21
May
12

Occupy Bujumbura

From 2008 to 2012, I resided in Bujumbura, Burundi, working as an aid worker for the first three years and then as a radio host and producer of Imagine Burundi (imagineburundi.com). Throughout that time, I became more and more dejected over the divisions that existed along cultural, economic, racial and ethnic lines. My presence as a relatively wealthy individual working in an industry that purported to accomplish humanitarian and charitable objectives made me question our collective motivations. How do we reconcile those competing objectives? Or are we digging deeper lines, between haves and have-nots, between citizens and civil servants, between aid workers and “beneficiaries”. Ultimately, the doubts and criticisms creeping around my consciousness coalesced into a form of protest. This short series of photos is meant to highlight these contradictions, in a place far away – in so many regards – from the a country like the U.S. It is meant as a critique of the international development framework and my presence within that model but ultimately, I hope to illustrate the massive impact that inequality, in any form, has on notions of community and democracy.

You could also say that this entire exercise was an excuse to get photos of my dog online without really blogging about my dog – but that would be kind of insane.

(Special thanks to Seth Chase, Leah Hazard, Dedo Baranshamaje and Chauncey Dog for taking some of the photos, running interference with the police and protesting in spirit.)

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1. “In Burundi, in East Africa, I am in the 1%. “

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2. “In Burundi, the other 99% face extreme inequalities, a paralyzed government, brutal competition, and total despair about any change.”

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3. “Burundi has a democratic political system, but what is a democracy without democratic values?”

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4. “I’ve occupied Bujumbura for almost four years. Little has improved in that time.”

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5. “The status quo here is pessimism, distrust, and stagnation. When we only see inequalities rising, we feel this situation can happen anywhere.”

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6. ‘Foreigners in Burundi like to say, “Life is good.” Yes, it is – for us.’

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7. “Outside Burundi, I might be in the 99% but I believe in values like merit and opportunity.”

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8. “There is a fight out there, to change the rules, to set things right.”

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9. “That is why I am leaving Burundi; I want to join this fight.”

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10. “My ultimate protest is to leave. I cannot support this framework anymore. It’s strange to be in the 1%.”

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11. “It is time to Occupy somewhere else.”

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7 Responses to “Occupy Bujumbura”


  1. 1 raj
    May 23, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    pretty sad u are leaving

  2. 2 John Manirakiza
    May 24, 2012 at 3:56 am

    Hi Jefferson, that is a fascinating story there. It’s hard to work in development in conditions as you describe, I would love to know more about your experience in Burundi. Don’t give up!

  3. 3 Marcel louis
    May 24, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Thanks a lot Mr Jeff for your accurate analysis of our dramatic situation I will share this with other light univ english club members! Don t give up!stay mobilise for change

  4. 4 green3lmo
    May 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    It is indeed sad being part of that 1% everyone despise… Although virtually anyone with a job and who’s not a farmer would fall into this category given Burindi situation. In perspective, you should be happy you are not part of the global 1% and that, in spite of all the problems it has, without international aid the country would probably be in a worse situation.


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