08 January 2014

Against recommendations, I did hire a taxi to go outside
the city to see some of the surrounding countryside.

Visit Burundi? The U.S. State Dept. warns of armed bandits, ambushes, gunfire, grenade attacks, and "endemic corruption." Don't dare go out after dark. And don't go a kilometer beyond the capital city Bujumbura. The Brits say ditto and add the "long running cholera epidemic."

But I was in the neighborhood (next-door in Rwanda) and it seemed rude not to stop by.

In many ways, Burundi looks like a twin of Rwanda ― similar small landmass, about the same high density and population size. Both are mountainous, have similar agricultural products, and endured poor German then poor Belgium colonial rule.

Both have had much Hutu-Tutsi violence. Estimates for Burundi vary for the waves of murders in the 1970s and again in the 1990s (50,000, 250,000, more?). In Rwanda, some 800,000-1,000,000 were killed in the worst 1994 period.

Despite similarities, Burundi has become much poorer than Rwanda. Burundi is often ranked as one of the poorest four or five countries in the world, sometimes as the poorest. Its GDPpc is about one third that of Rwanda!

Researchers attribute its catastrophic failures to severe corruption, crony exploitation of political power, looting resources rather than creating new wealth.

Left: Place de la Révolution: nice, main park in downtown Bujumbura
Right: No traffic lights so intersection excitement; a few five-story buildings

On this stone monument near Bujumbura is carved:

This locale is not where explorer H. M. Stanley uttered those famed, perfect words of nonchalant British cool upon tracking down medical missionary David Livingstone in 1871.

But, after their first meeting (in nearby Tanzania), they immediately began some joint explorations. Just two weeks later they were here by Lake Tanganyika where they received a particularly warm welcome as the first two Europeans to visit the area.

And, all in all, I have to say my welcome here was fairly warm too ― as well as bandit-free.

Next: A week in Saudi Arabia. Stay tuned. ― Bill