The central part of Bujumbura was laid out during colonial days, and features a classic City Beautiful rond-point, around which vehicle
traffic is channeled. The Chaussée Prince Louis Rwagazore and the Chausée Peuple Murundi come together here.
Bujumbura is the capital of Burundi, Rwanda’s non-identical twin in the Great Lake Region of Central Africa. Like Rwanda, Burundi’s population is divided between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, with Hutus forming the vast majority, about 80 percent. (Both countries also include a small proportion—less than three percent—of Twa, a people related to the pygmies.) Inter-ethnic violence has been endemic for more than 40 years, and although Burundi has not seen bloodshed on a scale of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, a civil war that began in 1993 has claimed thousands upon thousands of victims. Whereas in Rwanda, Tutsi were the target of Hutu violence, the situation is reversed in Burundi.
A long, slow process toward peace and reconciliation was just beginning when I visited Bujumbura to research a novel, The Violets of Usambara. That was in October 2001, a most interesting time to travel in Africa, I can assure you. Both the US and Canadian governments had travel warnings in effect, and before I left I was told not to venture outside the city alone. What I found in Bujumbura was a city which still showed its colonial roots in the design of the central section. Wide, City Beautiful-inspired boulevards took off from a rond-point or climbed toward the hills. Both the airport and the cathedral boasted classic modernist design from the 1950s and early 1960s. But the city was surrounded by acres of informally-built housing. These neighborhoods are said to have grown as people have come to take refuge in the city from violence in the hills.
Cattle are extremely important still to Tutsis who are the traditional herders in both Rwanda and Burundi. When I was there the peace process between the two ethnics groups was underway, but tensions were still acute. Several well-off herders had brought their cattle down from the hills for safe keeping in corrals in the city right at the edge of Lake Tanganyika.
Since my trip, I’ve followed the slow struggle to set aside differences and create a viable form of power sharing between the two major ethnic groups. The United Nations regional information service, IRIN, is invaluable in keeping track with what is going on there. The latest news tells of Burundian refugees coming back after as many as 30 years in exile.
But also Bujumbura is very much on my mind just now, because the book I was researching is finally being published. The story begins in March 1997 when a Canadian politician goes missing while on a fact finding trip in the country, and continues in the Mile End district of Montreal, where his wife waits for news. To celebrate the end of a project that has taken more than 10 years to accomplish, we’re having a book launch to which all Urbanphoto friend are invited: 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 2, 2008 at Librairie L’écume des jours, 125 St. Viateur West.
Bujumbura is built on flat land on the east side of Lake Tanganyika in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa. This picture was taken in October, when farmers were burning their hillside plots in preparation for planting as the rainy season began.
Elegant left-over from colonial times, the Hotel Club Tanganyika still sets an excellent table just across the road from the lake. This is where Prince Louis Rwagazore was killed just before independence: Burundi was slated to be the Kingdom of Burundi, with its non-identical twin Rwanda to become the Republic of Rwanda.