lastly, remember to always adopt a subtly condescending and witty tone. This will make you look like you truly know what you are talking about.
Stick to these tips and you will do great. Better yet, top your supremely important article with a killer headline like’ Why Burundi needs a sex scandal to get noticed’ and you will be on your way to journalism legend. Lots of tweets and shares. “Because you care“.
Ketty lives and works in Bujumbura
[Author’s note: This commentary is inpired by Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainana’s essay “How (not) to write about Africa” published in Granta in 2005].