By Karl-Chris Nsabiyumva

The objective of today’s article is to immerse the reader into the world of Burundi’s 1%; to help you understand the behaviours and thought processes of the community commonly known as “abababilon”; and to guide whoever wishes to become one of us… yes, us.

Let us first start by defining, for those who are not familiar with its meaning, the scope of the term umubabilon (plural: abababilon, translation: who comes from Babylon). This label was historically used to designate a person born and/or raised in a posh or upscale neighbourhood of Bujumbura. For a long time, and for historic reasons that we shall not elaborate today, these neighbourhoods were Rohero, Quartier INSS, Kiriri, Gatoke, Kabondo, Mutanga Sud, Mutanga Nord, Kinanira, Zeimet,Kinindo, Quartier Belge, Quartier Français and Quartier OUA. Today some of these neighbourhoods have lost their chic and have been replaced or overtaken by newer and affluent estates such as Kibenga, Gihosha, Kinanira III, Kigobe, Sororezo, Carama and Gasekebuye.

The babilon label on the other hand is currently used to refer to any member of the elite community, regardless of where they were born, whether or not they were born an elite, as long as they ended up becoming one. Here below, I will share with you some tips to help you understand (and embrace) the babilon lifestyle. Whereas this guide is specifically tailored for the Burundian context, you may discover that a lot of the conditions, behaviours and expectations defined apply to elite communities in most developing countries, and to wannabes in the developed world. You are hereby advised to take your notepads out as this is going to be a lesson of a lifetime!

First and foremost, let us determine your babiloness or propensity to be an elite.
The common denominator between all bababilon is the conviction that we were sent to earth to serve a special purpose. Spending one’s parents’ money can be one of them. Normal people were just born, but we were created to fulfill a mission. This belief may have been fed to us by parents who never failed to remind us that we were born privileged and that our situation was not given to all; and/or by school and/or University teachers who convinced us that we are the salvation the World has been waiting for. If any of these situations sounds familiar, allow me, in the name of Burundian elite community, to hand you your babilon card.
If on the other hand you were not blessed to be raised by humanitarian parents who would force you to finish your food “because poor children have nothing to eat”, and/or were not privileged to go to school, rest assured: your qualification is guaranteed if you carry a notable achievement and/or a generously garnished bank account under your belt. Technically, if you are reading this (from a computer, with Internet) chances are that you are relatively privileged. Therefore, you are very welcome to join the 1% club!

Now that we have determined that you are elite material, the remainder of this article will guide you through how you are expected to behave as a babilon.

The first thing you should always remember is that a respectable babilon must always have an opinion and that it must be voiced, especially when it comes to politics and economics. Furthermore, your opinions shall always be taken as valid and right. Your achievements (school diplomas included), no matter how little, are proof that you have enough knowledge to understand how everything works. To give weight to what you say, throw into each of your sentences a word or two of a foreign language: this will make you sound more intellectual.
If at any occasion you happen to not be right, your opinion shall not be deemed as wrong but as a different way of seeing things. Isn’t it Albert Einstein who said: “any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… it takes a touch of genius, and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction”? Umubabilon always has an opinion and is always searching for ways to express it, even when nobody asked them to. Thank God for Social Media that has facilitated the execution of this obligation.
You are expected to consider your social media follows and likes with all seriousness, and to say something about every major event, even when your message isn’t likely to reach the intended audience. What matters is for your followers to take note that you have an opinion. Do not worry about sharing unverified information as there is usually some truth in everything. Do not be bothered by anybody who claims that your motivation is not a desire for change (saying things like “actions speak louder than words”), but a need to be recognised and approved by your peers and the society. They are just haters who clearly lack opinions of their own.

Second, umubabilon must be a member of a clique. Whereas the formation of most cliques happens through natural selection (i.e. members of the same social class, the same church, alumni of the same school, employees at the same company, etc.) the guiding principle for choosing a clique is that you should only hang out with people with whom you share the same convictions and beliefs. People with different opinions should be avoided at all costs, and their progress and successes should be subject to substantial criticism. For instance, if you lived/studied abroad you are not expected to be seen with anybody who didn’t, lest they contaminate you with their ideas, opinions and lifestyles that lack ambition and/or innovation. If you were not born privileged you are advised to avoid “kids” from higher social classes considering their lack of acquaintance with hard work. (They were born with silver spoons and had their lives handed to them on a golden platter, so clearly they do not know “the struggle” and hence are not to be trusted with serious tasks and commitments).

