Roger Harmer

Liberal Democrat Campaigner working for Acocks Green

Christmas in Burundi

I hope you had a happy Christmas and 2013 is starting well for you and your family.

I spent the festive period in Burundi, a small country in East Africa. It lies between Congo, Tanzania and Rwanda, with its capital city, Bujumbura sitting on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world. Its a fascinating place, so utterly different from the UK. Its terribly poor and parts of the infrastructure are still being rebuilt following the devastating civil war and genocide, which also affected Rwanda. There has been peace since 2006, and the country feels remarkably safe, despite its recent history, but at the same time the presence of the UN and the large number of armed police and soldiers on the streets are a clear reminder of its past.

Given all of their problems, one of the things that strikes you is how happy people seem and how strange they find the stressful lives of westerners. Its also interesting how such a poor country has many of the things we strive for, albeit not for reasons we would want. While many go hungry, those who have enough to eat, have far better diets than us. There is virtually no processed food, hardly any sweets or chocolate and lots of fish and wonderfully delicious fruit in the diet. Cycling is extremely popular, though often as a means of transporting alarmingly large amount of goods and there is innovative use of low carbon technology. Bujumbura’s conventional streetlights are not a priority for mains electricity which is in very short supply, so it is sprouting increasing numbers of solar powered LED lights. One of the main hospitals has a very large Solar PV system to the front and scrap pieces of land are rapidly planted with crops even near the middle of town.

Bujumbura is at times frustrating. There are no traffic lights, many many roads that have more potholes than tarmac and annoying roadblocks that seem to exist to supplement the income of policemen (we managed to avoid this by having a locally savvy driver). But its also friendly, vibrant and fingers crossed, seems to be moving, slowly for sure, in the right direction. I’m certainly looking forward to my next trip there.

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