In amongst this wonderful natural world though, were the painful reminders of what the friction between Hutu and Tutsi had done to the country. Everywhere were people with limbs missing, eyes out, huge scars across their faces, torsos, arms and legs. The ages of the scarred ranged from very young to very old. But what was most amazing was how young the population was. Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and
fortunately it has enough natural resources to support most of them decently, if given the chance. The birth rate is phenomenal, so that over half the country are under twenty years of age. Added to this that many young men died during the conflicts, means that a large proportion of a generation, particularly on the male side is missing. It is up to the younger brothers, the sons and daughters to try and pick up the life and livelihood of the household. Rather than schooling, many were bringing income into the house through trades, retail and odd jobs, or by allowing the family to subsist from its farm. Many was a time on that journey where we passed by a young boy, no more than eight or nine and only four feet high, with a massive machete. The tool of the farmer, essential in this fast growing climate, was also the major tool for the atrocities here. So easy to find, so easy to use; it slices through human flesh and bone as easily as a maize stalk.
And then there were the rifles. They were everywhere. All along the road, we saw soldiers hanging around waiting for lifts, walking in and out of the roadside bush, sitting in bars drinking, gambling. So many were just teenagers, they were hardly in control of their hormones let alone their weapons. Kelly told us that there were huge numbers of soldiers in the country, not the crack troops I had seen in Bujumbura, but general farmers boys who wanted to kill whatever amounted to the other side, have the glamour and get better pay. The problem was that although the wage levels existed, few wages were paid, and soldiers regularly deserted, taking their rifles and whatever ammunition they had with them. Having lost out on any apprenticeship they could not learn a trade, the glamour of soldiering still outranked farming 10-1. They drifted around, still in uniform, many of them getting drunk. So you had thousands of young testosterone filled men, drunk up to the eyeballs with no money and no prospects, hanging around society instead of being in barracks. It was a recipe for disaster, and highlighted why the security situation was so volatile here.
We stopped at one road block and had to show our passports. Africa did not have one, but showed his ID card. We passed through without incident, but even so, our already edgy nerves were sorely tested in the few moments at that point.
More evidence, as if we needed it, of the past troubles were up ahead. A memorial cross stood on the side of the road, and behind a burnt out shell of a convent school. The massacre of pupils and their teachers at this point, where they were barricaded in the school and burnt alive, still goes deep into the national psyche here. In so many places Hutu worshippers might have been killed , or schoolchildren shot dead by their own colleagues. We only saws a small amount of the residue from years of painful conflict that touched the whole country and everyone within it.
We dropped down a little into a wide fertile valley, still thousands of feet in the air, where Gitega sat. Not a particularly substantial looking town, but it did have a proper market and centre. Instead of resting here though, we turned to a hillside to the north, where IGEBU and INECN were located. We spent the remainder of the morning in meetings. The offices were typical of many government institutions in Africa, in amongst long corridors with few people in then, were large rooms with a couple of filing cabinets at one end, a few dusty papers or maps hanging around, some maps on the wall, a poster dating from the 1970’s telling us to conserve oil stocks. And perhaps a couple of pieces of automated equipment; a counting machine, a disused phone and even, perhaps, a very old 286 computer.