Is Bu­rundi a na­tion of lions led by don­keys?

CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

The East African - - OPINION -

AFrench gift a few days an­gered Bu­rundi’s gov­ern­ment. Bu­jum­bura or­dered the quar­an­tine of 10 don­keys that were do­nated to a vil­lage in cen­tral Bu­rundi through French fund­ing to a lo­cal NGO, con­sid­er­ing it an in­sult.

The an­i­mals, bought across the bor­der in Tan­za­nia, were given to a vil­lage in Gitega Prov­ince, to help women and chil­dren trans­port agri­cul­tural prod­ucts, wa­ter and wood, re­ports said.

A pres­i­den­tial ad­vi­sor de­scribed the project as “an in­sult to the na­tion” and Gabby Bu­gaga, spokesman for the Se­nate pres­i­dent, took to Twit­ter to pro­claim that the French were “tak­ing us for don­keys.”

You would think it couldn’t have got worse, but then France’s am­bas­sador Lau­rent De­la­housse praised “the in­tro­duc­tion of the Land Cruiser of the an­i­mal king­dom to Bu­rundi,” and in de­fence of the don­keys, said that to his knowl­edge “all pro­ce­dures were re­spected.”

The prob­lem is that the don­keys were a gift from hell. First, they should not have been given as part of a gov­ern­ment fund. But once given, they are the kinds of gift you should not re­ject, at least pub­licly.

Both acts are be­lit­tling and em­bar­rass­ing.

It is up with there with things like US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, leader of the world’s rich­est na­tion, get­ting into a ker­fuf­fle with Rwanda be­cause it has slapped puni­tive tar­iffs on mi­tumba (sec­ond­hand clothes). Our fore­fa­thers were aware of the risks of big peo­ple squab­bling over small things, and so kings were for­bid­den to speak (and some­times to open their mouths to eat in pub­lic), ex­cept on care­fully cho­sen oc­ca­sions.

Bu­jum­bura should have left it to the lo­cal vil­lage chief to de­tain the don­keys, and the French should have sent the low­est of­fi­cial they could find to ex­plain. Any­thing to keep this mat­ter out of head­lines.

But, now that it is out there, per­haps it’s worth ask­ing: “Why would any for­eign gov­ern­ment, not just the French, think that a few don­keys would be a big deal for a Bu­rundi vil­lage?” The un­com­fort­able an­swer is that in a Bu­rundi, which has been in vary­ing stages of civil war since Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza started ma­noeu­vring to change the Con­sti­tu­tion and give make him­self pres­i­dent for life, the coun­try is all but a bas­ket case.

Ten don­keys in an eco­nom­i­cally de­pressed part of ru­ral Bu­rundi, are a big deal for poor fam­i­lies. Af­ter all, in re­cent months, we have seen pho­to­graphs of Pres­i­dent Nku­run­z­iza kneel­ing and pray­ing for pota­toes in a peas­ant’s small garden.

Per­haps, not sur­pris­ingly, there have been sug­ges­tions that Bu­jum­bura is play­ing ponies and don­keys on this, be­cause France criticised the re­cent ref­er­en­dum that opened the door for Nku­run­z­iza to be pres­i­dent for at least an­other 16 years.

Ide­ally, Bu­rundi’s best op­tion is that it shouldn’t be in a po­si­tion where any­one would think of giv­ing any aid – small or big - at all to its vil­lages.

The French were cul­tur­ally tone deaf on this one. How­ever, if they had do­nated cows in­stead, though they wouldn’t have been touchy gifts, they still would have spo­ken to Bu­jum­bura’s fail­ure to pro­vide for the peo­ple.

It’s why, though we haven’t heard from the vil­lagers, if they had the voice, one sus­pects they would tell Bu­jum­bura not to talk the hind legs off their don­keys.

Our fore­fa­thers, aware of the risks of big peo­ple squab­bling over small things, didn’t al­low kings to speak.” Though we haven’t heard from the vil­lagers, if they had the voice, one sus­pects they would tell Bu­jum­bura not to talk the hind legs off their don­keys

Charles Onyango-obbo is pub­lisher of data vi­su­aliser Afr­ica­pae­dia and Rogue Chiefs. Twit­ter@cobbo3

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