Burundi is a small, invisible country. The country is trapped. “The false twin of Rwana”, as writer Colette Braeckman said in Terreur Africaine. “The same landscapes, the same people. This resemblance is, however, misleading". They do not have the same history. "But the temptation of ethnicism crossed border and the story became a tragedy".
Burundi today still cures its open wounds from the bloody civil war that left 300,000 dead between 1993 and 2005. Hundreds of thousands of Burundians became internally displaced or sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Hutu and Tutsi tribes are reconstructing this small country of nine million inhabitants in a fragile harmony mined by an ethnic hatred forged over decades.
The tension among ethnic groups can be felt in the anticipation of new elections in 2015. A country where malaria is an endemic disease but there is only one doctor per 10,000 inhabitants; where 90% of the population lives off agriculture but there is no land to cultivate due to the high density of the population (300 people per square kilometer).
However, there is light in this invisible country. The constitution of 2005 decreed free universal primary education and rights for the minority ethnic groups (Pygmies). The precarious peace and extreme poverty of the country hamper progress thus foreign investment and NGOs play an important role in facilitating and accelerating growth.
Sanitation and education
Manos Unidas rolled up its sleeves to give a hand and has collaborated for 20 years in the reconstruction of the country from scratch. It supports the rural population by contributing to the most neglected areas: sanitation and education. Almost two million euros have directly contributed to improving the lives of 100,000 people.
Pygmies learn carpentry, children have qualified teachers, adolescents without means will gain admittance to university, students have the availability of thousands of books in proper libraries, radio stations at the service of young people, etc.
Regina Niyozima, Filote Nibigira, Mukeramana Goreth, Colette Gakobwa, Gahungu Samuel…and up to one hundred thousand.
Pygmies of Burundi
At the pygmies in the Great Lakes region are contemptuously called Batwa. There are about 100,000 of them in Burundi, one per cent of a population of more than ten million (85 per cent Hutus and 14 per cent Tutsi). Also living in eight other sub-Saharan African countries, these small nomadic people are hunters and gatherers were among the first settlers of this continent. The deforestation of part of the African jungles during the 20th century decimated the hunting grounds and, along with them, their livelihoods. From masters of the great forests to onlookers of their conversion to farmland, pasture, commercial plantations and, more recently, into protected hunting areas.
The poorest of the poor
A smiling couple of pygmies - they look like octogenarians but they are scarcely 50 years old - are thrilled with their new home. They have left their old cabin. "They are very proud to have a home like everyone else. Some even burn their huts before they finish the work to show their joy, "the missionary said. "We walked through the hut door like rats. Water would come in when it rained and we would get wet”, recalls the woman.
The new home covers more than 30 square metres and has four rooms. Tile roof and mud floor. Two of her five children sleep in the kitchen with its firewood stove. The fire heats a saucepan containing the only meal of the day. “If we have the money, we eat, if not, we don’t eat", he says. "I can’t eat now anyway, because I've got no teeth”, she says with a great chuckle.
A habitat dispersed over a thousand hills poorly connected by almost impassable roads. Overcrowded, noisy vans and lorries transporting passengers like lambs. Thousands walk on roadsides and pavements. Old bicycles struggle under impossible loads of bananas, sacks of grain and wood along tortured, twisting trails and dizzying gradients. Adobe, straw and zinc huts dot the hillsides and the highlands. Crops of bananas, beans, cassava, rice and peanuts encroach on what little remains of jungle. Children appear everywhere, a lot of children wherever you look. Almost half of the population is under 14 years of age. They wear tattered clothing, the colour of the earth, of red dust that stains everything. The monochrome stamp of poverty.