One week ago our little land of one thousand and one hills was once again under the spotlight when Rama Isibo happened to us, calling us a nation beyond parody, in a text which I found rather amusing considering its form and its substance. Although the article did in fact contain some valid points, I believe that the whole purpose of the initiative was to demonstrate the Rwandan humour which Rama described in the second paragraph of his (rather long) text. The whole thing was just a joke, right?

I mean how can it not be a joke to dedicate a whole paragraph at “classifying” and explaining the different types of alcoholics (and hanging out with “Abasamanje”), but still seem to ignore that alcoholism is a worldwide phenomenon – the author’s country included? How can it not be a joke when he seems to naively believe that BRARUDI oversells BRALIRWA because “Burundians take drinking very serious” and not because BRARUDI has a larger production capacity and produces better quality products? (This explains why we export to Rwanda, amongst other countries). How can it not be a joke when he claims that we are a “colony” of Tanzania eti [as he defended himself on Twitter] because most of the products in our shops are from Tanzania, and because we were left out of the “coalition of the willing”? Like who doesn’t know that the port of Dar-Es-Salaam – through which we get more than 80% of our imports – is closer and easier to reach (just one border to cross) than Mombasa? Who doesn’t know that goods are cheaper in Tanzania and the exchange rates more favourable? I’m sure Rama’s intention was just to (in a cheerful brotherly spirit) to poke some fun at us by acting like he isn’t aware of all these obvious facts.

I am sure he has heard about our (with a hint of sarcasm) “50 années 50 œuvres”, although he claims that we haven’t built anything since the 1980s; and that he has heard a lot of Burundians complain that we are heading for the gutter which could only mean that we actually know where we are going… the gutter! I’m sure that he meant no harm when he joked about our President’s private parts – since he wasn’t at the IMF meeting I assume – and that he wasn’t serious when he claimed that a Belgian grabbing a hooker’s ass is a metaphor for our economy… as if other countries don’t accommodate Belgians and hookers. Like, come on! I mean, he couldn’t have been serious while saying that Burundi is “copying” Rwanda’s development “ideas” like they are the ones who invented development? I’m sure he’s heard of the word benchmarking; and he couldn’t have said that then say that Rwanda is Burundi of the 1980s, which could only mean Rwanda copied us and that the “conjoined twins” switched places.

I’m sure he, like me, doesn’t buy the whole “twins” thing, let alone the idea of “conjoined twins”. If we are anything, we’re nothing more than brothers who went to the same school of colonisation. We’re not twins, just brothers: each with his life, his story, his challenges and his aspirations. Yes maybe we’re affected by each other’s actions, but really to the same extent that the situation in the DRC affects us – well, it probably affects them more than it affects us. I’m certain Rama is aware of all this.

All this was just a joke people! But a joke with some valid points nonetheless…

Like Rama was right when he said Burundi has a decentralised style of governing. He was right about Burundians being more fun to be around and more open about problems. And it’s true that Bujumbura is more chilled and that we’re not constantly worried about people “looking over our shoulders”. Rama was also right about Burundi having more potential than Rwanda, and about Burundians being better at sports (yes, I’m a bit exaggerating what he actually said).

Are we going to deny that our politics and administrations are ridiculously corrupt and we’re notorious for political assassinations? No; Rama was right. Isn’t it true that people who were previously not allowed “to run a village council” were given control over our country overnight, a bit like “giving a passenger the pilot-seat of a Jumbo-jet”? (This could be one of the things we may have “copied” from across the Kanyaru actually). Isn’t it true that our problems aren’t about “Hutu and Tutsi, but about powerful elites of both sides preserving their privilege at all costs, to the exclusion of all”? Rama was right about this too.

Anyway, as I was reading Rama’s text, I kept remembering Thierry Uwamahoro telling us that when we gang up on people for not knowing and appreciating Burundi, “we are just like a company that blames its customers for not liking and buying its products; or an advertising agency blaming TV viewers for not noticing its ads”. It reminded me that Rama could be just one of very many people who know very little about Burundi. It’s not his fault; it’s actually ours for not putting the reality out there. Furthermore, Rama is entitled to his opinion, regardless of how erroneous and uninformed it could be. I’m also convinced that one of the reasons why his joke may have upset some is because he – a foreigner and above all an “arrogant Rwandan” – wrote it. I believe that if the text had been written by a fellow Murundi, some if not most would have cheered and applauded. Why? Because I have observed that we Burundians love criticising ourselves and our country, and get pride from finding fault… an impression that I share with Rama (although he can’t claim to be clean either).

As long as we only praise Burundi when we’re attacked, then they’re going to keep attacking. Actually, I don’t know about you, but I’ve kind of gotten used to people randomly attacking Burundi – and other countries – without solid facts to back their claims or by ignoring and twisting huge chunks of the reality. However, the fact is that no matter how high we rise or how much we praise ourselves, there is always going to be something to criticise about our country. We all know this but sometimes we tend to become a tad too gullible and fall for jokes like Rama’s. Attacks are always going to come, regardless of how well or bad we’re doing. Don’t they say that “haters gon hate” and that “stones are thrown at trees that bear fruit”?

I think the best thing to do is to laugh them haters off, get on with our lives and remember that “we are the country of Ntare Rushatsi, Ntare Rugamba and Mwezi Gisabo. A small piece of land that alone shook the Reich. The country of Karyenda and Ibigabiro. The country of Ubushingantahe and Ijambo. Of Inanga and Imana. A 400 year old nation who won its independence and that of its neighbour. So let’s raise our heads, let us not be ashamed, and let us not listen to bullies because we have a history! We were great, and we can be greater! Yes, we’re not doing so well, but we’re still alive no matter what they want us to believe! Our story does not end here! Let us not allow our current (and temporary) wandering define us. We are more than that. Much more.” (Ketty Nivyabandi Bikura)

Tugire amahoro!

Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva

P.S. As I was writing this text, this song kept playing in my head. I thought I’d dedicate it to you.

(image source: imgfave.com)

Karl-Chris currently lives and works in Bujumbura, Burundi. You can follow him at misterburundi.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @Mr_Burundi