Last Sunday around 430pm Raul and I came back from a weekend in Bujumbura; the capital of Burundi.
Burundi is a small country lying to Congo's east and Rwanda's south. Before gaining independence in 1962 it was - together with Rwanda - the German and (after WWII) the Belgian colony called Ruanda-Urundi with current-day Bujumbura as capital. Burundi is Rwanda's less-famous brother; just like Rwanda the Twa, Tutsi and Hutu are the country's ethnic groups, and - just like Rwanda - the latter two have been going at each other for decades. However, while Rwanda's 800,000 death in the 1994 genocide brought the country to fame, Burundi's 100,000s of deaths took place over a more extended period of time - and thus we don't have Hollywood movies about it. For example, a genocide took place in 1972 when Hutus attacked Tutsis and the Tutsi-dominated military regime responded with large-scale reprisals. In 1993, the Hutu Melchior Ndadaye, who had won the first democratic election, was assassinated by Tutsi soldiers, which starting more violence that killed an estimated 300,000 since. Currently, things are relatively ok. While the last major rebel group (the FNL - Forces for National Liberation) bombarded Bujumbura as recently as April 2008, they signed a peace agreement shortly after that. And while rumors of new rebel groups being created are surfacing since recently, Burundi has been relatively quiet and stable.
Why did we go to Buja for a weekend? One of the reasons was that we still needed some equipment for the evaluation that is difficult to buy in Bukavu (four digital cameras and some cables to be able to charge satellite phones, GPS devices and PDAs from Yamaha 125CC motorbikes). However, the most important reason was for Raul and me to take a break. We have been in Congo for two months without a holiday and both of these months were very intense. Moreover, Raul and I wanted to leave Bukavu's security bubble. In the last two weeks we started to feel we were living in a prison: we are not allowed to walk in the evening, one's movements are always tracked, if you want to go out of the small, predefined area of Bukavu you need to obtain a security clearance, etc. So, up to Bujambura where we have several friends: JB who works for UNDP, Sebastian who works for Burundi's ministry of finance, and Guillaume who works for Burundi's ministry of Social Affairs.
In three words: It was fantastic! Although we had preferred to take public transport (to get to know local people, learn more about the country, etc.) we were obliged (again for security reasons) to take an IRC car to Bujumbura. But once we were on the road Raul and I couldn't keep the smile from our face. The road from Bukavu through Uvira (via Kamanyola and Sange) towards Buja is about 4.5 hours and beautiful: hills, desert, towns. Once in Bujumbura we had the feeling we were in a different world. Bujumbura is located right next to Lake Tanganyika - which is the second-largest sweet-water lake by volume, the second-deepest lake, and the longest lake in the world. The city has incredible beaches (just be careful for the crocodiles and hippos after sunset), and is much more developed than Bukavu: there are bars, sophisticated hotels (see for an example here), and since 2 years (with the help of the Chinese an the European Commission) good roads. Over the weekend, we had breakfast with eggs, bacon and smoothies, went to the beach and swam in Lake Tanganyika, visited Bujumbura's central market, hang-out with friends, slept more than the normal 6 hours, and... (you're ready)... after two months in Eastern Congo I had a shower... with warm water! After all the luxury and several days away from Bukavu's security bubble, we're back in Bukavu with our batteries charged and we're ready for the very heavy weeks to come.
Buja's central market.
I'm from a family of construction builders and thus love this picture.
- Man, I'm getting older. When 'young' you see those 'older people' that have cars, houses, proper salaries, etc. The guys in Buja had this - and I am of that age now. I never really notice it; I'm a PhD student and thus still study and don't really have a salary. I also live in New York where most people rent and live in small apartments. But people of my age are getting married, start making babies, getting mortgages, etc. I never really thought of that until Buja. Scary.
- On the way to Bujumbura we drove through Uvira, a territoire of Sud Kivu in DR Congo. The car drove over 100km per hour on roads where one really should not do that. The reason was for security. I don't know how much of it is true but the driver told us that different groups (Mai-Mai, Banyamulenge from Uvira's Haut plateau, etc.) have a tendency to high-jack cars on that road. I am not sure what was more frightening the idea of being ambushed or the car being high-jacked, or the driver driving 100+ km an hour. :)
- On the way to Bujumbura we also drove through the town of Sange, where about two months ago a truck caught fire and killed over 230 people (here). Congolese friends sent horrible pictures in the days after that. The burned-out truck was still there; as a horrible monument to the disaster.