Burundi – Hope in the abyss

Unlike the borders of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the boundaries of Burundi were not drawn by European powers. Rather, they reflect a state that was developed by the Burundian monarchy. The country was originally populated by the Twa, a Pygmy hunter-gatherer population. But from the beginning of the Common Era, the vast majority of Burundi’s Hutu population appeared and sometime later in the 16th century the Tutsi entered the country and developed a monarchy which was founded, by Ntare Rushatsi. And ever since there has been political unrest between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority ethnic groups. Few real cultural differences are distinguishable between the two peoples, and both speak Rundi (Kirundi). Such linguistic homogeneity is rare in sub-Saharan Africa and emphasizes the historically close cultural and ethnic ties among the peoples in Burundi.

Geographically, Burundi is a country found in the Great Lakes region of Central and East Africa. It is a landlocked country that is small but densely populated. It is slightly smaller than the state of Hawaii, but with eight times the population with around 9.8 million people living in the country. To date, it is the 20th most densely populated country in the world, but sadly this has serious effects on the environment. With the country’s lands largely consisting of agricultural and pasture, overpopulation has led to deforestation, soil erosion and habitat loss with the three parks Kibira, Rusuzu, and Ruvubu National Parks filling the most detrimental effects from the growing population. Fundamentally Burundi is a developing country with poverty, weak infrastructure, corruption, poor access to education and healthcare, malnutrition, political instability, and unemployment that are the major problems facing Burundians. Most Burundians have no access to a mobile network while internet cafes are limited to towns and cities, in a country where 80% of the population lives in a rural setting. However, in January 2019, the Parliament of Burundi voted to move the capital city from Bujumbura to Gitega to promote urbanization and infrastructural development. So, in the current day if a Burundian sends you a WhatsApp it is due to internet access ability of 4.5% relative to 1.2% a decade ago. There is no wonder in the fact that in 2018, the World Happiness Report ranked the citizens of the country as the least happy in the world.

Burundi has one of the lowest per capita GDP of any nation in the world. Burundi has a low gross domestic product largely due to civil wars, corruption, poor access to education, and the effects of HIV/AIDS. Cobalt and copper are among Burundi’s natural resources. Some of Burundi’s main exports include coffee and sugar. Burundians love their cows, not only for the meat and milk but because cows are traditionally a show of wealth. Regardless of your economic status, if you have a cow, then you are a rich person in Burundi. The more cows you have, the better your social status.

On the Neil Economic scale, a can of coke costs 1,520 Burundian Franc (R 13,24) and the price of litre petrol is 2,300 Burundian Franc (R 20,03). The inflation rate for consumer prices in Burundi moved over the past 40 years between -2.8% and 36.5%. For 2019, an inflation rate of -0.7% was calculated. The inflation rate in Burundi was recorded at 7.70% in July of 2020.

Despite being one of the poorest countries in the World, Burundi can boast with some champions on the world stage. Gustave The Gigantic Man-eating Crocodile Is from Burundi. Gustave reigns terror along the banks of the Ruzizi River and the northern shores of Lake Tanganyika where he is believed to have killed more than 300 people. He is believed to be the biggest crocodile in the world at over 18 feet and 2,000 pounds. Another being, 5000m runner Venuste Niyongabo who won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Ironically though, it has never won a regional title at the African Games.

“Ubumwe, Ibikorwa, Iterambere” means “Unity, Work, Progress” in Kirundi however, unity and progress have been elusive since independence in 1692. Burundi’s people are seeking hope in the abyss that will bring political change to the system that will protect their livelihood.