By Nana Munyamwaro

I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression “umwana w’i Mwaro” which usually means that you have somebody in a high position and therefore get to have some privileges when you go through that person. Well, it also refers to someone who is, er, stingy… but let’s stick to the first definition, although this one kind of relates to my text as well!
So, what if helping you means that that person might get in trouble? And I think this is a mindset a lot of Africans, well, Burundians have. Don’t get me wrong I won’t be a hypocrite and point my finger at others, I will say it straight: I have enjoyed some of those privileges and it felt good because I could get faster to what I needed, I didn’t have to wait in long lines. But that is just the way it is done isn’t it? (lame excuse, I know)

I have been thinking about in different ways, but mostly this one. You know when you have a relative or friend who has a shop or any kind of business, what goes through your mind? In my mind I immediately think: “oh now I can get this or this for free, or for less money!” This how deep it’s rooted in me. But these days it got me thinking, I am ready to pay more to a stranger but not to my friend or relative? So instead of helping my friend prosper, I would rather help a stranger?

Let me give you one concrete example that got me thinking: As a Burundian girl living in Europe, doing my hair is a very difficult thing. Finding someone who can do your hair well and who is not expensive is not an easy thing. So I found out a friend of mine could do the hairstyles I wanted, she said she would do it only 20 euros or even for free if I didn’t have money. When I heard this I was like yes, I don’t have to pay for my hair anymore! But before I knew my friend could do hair, I would pay 40 euros and even more for my hair (I know guys and some girls must be thinking that’s a lot of money for hair! But it is what it is!).
So my point is why didn’t I automatically think, oh no I won’t let my friend do it for free, I will give her the 20 euros and even more so I can help her prosper, instead of bringing her business down. Because I know If somebody is just starting that kind of business, the first clients she will get are mostly friends and family and if everybody treats her the way I was going to do then after a few months she will feel like it is not worth the time and the tiredness and maybe quit.

And you may notice that it goes two ways: my friend said, before I asked for it, that if I didn’t have any money, she could do my hair for nothing. It is because it is how we were brought up and we never thought about it twice. The one with the business or the high placed job already knows his friend and family are expecting to be treated differently so it naturally comes to him that he will do that. And it may have risks, maybe he could lose his job, or maybe it could ruin his business. But he will do because maybe he doesn’t want people talking: “Oh now that he has this or that he doesn’t care about his family or friends.” Or maybe for other reasons.

I am not saying that if this mindset was not like it is every business would prosper, far from that. I know there are a lot more factors involved and maybe many of these factors are much more important than this one. But I just wrote what I was thinking and maybe you can help answer this question: what would the impact be if the mindset was different? What if we were ready to invest in our friends and family even if it meant no direct financial benefit from it? What if our first reaction was I can help my friend prosper instead of I can get a discount? Just some points worth thinking about in my opinion.

If I generalised too much and I am the only one thinking like this, I am sorry; but if I’m not I would be happy to know your thoughts about it. Thanks!

(Photo credits: Brice Ntwari)

Nana currently lives and studies in the Netherlands.

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