Once you have become a member of a clique, you are expected to do what it takes to prove yourself worthy of your membership to the clique. As we have already covered the opinion aspect, we shall look at other obligations that will guarantee you a respectable position within the clique of your choice, and in the society as a whole.

First you will need to spend money, sometimes on things you don’t particularly need or care for. This behaviour may sound strange, but consider it an investment in your image and it shall make sense. Anything you spend money on shall be bought to impress, from the clothes you wear, the drinks you drink and the car you drive. You do own a car right? You cannot be an elite and use public transport (even if it’s all you use when you travel outside the country). If you do not own a car, a taxi is the only permissible mode of transport.
The amounts of money you will need to spend depend on what clique or segment of the elite social scale you wish to appeal to. This particular aspect deserves a guide of its own.

Second, you shall use social media to manifest how exciting your life is. Abababilon are interesting and busy people: we are always doing something, be it attending a party, a professional meeting, traveling,… The choice of what to share on social media is at your discretion, as long as you keep us aware that your life is interesting, lest we start wondering whether you deserve to be one of us. May you not be able to find anything worthy of sharing, do not refrain from posting images of yourself in “sexy” clothing, smoking illegal substances, or “popping” bottles that cost more than your rent. Or you may even write a blog post criticising the society you live in, such as this one. Your social media activity will keep us talking and will prevent your image from fading out of our memories. Nothing is private or off-limits.

You shall not be disappointed by individuals who misunderstand or form wrong opinions of you, and neither shall you worry about those who are not capable of seeing past the image you have created for yourself that they may call a façade. Umubabilon is bound to have haters. The higher their number, the more relevant you shall be. In fact, you are advised to shun any criticism about any aspect of your life and send anybody who expresses backward ideas to the “Haters” corner. Every once in a while, you shall share with them, via social media, a message, a photo, a video or an inspirational quote to remind them that they do not even cross your mind.

On dealing with your peers, you are expected kwihagararako, kwiha agaciro. We have already covered ways by which you may achieve this but in a non-exhaustive manner, as there are many situations through which you will be expected to prove your self-worth. For example, not greeting someone you know as you wait for them to greet you first is one of them.
Umubabilon has to set standards for themselves and then for others, bearing in mind that unconditional love is a myth. Find inspiration in the works of famous artists and philosophers in the likes of Eminem, Drake, Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna,… or if you desire to appear more sophisticated (plus points for your image), Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X,… shall be your prime choices. (Nevermind that their life experiences, which inspired the messages they share, are not similar to yours).
Do not associate with individuals who do not meet your standards, even when you’ve failed to meet them yourself (at least you’re trying); do not trust anyone, and do not waste time trying to be reliable. You should believe that loyalty is a myth (it’s you against the World). And finally, although you should claim to hate drama, you are encouraged to create some once in a while and act like you’re trying to rise above it. It will make life more entertaining and make you look like a hero.

Once you’ve mastered all these skills and met all the expectations, smile! …You should always be cheerful, well-dressed, and smelling like a million Francs Bu. Be sure to own one or two of the latest gadgets, even if you only use them at a tenth of their capacity. Focus on keeping any eventual feelings of discomfort, worries and pains well hidden. You may hate your job, the people you call your friends, you may be broke, disillusioned or wondering what happened to your dreams… but do not front! Keep your head up! Always remember that you are an elite! There are millions of people out there who wish they had the life you have: you cannot afford to let them down! You cannot let down the people who made sacrifices to allow you to be where you are today! If you are a “self-made” man or woman, remember the sacrifices you made to be here! You owe it to yourself to act like those sacrifices were worth something! You cannot afford to go back, or to give up your status to reach for some desire or dream that doesn’t involve being popular or working for an International organisation. Image before everything is the motto; and this isn’t just your image we’re talking about, but your family’s as well! The World is watching you! You are its inspiration! It is waiting for you to save it! Who will save you? Hey, you do not need saving! You are a gladiator! You are Umubabilon!

P.S. Nobody actually likes being called Umubabilon, surely because the label is synonym for cockiness and lack of connection to the “real World” (whatever that is). We prefer to stick it on those whom we view as higher status than us; and usually the bababilon at the bottom of the elite social scale will be labelled as such by those who aren’t on the scale: you know? The 99%… the non-elites…

(Photo credit: Arnaud Gwaga Mugisha)

Karl-Chris currently lives and works in Bujumbura. You can check him out at and follow him on Twitter: Mr_Burundi.

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