Strange week in Burundi

The last few days we have been laying low. University classes were canceled, as it seems most other schools are, in light of security concerns in the city – it’s been a strange week in Burundi.

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To be honest – I guess I’m not sure to explain how it feels right now. I’m sitting at a small desk in a bedroom in our house. The same place that over the past few days I have been hearing explosions and gunfire, and seen the smoke from burning barricades in parts of the city. I am sitting here at my computer working on my next class on New Venture Creation. A class aimed at helping the MBA students have the capacity to start new companies that can meet the needs of their people and to help create jobs. As I do so, I have my web browser open – a few tabs on various innovation labs and business plan competitions that I hope to use to encourage my students to dream/plan/build the future of their country – a few tabs open to live streams of the current state of affairs in this city this morning, which really looks like anything but progress towards stability and prosperity.

I’m not sure I have any more reliable information about what’s going on  – other than what is currently being reported by the larger news agencies: that for the past week protestors, police and the army are out on the streets facing off. Some radio stations have been shut-down, and many here in the city are claiming that multiple social media and messaging apps (which has now also been reported  by AFP and others) have been shut-down/hampered on the mobile telecom networks. There are rumours….oh so many rumours. Plenty of things being reported that stir up fear, mistrust and anger.

Some of the more in-depth pieces that i’ve seen are this op-ed piece in the NY Times co-authored by a Burundian peace activist, and  this WashPost piece by a couple of political scientists. TheUN Sec Gen has condemned the violence, and has now sent a special envoy, as has the African Union, and now the US. And while numerous governments have given their opinion – the Burundian government has asked them to kindly keep out. There are reports from the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) that some 25,000 have crossed the borders into Rwanda & DRC in the past 20 days – a large number of those in the past few days.

I don’t claim to understand exactly why the protesters are as upset as they are, why they feel that this is their only way to have their voice heard, why the government is responding as it appears to be. I am merely a guest in this country – and a complete newcomer at that. I don’t speak Kirundi, don’t understand the culture, and have no idea of what it is like to have been raised in a country with a history such as this. But to me there are a few things that seem more clear. That shots are being fired, fires set, teargas used, rocks thrown – and people on both sides are getting hurt. All reports seem to confirm that  at least 9 have already died. What is clear is that no one really wins when it becomes this – but there are definitely those who lose.

The week before the announcement – at the end of our church service, everyone was told – leading up to potential problems- that if you are going to ‘fight’ – then fight for the rights of your opponents. Ensure that those who disagree with you have safety and freedom to hold their opinion. Make sure that those who agree with you are not causing problems for the others. If you are going to ‘fight’ – do so for the sake of those who disagree with you.

‘Love your enemy’ is a powerful stance to take. Standing up for those you don’t agree with takes courage. Ensuring the rights of those against your position is hard.

It is unfortunate that the news about the current situation is the only time this nation will make headlines in most of the world. The country has struggles, it has issues that it has to deal with  – but as anywhere – there are stories of hope.  So I’d like to leave you instead of pictures of burning roadblocks and injured police – as tempting as that honestly is (sad but true)- with this story of hope, compassion, and love:

Saving Leo

A boy, badly burned by fire, travels from Burundi to Boston in an extraordinary journey of resilience and devotion.