If the recent democratic presidential debate is of any indication, Hillary Clinton will become the Democratic presidential nominee. This will be history. Not only will she be the first female presidential nominee by a major political party, if elected, she will become the first female president in American history. Well, sure, she comes from a powerful legacy of leaders (aka “the Establishment”), but her social status does not negate the fact that if America elects her, America will be making history. To make it even more extraordinary is the fact that she would be succeeding the first black president. Undoubtedly, Americans today are living in what will probably be seen as a revolutionary point in history. And with the influence America has worldwide, one can argue that we are all experiencing the winds of change. I can’t help but feel that future generations will look back at this time with a hint of envy and admiration.
It’s not just in America where extraordinary things are happening. Earlier this year, the world witnessed a somewhat unexpected peaceful change of government in Nigeria when General Buhari won the presidential election. Many observers hailed the statesmanship shown by the outgoing president. Not only did he concede defeat immediately after it became apparent the people had chosen his opponent, he also personally called to congratulate him. I remember Twitter going ablaze with excitement. For the first time in Nigeria’s history, an opposition party had taken control of the country from the ruling party through a democratic process. The people had spoken. To me, the victory was not for Buhari nor for his party alone. That victory belonged to the people. The people who had queued for hours and hours just for a chance to have a say in who gets the top job in the country. It was truly one of those moments that remind us of the beauty of democracy.
You may be starting to wonder where I am going with this. This is This Burundian Life after all, what does all of that have to do with the life in Burundi? Well, we are living in a time of great political and social change. But for some reason, Burundi seems to lag behind. At a recent gathering of young Burundians in Canada, one participant said something that has stuck with me since. She said: “there are three kinds of people in this world; the first category is those who hear about a parade, pretend like they didn’t hear about it and stay home; the second category is comprised of those who stand on the sideline to watch and cheer; and the third group is those who actually get to walk and dance in the parade”. Burundi tends to fall in the second category. How?
The point that I am trying to make here is perhaps what is already in every Burundian’s mind these days. Nkurunziza’s third term. This move has set us back as a people, as a nation, and as a member of the international community. Now, I have heard people argue about the legality of this term but I am yet to hear anyone convincingly defend the impact it’s had on the lives of many Burundians. The insecurity that has followed, the massive influx of refugees into Rwanda and other neighboring countries, the people losing their lives every day lives simply for demanding that our leaders do better (or for finding themselves in the “wrong” neighborhood of Buja) is something that I shouldn’t even be typing in 2015. Citizens should have the right to protest without fearing for their lives. I remember not too long ago, boasting with pride how freedom of expression was one of the political rights Burundians enjoyed considerably more than other Africans. To witness this right be taken away from us is in a matter of six months to the extent that it has is extremely unfortunate. All of these signs point to the birth of a dictatorship. In one his interviews just before he declared his intentions, Nkurunziza said he would run if his party chooses him. At the time I found this, as I still do today, quite problematic. What will happen if his party “chooses” him in 2020, 2025? Are we going to let the future of our country be determined by a small group of politicians?
Is there anything we can do about this situation? I cannot claim to offer solutions for problems that are deeply structural and historical, but I want to argue here that there may be a case for citizens getting organized.
When you look at significant events that have had profound effect on society anywhere in the world, you may notice that these events are rarely random. Often, they are carefully planned by a few people who come together to lay the ground work before the public even knows about it. When Rosa Parks refused to give up that bus seat in Montgomery, what a lot of people didn’t realize was that that this action had been months and months in planning, including exactly what was to follow.
My point here is that there is power in getting organized. There is power in gathering like-minded people to work on creating the kind of Burundi we want. A good example of this is the recently created group Les Citoyens. Watching their introduction video, one of its members said something profound, ngo “igituma ikibi ciganza, nuko abantu b’ineza bigira sindabibazwa”. Abarundi must resist to be ba “sindabibazwa”. There are several other groups working on different issues that aim to enhance democracy, peace, and development in Burundi. Join them. Bring a friend. Let’s all join hands in building the kind of Burundi we want our children to be proud of.
Alain currently lives and works in Edmonton, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter: @alainndayi