Burundi

Discussion in 'Africa' started by Saigon, Jun 8, 2012.

  1. Saigon
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    Saigon Gold Member

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    Since a couple of people have asked about my work, I have decided to post a short story I wrote last year on Burundi. The story was published in Finland and in Finnish, but the English-language version hasn't been published, so I can still post it here.

    Pics follow.

    Burundi, I Presume.


    IT SAYS A LOT about Burundi that its single greatest claim to fame is actually located in another country. It also seems terribly unlucky, for if any country deserved a decent tourist attraction it is surely charming Burundi, a tiny rural backwater nestled high in the hills of Central Africa.
    The centre of this hitherto unknown dispute lies some twelve kilometres south of the capital city of Bujumbura. A large obelisk-like rock with a small plaque affixed to it claims to be the point at which the great explorers Stanley and Livingstone met in 1871, and where Stanley uttered those famous words, "Dr Livingstone, I presume."
    In reality, the two men met around 50 kilometres south of here in the township of Ujiji, just across the border in Tanzania. They did travel north along this lakeshore, and may well have spent a couple of nights close to the monument while searching for outlets from Lake Tanganyika, hence Burundi’s desire to press its claims does seem forgivable.
    "Perhaps you could go to Tanzania instead," a Rwandan friend of mine suggests when I mention coming to visit the monument, "Tanzania has everything."
    But anyone can go to Tanzania. I am curious about the tiny country wedged between the gigantic states of Tanzania and the DR Congo and the almost equally tiny, but far more visited, Rwanda.

    A little history first: in the years when the great colonising lions Speke, Burton and Livingstone stalked the earth, there were no countries in Africa as such. Lakes, rivers and mountains were named as they were ’discovered’ by Europeans, and it was only late in the nineteenth century that the race to establish colonies really began and the map of Africa began to look anything like what it does today. Back in the 1860s, Europeans settled the thorny issues of who owned what in the drawing rooms of London and Berlin, lest the Africans complicate matters by wishing to use their own names or worse still, establish their own countries.
    What is now Burundi first appeared on early 19th century maps as the Mountains of the Moon, a mountainous region spread along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Upon being picked up monopoly-style by Germany at the 1884 Conference of Berlin, it became half of what was known as Ruanda-Urundi.
    Although Stanley and Livingstone had met in the Mountains of the Moon, a quick flick of someone’s pen in Berlin meant the southern border of Burundi arced up and just north of the spot where that meeting took place. A century later, the Burundian government decided to erect a monument in a pleasant lakeside spot on Lake Tanganyika, presumably in a bid to attract more tourist. But although the monument seems like a smart move, tourism remains a desperately small business in Burundi. Which is a shame, because the once war-torn country is genuinely delightful, and still boasts something of the landscape and culture which Livingstone and Stanley witnessed on their epic travels. Far from the tourist crowds who cram into Kenya and Tanzania every summer, in Burundi it is still possible to feel, if not like the first white man to cross this land, then at least the first this morning.

    Back in 1866, the Scottish Livingstone, a preacher by trade, was already a legend. The first European to cross Africa, his mapping of the Zambezi and Great Lakes had placed Britain firmly in the driving seat of African exploration (and thus, potential exploitation) and his theories on the origins of the Nile had become a source of intense speculation and debate. Livingstone refused to accept the prevailing theory proposed by Speke, namely that Lake Victoria was the sole source for the Nile, insisting that the legendary (and, as it turns out, mythical) Springs of Herodotus lay several hundred kilometres south, and likely flowed north to Lake Victoria via Lake Tanganyika. Crossing by land from what is now Tanzania, he spent five long years searching for the springs and the outlet from Lake Tanganyika. He also lost the use of one arm from the bite of a lion, contracted malaria and haemorrhoids, lost most of his teeth to malnutrition, and suffered more bouts of dysentery and fever than any one man has a right to expect.
    Livingstone was widely believed dead at the time US newspaper magnate James Gordon Bennett sent Henry Morton Stanley off to find him. Stanley was an odd choice; a Welsh-born pauper and orphan who had failed in a dozen different careers before reinventing himself as an American and a journalist. He even came up with a new name. Considered dishonest by many, his diaries reflect a man who feared failure above all else. What he did have in spades, though, was determination.
    In a journey which now reads more like a Boy's Own story than reality, he led an expedition west from the island of Zanzibar, battling slave traders and mutinies, pressing through chest-deep swamps for days at a time, suffering illness, despair and hunger en route. His 11,000 km route required 200 porters, carrying vast supplies of cloth, copper wire and beads for trade. The journey took ten months.
    His diaries describe a Burundi still recognisable; the thousand metre high peaks of rock and bush, the swooping valleys, the dense forests alive with birds and butterflies, the isolated villages of mud huts and cassava fields, and in particular the vast inland sea which is Lake Tanganyika.

