Almost exactly 20 years ago, Burundi's first democratically elected Hutu president was assassinated by Tutsi extremists. It sparked a genocide and civil war that only ended a few years ago, with tensions still smoldering.
Burundi is a small landlocked country in Eastern Africa, bordered by Rwanda to the north, Tanzania to the east and south and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west.
During a period of two years, Dutch photojournalist and documentary storyteller Anaïs López and her writing colleague Eva Smallegange travelled to Burundi to try to get to know the country, its inhabitants and its culture. Through photography and writing they show contemporary Burundian life at all different levels of society.
The result is an amazing book that combines intimate photography, a series of engaging short anecdotes, and an honest understanding of how life goes on.
Access to the remarkable cast of characters in the book was made possible by their wise friend, guide and driver, Koky — who encouraged his countrywide network of friends and relations to accept the two Dutch journalists as trusted friends.
With a smile on his face, Koky explained the new social order to the journalists, and how it works:
"In Burundi you depend on your family and friends. They protect you and provide security, but not unconditionally. You should never forget that every person has his or her own position in socitety. Others may support you, but if they are of higher status they will decide what is good for you. You have to gain their trust. Especially after civil war, this takes time and effort. People are suspicious. I am too, that is only human.
"You always have to follow the social rules. You can't just ask for a favor and leave. That is rude. You have to spend time with people. Eat a brochette together or share a Primus. Keep this in mind and there will be a solution for everything. It allows you to go anywhere in Burundi and talk to anyone you want."
So the journalists adapted to the slow process of gaining trust and acceptance, and when they finally earned the trust, they were welcomed everywhere, to talk and learn about anything, and to experience the working way of life in Burundi. As readers, we share in this unique, privileged view at all levels of society.
What is amazing is that this book captures such a positive outlook in the aftermath of long-endured tragedy, violence and trauma. Koky tells charming stories about his childhood and introduces ten of his friends from different strata of society who each have their own stories: the manioc miller from whom he buys his flour, the princess who was once engaged to his brother, the president, his cousin the cow herder, and more. They all share their view on what is needed to survive in this intriguing country, just five years after the ending of the civil war that raged for over a decade.
In many ways, this book defines a new approach to post-conflict reporting. Personal, engaging, real, and forever memorable. Highly recommended.
— Jim Casper
Only in Burundi
by Anaïs López and Eva Smallegange
264-pages, 80 color photographs
148 x 192 mm
English and French
Limited edition: 1,200 copies
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