By Karl-Chris R. Nsabiyumva
Photo by Guy Basabose

I have a friend who has invested in a certain kind of business. He was telling me yesterday how he hates it when family or close friends request his services, as they never pay him or they pay really late. Therefore, whenever they come to him he will pretend that he doesn’t have what they need, and connect them to “another” provider through which he’ll discretely serve them and get his money. Smart move; and I encouraged him to keep doing that for as long as his people’s mind-set hasn’t changed!

My buddy isn’t the first person I hear complaining of the sort! I’ve heard a lot of people complain that when you have a business in Burundi, your relatives start behaving as if they are “entitled” to get things from you for free; or on never-ending credit! Hell no! Wait, it even goes beyond the business spectre… as you start to progress in life, people you didn’t even know about will start showing up claiming to be incutieti they are the cousins-of-the-aunt-of-your-grandfathers-sister-in-law, Hein?! They’ll come and they’ll try to suck every single penny out of you; like WT*?!

Nah, the rebel in me won’t buy any of that… despite being told that “it’s the essence of our culture. Eti that’s how our ancestors used to live; they used to help each other.” BUT our ancestors lived a communist life! They practically shared everything – well, not really since “everything” belonged to the King and his family! And they actually PRODUCED most of the stuff they needed! Not like now, where you have to struggle to make it on an income so disproportionate to the efforts you put in your work!  This is the capitalist World we live in! You have to hustle to survive! Ain’t nobody got time for charity! Like how is a business (even life is a “business”, by the way) supposed to survive when assets are constantly being given out for free?!

Hear me well; I’m NOT against the community way of life and taking care of each other (I’m quite a generous – sometimes called naïf – person if you should know); I’m against free-riding! I’m against the belief that a relationship of some sort implies that somebody owes you something, for free! And NO, “thank you” and “God bless you” do NOT substitute payment! You cannot put them in your pocket! AT LEAST demonstrate that you’re going to make an effort to fructify whatever you get and generate returns for yourself (and the lender eventually, for when they actually need a service from you); don’t just eat and come back asking for more! SMH, anyway…

Then there’s the other thing of not supporting each other…

I just watched this documentary of the “Hidden Colours” series (which I strictly recommend to any black man out there; to be consumed with caution though) and it reminded me of something that I had observed. Other “races” do business between themselves; and that’s how they prosper! Africans don’t. All they do is consume and send their wealth into other people’s pockets when it doesn’t really take much to keep it “within”. It made fun of how Asians are the biggest suppliers of African hair products, like WHAT?! (I almost cried). While it’s so easy for us to do business with a random person, an Asian, a Jew or an Indian will always put his “own kind” first, regardless of the cost. Be honest and accept that you’ll only call this unfair when you’re not one of them.

I don’t want to look like the one casting the first stone so I’ll confess I’ve promoted this “bad African” behaviour as well. An uncle of mine once had a mini-market in town. Not once did I go buy my groceries from there. I regret it; I sincerely do. And that’s the reason why I’ve decided that from now on I’m only going to shop (when possible) with people I know; good service withstanding! And when the service is bad, I’m going to let them know; I’m going to suggest ways they can improve their businesses; because I care about them and I want them to prosper!

But then I might crash against another problem I’ve seen amongst my people… intolerance to criticism! Nobody likes being told they’re wrong! When you do, they take it as an attack; maybe because they’ve gotten so used to people bringing down others when they see them rise; we’re specialists at that, to our own demise. We’re quicker to criticise, than to congratulate; quicker to find fault, than to appreciate… BUT WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?! We’ll see somebody’s business flourishing; we’ll copy it and try to steal their customers. This explains why we’re so reluctant to networking and working together! It’s sad how we’re more likely to trust outsiders more than our own people when it comes to money matters… but how are we expecting to progress with this kind of mind-set?!

We need to bring back the so-called “community” life that our ancestors used to have… with a capitalist twist. We need to invest in each other; support, encourage and promote each other’s’ efforts; we need to be proud of each other’s successes! We need to realise that this is NOT a fair World we live in; we need to back each other up if we want to make it. Anybody will tell you that you cannot make it by yourself in life. There has to be at least one person that helped you; one way or the other – so let us help each other; because even if I may make it on my own and my brother doesn’t, his shame will be my shame, his burden will fall on me… That is how the World goes!

Ndavuga simvura murantunga!

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