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Published: March 4th 2007
Gitaga Dancers and Drummers
These lot were ace. So how can the music and dancing in Bujumbura's "legendary" nightclubs be so pants?
I don't know how many reasons you need to visit a country. For Burundi I had two. See the title of this blog to discover the two reasons. Maybe you could add a third, the fact that I didn't know anyone else who had been here, but it is principally cakes and beaches that led me to board an overcrowded minibus for the arduous journey south from Rwanda.
Cakes: Burundi is the most Francophone of the East African countries. Consequently, in the hot, dusty capital, Bujumbura, there are a lot of excellent little patisseries catering for the hoards of French and Belgian UN officials and NGO's.
Beaches: The inland beaches of Burundi are found on the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika. It was nice to dip my toes in this, the longest freshwater lake in the world and the second biggest in terms of volume (behind Baikal in Siberia). Since in my head Lake Tanganyika was the exotic realm of explorers like Livingstone and Stanley, being there reminded me why I started travelling in the first place. The fine sand and dark brooding mountains of the Congo offers scenes comparable to those on Lake Malawi. Although in Malawi where
Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of Congo in the background
there are lots of great little beach bars and a lively backpacker scene, in Burundi there is one great little beach bar and no tourists at all.
The reason for the hoards of UN workers and NGO's is the drawn out civil war that began in 1993. The final remaining, but also most extreme, rebel group, finally signed a ceasefire with the government in September 2006. This explains the lack of tourists.
As in Rwanda, problems in Burundi are caused by Hutu-Tutsi tensions. A Tutsi minority has governed a Hutu majority and since independance in 1962 it hasn't taken much for one tribal group to start massacring the other. I won't give a big history like I did on the Rwanda blog because it is much harder to understand what has gone on here than north of the border.
Talk to the people on the street and there is a lot of hope for the future. Refugees of past massacres are returning to the country, education is increasing, poverty is decreasing. Despite this the large numbers of heavily armed police and army soldiers on the streets are constant reminders that such a recent peace is not yet
This country is gradually appearing on the backpacker circuit as an alternative way to get from countries like Rwanda and Uganda down to Zambia. A few days on a ship cruising down Lake Tanganyika is infinitely more pleasurable to a few days in a cramped bus on Tanzania's awful roads.
There isn't a great deal to keep you in the country though when in transit. Except for the apparently "legendary Bujumbura nightlife", to quote Lonely Planet. When I think of legendary nightlife, I think of Space in Ibiza, Pacha in Buenos Aires or any number of clubs in London. Le Pique Nique was slightly different. More a fenced off gravel car park than what I would call a club. Music ranged from Cher to 50 cent, always with African drumming in the background. Floor filler of the night was Dire Straits - Money For Nothing. "Why do Mazunga's (white men) never dance?" I was repeatedly asked. "Because the tunes are so shite" I think I replied in my best french. Food was good though: salty goat and chips.
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