By Karl-Chris R Nsabiyumva

This the time to think about and set New Year resolutions right? It’s funny how, at the end of a year, I never remember what resolutions I had at the beginning of it (since I never write them down), but all and all I usually end my years with a smile on my face as there’s always some notable progress in my life to be happy about… Anyway, this isn’t what I’m supposed to write about today.

So there this one thing one of my very good friends and I love to argue about. Not heated kind of arguments or anything; I just don’t get it when he does it, and whenever I say something about it he says I should get over myself… This guy loves littering… Okay, he doesn’t love it like it’s a hobby or anything; he just does it a lot. Like we’ll be driving around and he’ll start throwing whatever rubbish he has on him out the window like it’s normal! But the funny thing is, this is the same guy who will go on and on about how Rwanda is so advanced and clean, whereas here… you know. But I’m like?!? WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO IMPROVE THE SITUATION?! Then he goes: but look around you, the place is already dirty! What difference do you think YOU (with some mockery in the tone of his voice) are making by using bins? EVERYBODY is littering! If the authorities put in place measures to keep the place clean and people stop littering, then maybe I’ll start walking around, like you, with my pockets full of rubbish, until I reach the nearest bin.

Hah, “the authorities”… we love our authorities ey? While we’re always looking for occasions to complain about how our problems are results of their incompetence (not just this regime; this applies to all the regimes that have governed this country… since the early 1900s), we still expect them to make things… better. I don’t know if this is proof of our strong faith and optimism (like we’re expecting some miracle that they’ll just change), or our stupidity i.e. we’re asking the same people who “caused” our problems to “fix” them. Does it make any sense? Am I being too aggressive? Should I calm down? Okay, let me calm down.

Anyway, my point is why do we always expect “others” to lead the way when it comes to fixing things… even things as small as littering? Whatever happened to being responsible? Like how hard is it to understand that if everybody decides they’re going to stop littering because nobody likes how dirty this country is, then this country will become cleaner, WITHOUT the intervention of “the authorities”? How hard is it to understand that if everybody decides: “You know what? Corruption is bad. I’m going to stop bribing people”, then we can make corruption history in this country? Why does somebody else have to start? I thought we were grownups here: capable of making our own decisions?

It’s not easy you say? Hell no it isn’t! Why would it be? Who said change comes easy? Isn’t change what we’re looking for here: a way out of the rotten status quo? It’s bound to be hard!

A few weeks ago I was at this seminar for Christian professionals, and some guy asked how a Christian is supposed to behave in situations of corruption, with quite a few supporting examples. One guy’s response left the whole audience silent and convinced (I hope). What he said was pretty simple and logical.
Have you heard the (slightly racist) saying claiming that blacks have to work twice as much as whites for the same privileges? (Meanwhile, I heard there is a similar saying referring to Hutus and Tutsis as well *SMH*) Well, it also applies to responsible citizens (because that’s what we’re trying to be, right?) in a corrupt World!
The gentleman’s divided his response in two parts: the first one was, know your rights! Know what you’re entitled to and respect the law! Nobody has the right to deny you anything that’s rightfully yours! If they do, sue them! (Or complain about them on radio… or on a blog – this is my addition). Second, be patient and persistent! And be realistic! Expect that, without a bribe, anything you go after is likely to take three or five times more time than it should in normal circumstances! Expect resistance; expect spokes in your wheels! You will need a lot of poise and self-control to make it through successfully!

He told us about a few experiences he had personally lived. The most significant one involved him trying to get an important document from some public administration (he didn’t tell us which one). He first went there and inquired about all the documents he needed to support his application. After he had gathered everything, he logged his application and was told to come back in two weeks. When he returned (two weeks later), the guy who was handling his file claimed that there was a missing document. The gentleman kindly requested to see his file and found the document hidden somewhere in the pile of papers: it had been moved. He showed it to the public servant who went like, oh sinari nayibonye (Hadn’t seen it)! Our guy was asked to come back two weeks later – at this point someone like me would have probably gone nuts and made a scene, but he kept his cool. Two weeks later he was back; he presented himself at the desk and… nothing. The public servant kept acting all busy, ignoring him and our guy just sat there, not saying a word. After about 20 minutes of silence, the following happened:

Public servant (with an aggressive tone): Mbe we n’amaki? (What’s up with you?)
Our guy (this time making a scene, a bit like Jesus in the synagogue full of traders): Excuse me?! I’ve been sitting here for twenty minutes… When I came in, you didn’t welcome me! I thought you were busy so I was like, let me not bother you, let me let you finish your thing and attend to me when you’re done! But, nothing! And here, you are trying to act like something is wrong with ME?! What kind of manners are these?! Is this how you work here?!

At this point, the noise had attracted some other people in the office so they came to ask what was wrong. Our guy told them the whole story, how he had waited a whole month on a request which isn’t supposed to take more than a few days to process. To avoid scandal, they apologised to him and gave him what he had come looking for. Case closed… no bribe.

He told us another story which involved a road code breech and a policeman, and it reminded me of something similar that happened to me when a policeman caught me talking on the phone while driving. I stopped the car in front of him, finished my call (what? I had already been caught… might as well finish my –important- conversation) and before he could say anything I went: nca amande chef! (Give me my ticket boss). He stood there in disbelief as I explained to him that I was ready to pay the 20,000 FBU fine although it was the only money I had in my pocket, since I knew very well what I was putting myself against when I committed “the crime”. To think of it, maybe I should have asked for forgiveness first – if he has the legal power to punish me, he also has the legal power to forgive me, right? Anyway…

I’m not trying to sound perfect, righteous or anything (now that wouldn’t be surprising would it? Hah), since the reality is that I’ve fallen in moments of weakness a few times before i.e. I have paid and connectioned (the use of connections) my way through “tricky” situations! Who hasn’t?

Somebody told me one day that if I’m not going to “walk the talk”, then I should just shut the **** up! Every day we hear a lot of people complain about our poor state of affairs yet, when given the chance, they are the first to pay for a driver’s license (instead of taking the test… and probably failing it a few times) or pay a little bit extra for that land title. To all those people [and to my friend who complains about littering, yet continues to do the same] I say: SHUT THE **** UP! If you’re not going to play your part in fixing the situation, then STOP COMPLAINING! And you know what else? Whoever decides to do this should know that nobody is going to applaud them. In fact, some may even start calling them names i.e stupid, for why would anybody take the hard way, when there is any easy way out of everything? Nobody is going to call them a hero, so they’re going to need a lot of character to stand against eventual (though dumb) criticism.

Just imagine if we all decided to start being a little bit more patient, persistent and refused to bribe… Imagine the wonders that would do! The road out of corruption is not an easy one, but I believe it’s worth trying out. It is one of my resolutions for 2014: a corruption free life! I’m going to try this lifestyle out, and if I don’t make it I promise you one thing: I’m going to shut up! No more complaining about corruption, no more complaining about the system… Yes, if I’m not going to make an effort to make things better, I’m going to shut up! I give you my word!

Image source: echo-grandlacs.info

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