    Most travellers these days start their explorations in the boisterous capital of Bujumbura, a town which did not even appear on maps in the days of Livingstone. It is dusty and dilapidated, but has a tremendous bustling marketplace and a beautiful location, wedged beneath gigantic mountains and within sight of the water. It is safe (in daylight, at least) and local people seem genuinely pleased to meet travellers. Not that you are likely to pass unnoticed, this is definitely a place where the passing of a European means all other activity ceases, and the word muzungu (white person) is whispered by almost everyone we pass. It takes a little getting used to, but it is neither hostile nor offensive, and very often said with a broad, welcoming smile.

    Many prefer to stay at the aptly named Saga Beach, a few kilometres out of town. The beach is long and sweeping, dissolving into haze in both directions. Tiny waves lap at golden sand, and fishing canoes inch along the horizon. It is pretty and quiet on week days, bustling with picnicking families at weekends. It is a beautiful beach to swim at, the grilled fish and Primus beer are excellent, and as the sun sets glowing red over the barely visible hills of DR Congo in the distance, it remains one of very few places in the world where you are unlikely to see a single other tourist all day.

    Stanley did, of course, find his fellow traveller in November 1871. Livingstone was destitute, living on the handouts of the slave traders he abhorred. Stanley's bounty of food, medicine and cloth for trade likely saved Livingstone’s life. But still, the old man refused Stanley's offer to return to Britain together. His work was not done, the immense challenge of the journey to Zanzibar perhaps more daunting than the thought of staying, and dying, close to Lake Tanganyika. Which he duly did, a year on, his battle to find the Source lost.
    Given Livingstone’s obsession with finding the Source, it is ironic that Burundi claims that too. And while it is true that a modest spring at Rutovu in the south of the country does eventually feed into the Nile, so modest is the flow of water that the few tourists who make the journey south look more than a little puzzled as to why they have just spent three hours on a crowded minibus.

    Stanley returned to first Britain and then America, and saw his name added to those of his heroes in lists of great explorers. He returned to Africa and circumnavigated Lake Victoria before agreeing to work for the notorious King Leopold of Belgium, for whom Stanley helped open up the Congo to exploitation. It was a decision which would forever tarnish his reputation, and one which means his name is less revered than it perhaps deserved to be.

    Not an enormous number of travellers have ever followed Stanley’s path to Ujiji in Tanzania. Perhaps now, with thirty years of instability seemingly at an end, another generation of explorers will challenge the claims of the mapmakers, and discover Burundi instead.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2012
  2. Saigon
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    Saigon Gold Member

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    The 'bar' at my hotel at Saga Beach on Lake Tanganyika, and me at sunset on the lake.


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  3. Saigon
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    Saigon Gold Member

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    Upped for Hoss!
     
  4. waltky
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    waltky Wise ol' monkey Supporting Member

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    "a complete breakdown of law and order is just around the corner"...

    UN Concerned About Reports of Gang-Rapes, Mass Graves in Burundi
    Friday 15th January, 2016 - The United Nations human rights chief has spoken out against increasing violence in Burundi, where he warns "a complete breakdown of law and order is just around the corner."
     

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