It’s 6.00 on a Sunday morning here in Bujumbura. The weather is expected to be sunny and hot, with a threat of thundershowers – which seems to be typical for this time of the year, as the rainy season has not yet ended.
However, this is not a typical weekend – at least it doesn’t appear to be. But I’m not quite sure what exactly it is, I don’t know what to call this.
Burundi is – by global standards – a fairly new democracy, having gained independence from the Belgians some half-century ago. Over the past 50 or so years there have been several shall we say ‘bumps along the way’ – growing pains, if you will.
On Thursday evening in my MBA class, we were discussing management ethics, and the question I posed was “where do people get their ethics from?” Most of the answers were expected: parents, teachers, church, etc. However, one woman said “the forest.” I wasn’t sure what she meant, perhaps being out in nature gives you a sense of right and wrong?
No, she explained that she was referring to all the people who spent time as militia, living and hiding among the trees during the last war. “they learned some very bad ethics…in the forest.” It took me a few seconds to know how to respond to that.
I really don’t know enough about the history of the country that we live in right now to know what exactly this weekend represents to so many here who have seen so much – I really don’t know what to call it.
Yesterday morning there were various reports about people leaving the capital, for fear that things will turn bad quickly. A local newspaper reported that there were busloads of people leaving the capital – simply because they don’t want to be here this weekend. There are reports from the UN that in the past week some 11,000 Burundians have fled parts of this country, and claimed refugee status in Rwanda. About 10 minutes ago the sounds of our neighbour’s roosters, the birds in the palm tree outside our window, faint church bells, and the otherwise calm of a Sunday morning was punctuated by the distant sounds of a rally downtown. The din of yelling into a megaphone indicated that what the opposition party and others had called for – protests today starting at 6.00 – was happening. There were also protests yesterday after the president’s party made its announcement that he was going to run for a third term. The constitutions allows two terms, many people claim the Arusha Accord which transitioned the country back into peace some 13 years ago reads similarly – but the ruling party reads it differently. Yesterday at the state University, students turned out to make their unhappiness known, and the government responded by sending in what was reported to be heavily armed military. In the end, it seems they had a stand-off, soldiers and students, face-to-face. Two groups of people – that my brother pointed out yesterday as we were talking during the stand-off – not particularly well known for always making good decisions. It appears to have ended peacefully and was dispersed without incident. So what is going on en centre-ville as I sit here looking over downtown towards Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of D.R.Congo? A protest, a march, a manifestation….? I don’t know what to call it I suppose.
So where does that leave us? What about a family from Canada who landed in this country a mere 7 weeks ago with intentions of helping to develop a new generation of leaders for this nation? We knew the lead up to and the elections this summer could be tense. We are learning every day that things here are so much different than any place we’ve lived before. We have local contacts, from our weekend worker who is in our yard right now, to contacts at Hope Africa University, to others who have concern for our well being and are our eyes and ears who understand the local language, culture, and history. We have a network of other ex-pats – some who have been here for a long time – who are also trying to negotiate the current situation. We have the information that gets released from our respective embassies and consular networks – Canada for us, the US for our team, Belgium for all the EU citizens – which we can consolidate and compare. (who have all said – in case you are wondering -stay out of downtown and be home or able to get home) We have our Serge team here in Burundi, and our extended team in East Africa, and back in Philadelphia – which has experience in dealing with difficult political situations (including our team in South Sudan – which is currently evacuated due to military action connected to political unrest).
However, over and above all of that, we have faith in a God who we believe truly called us to work here. We believe that there is no safer place for our family to be than in the middle of His will for us. So am I concerned – yes. Worried – perhaps. Scared…no. I guess I’m not sure what to call it. I have confidence that God did call us here – but I also know that His call on a person’s life never comes with promises of safety, well-being, or success in the eyes of the world.
So please – pray for peace for this nation. Pray that people would respect the rights of others to disagree with them – and that violence would not be seen as the de facto method of convincing others you are correct. Pray that those Burundians who identify as members of the church would be the ones to show love to their opponents, respond to violence with peace, and show the power of forgiveness and mercy.