Thank you for your post, “Why do you want to be President?”, published here last week. In the post you question why there are so many people who want to become President of Burundi. While I found the post to be interesting, I happen to disagree with the majority of points you raised, and here’s why.
You see, recently my cousin went to Burundi for summer vacation. During his stay, he made a trip up to Gitega where his dad is from to see his family members. When he returned, he posted a picture on Facebook surrounded by his cousins from his dad’s side. The picture resembled the sort of photograph you would see on a World Vision website trying to guilt you into donating to help starving children with no proper clothes. I did not think much of the photo until we started chatting. I asked him how his trip was and me being the sort of enthusiastic Burundian that I am, I expected an enthusiastic response about how amazing and possibly life changing the trip was. It was his first time there. Instead, he simply said: “Burundi is very nice and a very beautiful country except poverty”. The statement made me go back to the pictures he had posted, and I never looked at them the same.
I am telling this story because this is the closest I will get to telling a real life story about the situation in Burundi. I haven’t been back in seven years, so I can see why my authority on speaking about the situation there may be questioned. I was going to quote recent World Bank stats but I figured a real story will work better here in bringing across the point I want to make. The truth is, things are bad in Burundi. We can all agree on that. The levels of poverty are still quite unspeakable, well over 60% of the population is undernourished according to a recent study, and while the country is relatively stable politically, security is still a pressing issue. I know we Burundians like to brush off things like that in order to focus on more “positive” things happening in the country and that’s fantastic but sometimes we need to be real with ourselves, we need to let facts be just that, facts. I don’t need to remind you of this as I am sure you know it better than me.
Now let’s get to the issue at hand. Earlier this year, our president was asked what I thought was a brilliant question by a BBC journalist. Listen to the first part of the question carefully (at around 1:21 mark). As an intelligent Burundian, I have no doubt you will agree to a certain extent that the journalist’s statement is accurate. Now, if anyone dreams of taking on that role and that person has the potential to do a better job than our current top man, he or she must be encouraged by all means. In fact the more people dream of the job the better, after all, a little competition never killed anyone.
You mention how demanding the top job can be as seen on political thrillers like House of Cards and Scandal. Surely it is. In addition to that, it’s highly risky! Three of our leaders were assassinated on the job while four were forced out in a series of coup d’états between 66 and 96 . Now, chances are neither of those events are bound to be repeated, but those are still risks that come with presidency and frankly speaking if anyone is willing to put their life in danger to take on that role, I do not see why we shouldn’t support them.
The thing that we get wrong often, if get at all, is that public service is a noble profession just like being a doctor, lawyer, engineer, teacher or even a social worker . Do we question when half the kids in elementary school say they want to be doctors? No. The fact of the matter is, very few of them end up actually becoming doctors but we encourage them nonetheless. I have mentioned it in my earlier posts here that perhaps, we as Burundians, do not have enough positive points of reference for people in political positions who have done our country extremely well service that we almost assume those who aspire to be in those positions are either in it for money or self-gratification. That makes it easy for us to question their intentions.
You are also critical of the “leadership movements” going around at the moment. Let me remind you of that saying that goes to something like “leaders aren’t born, they are made”. I believe it’s actually a quote from a former American football player, coach and executive. Other than say Jesus, I don’t believe there are many people who are born with the natural capacity to lead. Those who aspire to lead take time nurture their skills and get better over time through taking initiatives by not only attending the so called “motivation” speeches but also taking time to do real work that sharpen their skills further. As I read through your text and how we all want to be the Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa… of this generation, I was reminded of that cheesy saying “shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. I hate to use this but I wanted to be as frank as possible and that’s the thought that first came to my mind when I read that paragraph. If we aim to be Martin Luther King and miss, well, may be we’ll be Al Sharpton? Perhaps if we don’t become Barack Obama, we can settle for Joe Biden? The alternative to wanting to become change makers is apathy and I think you will agree with me that that’s a far more dangerous and worrisome thing for our country.
I must say though, I do I agree with some of the points you raised; there is certainly room to make a difference in Burundi through other areas. And it will take a collective effort of effective leaders in different capacities to make Burundi what we want it to be. That includes competent ministers, great policy people, independent judges and visionary mayors ( I am looking at you KRis). And yes, someone has to aspire to take on those types of roles as well but we should avoid stigmatizing people who want to be the head of that pack! Instead, let’s ask them what they bring to the table, what they will do differently. Let’s challenge their ideas!
Alain Currently lives and works in Edmonton, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter: @alainndayi