By Olenka Ntungane
Photo by Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha

Do you remember, whether in high school or college, when it was time for that final exam and you were anxious because you had so much to catch up on? You would think of quick fixes such as skimming through all the chapters to get a clear idea of what they are about or better (and I never did this obviously) you would think of ways to cheat your way through the exam. It all seemed very clever until you were in front of the exam and you realized you had absolutely no clue what the test was about.

If you can relate to this (and I know you can), I’d like to invite you to take a look at our beloved country presently. Doesn’t it feel like a long overdue homework or exam preparation that we know we should have started working on a long time ago? I grew up saying that I wanted to help my country and my college application was filled with optimistic detailed plans on how I intend to get an education and go back to help. Ask my professors and they will tell you every day I walked in that classroom with a plan! For every topic I remember asking how it could be applied to a land locked African country with not many natural resources. Oh I was motivated alright!

Now I have a diploma and I can’t help but laugh. The same desperate (almost hysterical) laughter that you have when you realize you only have 2 days left before you hand in your final research paper. Only two like the two years we have left before the next elections in Burundi. Now for some people who are zealous procrastinators, it may seem like a good time to have a glass of something to just clear the mind a little before getting back to work (and us Burundians know a thing or two about that). Others, like myself, stress and fret about every single aspect of the situation while still not doing anything. Of course there are other rare pearls that actually work hard and finish in due time but that is what they are… RARE!

I guess what I am trying to ask is what are we doing about our upcoming test? Most of you are going to answer: “But what can I do?” And that seems to be a popular song on all of our lips lately. Nobody wants to become like the youth in Ngagara who stood up for what they believe in and ended up in a hole. Or worse…and let’s lower our reading voice on this one, no one wants to die!!

Others rightfully suggest that the change needs to come from rural areas given that they are the ones who provide weight during elections. I agree… but nonetheless what are we doing to help that change? Their mindset is certainly not going to be influenced by our Facebook or twitter posts because they don’t have any of those! And it sure is not going to change by watching our national television (oh please we’ve all watched it; you know what I am talking about).

First of all let’s not kid ourselves; most of them do not even have televisions to begin with so maybe the radio then? And… Now I just realized I have no idea what our radios are talking about. I mean I listen to the news but I don’t follow the other shows – don’t judge me because neither do you; unless someone posts it on Facebook (and you know there is always that one person). So maybe that is where we all went wrong. Our voices sure can be heard across nations through Facebook and other social media but are we really reaching the right audience? And if we did/could reach that audience what are we telling them? We speak this western jargon that we learned in classrooms talking about self-sufficiency, participatory budgeting and what not. While this certainly does relate to them in some way, we need to take it step by step.

How about starting by teaching our compatriots that politics should not be a buffet where you eat what you are given, but rather a five star restaurant where you specifically ask for a particular entree with indications to the chef on how you want your meat cooked and what your allergies are if applicable. Indeed even though the choice is still vast at a buffet, one would be foolish to ask for ubugali on the side at a Chinese buffet.

So, my late night cravings have just taken us from the classroom to the dinner table in a split second and by now you have probably also realized that this piece is going nowhere… kind of like all the daily conversations we have with each other about politics in Burundi. I have no moral to the story, no advice, nothing! My sincere apologies to those who expected a quick cheat sheet…

All I can say is that we have a long and hard exam ahead of us and how we use these two years is crucial to how we are going to do in the future but I sure hope we won’t be whining about the outcome (if we did nothing) like we have in these past years. That is outdated and useless.

Olenka currently lives in Bujumbura.