By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva

We were sitting at Café Gourmand terrace the other day with one of my friends… I don’t quite remember what we were talking about when I said, “Erega we’re just another bunch of elites!” She was a bit shocked and not quite ready to believe me (nobody wants to be called an ‘elite’ these days, like Eeww) so I had some explaining to do…

… It all started about a year or two ago…

I was hanging out with friends at the Cappuccino Food Bar in town (if you know where this is, then I’m sorry to say you’re just ANOTHER elite too). Some guy called one of the guys I was with, who then asked the caller to come join us at the Bar. My friend – who’s very bad at giving directions… like REALLY bad – passed me the phone saying “please tell this guy how to get here” and we all burst out laughing… We were like, “how can ANYBODY in this city NOT KNOW where Cappuccino is?! It’s like the one of the most conveniently located places in town!” But after the laughs and making fun of the poor chap, I sat there trying to figure out HOW somebody cannot know where the place is… then it hit me…

Surely the restaurant is conveniently located in town, but it’s like 100m away from the nearest public transport route. The neighbouring ‘public access’ places are two bank branches, a car dealership, a GENUINE phone/accessories shop, a square that nobody goes to, a gallery that accommodates a wine bar, a Thai restaurant, a gym and a few rather expensive clothing shops, and a petrol station. True that the road that passes just in front goes to Quartier Asiatique, hence anybody who’s walked from there to the central bus station (i.e. Université Sagesse d’Afrique students), or has been there to, say, buy construction materials, surely knows where Cappuccino is! But how many people in Bujumbura (let alone Burundi) can say they’ve done that? And please bear in mind that there are other routes to get there.

Therefore, a person who knows where the bar is has either done business in the neighbourhood (hence, they have money), owns a car (or at least has easy access to one), or has the wallet to afford the prices on the menu. This brings me to my second point…

Downtown Bujumbura

Downtown Bujumbura, by night. Photo by Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha.

There’s this girl I used to work with on some project. She’s from Kinama. She’s very fluent in English and Swahili, so she often gets translation gigs at the UNHCR (you know, they deal with Congolese refugees). When this happens, she has to be in town for like the whole day; and so has to eat there. One day she complained to me about how food is so expensive “in this area”. She was like: “a plate of rice, beans and isombe costs 2500 when I can get the same or even more at 800 in my neighbourhood!” I was like, DAMN! First because whenever I step out to eat, I never go with less than 5000 Francs in my pocket (although I’ve had one of them 2500 plates… quite a few times actually). But 800?! I felt like somebody has been robbing me all my life. Second was when she said “Things are expensive in Rohero man!” I was like, did she just say ROHERO?! The neighbourhood where I was born, grew up, and where I spend at least 90% of my time (when I’m not in Kinindo, or Gihosha, or Ngagara… which are also classified as “expensive” by the way)?!

… Did she say ROHERO like some kid in NYC would speak of Manhattan or some kid in London would speak of Chelsea?! Then it hit me (yeah, things keep hitting me). I remembered that I was educated in the best schools around here; I remembered my friends, what they do, what their parents do, what my parents do… and I was like sh**… I’m a flippin’ filthy elite!!

Okay, I’ve always known my lifestyle and life experiences were always way above average compared to the standards around here, but nobody had ever hit me (you see, again!) in the face with it!

I was telling my friend the other day to picture himself in America… like to imagine his dad had the same position and status over there, that he had been to proportionately valued schools and that he lived in a proportionately expensive neighbourhood… Would he have gone to the streets to protest against the “dominance of the 1%”, a few years ago? I don’t think so! Because he would have been in the 1% AND he IS in the 1% here! AND SO ARE YOU!

A few months ago I read this article criticising (okay, let’s say ‘looking into’) how some African governments are promoting the construction of ‘super cities’ that are so out of touch with the realities of their countries. I believe it’s because most of the time these governments are run (and will most likely continue to be run) by elites who, most of the time, have spent some time abroad (in ‘developed’ countries) and come back home full of nostalgia, wanting to have all the facilities they had ‘back there’ in the ‘developed’ World, right here in the ‘third’ one. Isn’t it development we want?! So if Singapore is an example of development, why not just build a replica of Singapore, right here in ‘Africa’?! It makes sense, it’s “noble” (yes, because we want the “wellbeing” of all) so let the money flow… SMH! Utopian fantasies just!

My mum visited some African country (I won’t say which one, as I don’t want to start a war here) some time back; and when she came back she was super pissed. See, she had only been to the capital of that country before that specific trip which, this time, took her into the deep countryside. According to her, the things she saw (i.e. malnutrition, lack of infrastructure, poor health conditions and ‘ignorance’) were almost worse than what she had witnessed in Burundi. But what pissed her off the most was that the capital is immaculate; a ‘model’ African city… She was like “donko aba bantu bakubura imbere y’irembo gusa?!”  Hah, another victim of the Utopian fallacy!

A few years ago, I would have cheered when somebody said that Burundi needs faster Internet connection speeds and less power cuts to ‘develop’. Today, I’m proud to say that life has taught me better… I know for a fact that my needs are NOT and SHOULD NOT be a priority when it comes to developing this country, because my needs are of a standard that is ‘out of this World’. I have WAY MORE than I need than A LOT of people. And the airport is always open, and planes always flying out for when I feel like a need more comfort in my life.

Development isn’t about me! It’s about the malnourished kid; the kid who eats relatively well but is being intellectually poisoned by an unqualified teacher (nevertheless, in a school covered with metal sheets donated by the Government of some ‘partner state’ to support our ‘promotion of education’ campaign SMH); it’s about her father who’s struggling to make ends meet with his public servant salary in this expensive city; it’s about her mum who has to cue for hours at the Mutuelle to get medication for her sick baby (while the rest of us can dash in and out of Pharmacie Salama, always open 24/7, because that’s what ‘development’ is about! SMH). The day we manage to get all these things in order is the day we should start complaining about the very poor Internet connectivity at Aroma (sorry, but I had to!)

I submit!

Karl-Chris currently lives and works in Bujumbura. Follow him at misterburundi.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @Mr_Burundi