By Alain Ndayishimiye
Don’t do it! That is an overwhelmingly common response I get every time I tell people I am interested in politics and would consider going into politics in Burundi. Previously, I wrote about why the future of Burundi matters to me. Over the last couple of months, I have taken time to give some profound thoughts to the idea of the said future. Yes, it does matter to me and it is a good thing that I care, but whose responsibility is it to create that future?
If you follow Burundian politics or politics in general, you know that people enjoy pinpointing at what’s wrong. Of course. It’s the easy thing to do. I see hashtags almost every day about people we want released from prison, schools we want built, and economic conditions we want improved. Yet, somehow we manage to take ourselves out of that whole equation. It’s always someone else’s fault. And it’s always for someone else to fix. Where do we fit in all of that? Sure, we must call to an end to injustices, and yes we do have the right to air our grievances on things that are going wrong. I also firmly believe our elected representatives must be reminded of their duties, often. And held accountable for their actions. But, we must also recognize our own responsibilities in making Burundi the country we want it to be.
The thing is, that is not an easy thing to do; that’s why a lot of us would rather go with the easier route of Facebook/Twitter activism. While some people may argue that it’s worked in some places and it can work in Burundi too, the problem is that kind of activism encourages laziness. We feel we’ve done our part. We feel that is enough. But I can assure you it’s not. Over the last couple of years, I myself have struggled with finding my role, defining my responsibilities. “What can I do?” I have asked myself that question a thousand times. I have engaged in numerous conversations with my fellow Burundians around the world about that very question, but I cannot tell you that I have a clear answer to it today. One thing I have decided against is taking part in any form of online activism. I have this perhaps irrational fear of being consumed by it and feeling as though I have done enough. But that’s just me. I have also played around the idea of starting a charity, but eventually decided against it. I have supported and still do support Burundi-related causes, but how long are we going to do that for? How many charities are we going to create? I am not downplaying the importance of charities here. A lot of them do exceptionally good work and bring much needed relief to people in need, but I personally feel as though more needs to be done.
As I thought about the “what can I do?” question, politics came into my mind. I have always been fascinated by politics and lately, I have been convinced that politics, when utilized correctly, can be a force of good. I am fully aware that this is going to be a tough sell to Burundians given our experience with politicians. But I want you to hear me out. As I thought about this piece, I tried to remember of politicians who can be considered remarkable agents of great social, political or economic change in Burundi but could not think of any. Other than Rwagasore, most politicians have been rather forgettable and I think that speaks volumes about the work they did during their time. I welcome you to challenge me on this. Please. Now, can we reverse this? Absolutely. Call me an idealist.
There is enormous potential for politicians to do good in our country. Our democracy is young but it is evolving at an amazingly steady pace. Yes, there is a degree of government suppression of the opposition and government meddling in the internal affairs of political parties, but the level of freedom of expression, a key ingredient to a healthy democracy, has never been higher. The other day I was amazed to hear people calling into a radio program and challenging a politician on ideas. I smiled quietly at the corner of my office as I listened. In my opinion, more of those kinds of things and the spread of internet access will allow for a political environment that places value on the battle of ideas . It may be ten, fifteen or even twenty years from now, but all I know is that it is bound to happen. There has also been tremendous progress in education in recent years. Mandela said it best that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. With education, you have the birth of brilliant men and women that can take this country and move it forward. You also have a population that is not easily exploited by ethnic or regional propaganda. Key word: easily. We can also not ignore the fact that our neighbours in the EAC are doing much better than us on most social and economic indicators (check recent World Bank Figures). I believe all of this and more will undoubtedly motivate the emergence of a new generation of fine politicians who love our country, live for it, and want to serve it to the fullest of their abilities. I have already started to see some, and I can tell you it’s pretty a good company. I want to be part of it. You can too.
Alain Currently lives and works in Edmonton, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter: @alainndayi