The Prejudices We Provoke

Manifestantes protestan en Burundi. (VOA)
Demonstrators protest in Burundi. (VOA)

Under the slogan of “Tanganyika breaks heads with big force” a Cuban radio serial from the 50s inculcated my generation with the idea that Africans are rude and violent. I vaguely remember that the character of this resonant name was a kind of stupid but unbeatable giant.

I didn’t know then that Tanganyika was a lake and that its northwestern shore touched Bujumbura, the largest population center in Burundi, which became the capital after gaining independence in 1962. The prejudices of my childhood were reinforced years later when tribal struggles arose between Hutus and Tutsis and the dead filled the streets of the city in an absurd fratricidal war.

But for weeks the news confused me.

I had been led to believe that those Burundians were a “savage people” and suddenly I see them walking the streets in an enviable gesture of civility to protest the intentions of President Pierre Nkuruziza to get himself re-elected for the third time (which succeeded in controversial elections last July 21). The opposition managed to unite although they continued to disagree about whether to participate in the elections and about the decision of whether to occupy seats in the parliament.

It was the Prensa Latina agency that released a report saying that the main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa would take his place in the Assembly with 20 members of his coalition. Meanwhile the leader of another opposition group, Charles Nditije, declined to occupy the 10 seats he won in the elections.

The newspaper  Granma surprised many last Wednesday with the following comment on the elections in Burundi:

“Seven days after the presidential elections, the commission of UN observers concluded that the election was not “free, credible and inclusive.” In its preliminary report, the commission said that the vote was marked by violence and there were obstacles to freedom of expression, assembly and association. In addition, it stated that “freedom of the press suffered severe restrictions” and that “the public media did not guarantee a balanced coverage of the candidates.”

What might be the “preliminary report” of a commission of observers from the United Nations if it were allowed to witness an electoral process in Cuba? Would they say it was free, credible and inclusive? Would they dare to assert that there were no obstacles to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association? Would they notice the severe restrictions on press freedom and note that the public media did not provide balanced coverage of the candidates?

I apologize to the people of Burundi. We have fallen to a level that is below that racist category of “savage people.” We have provoked a greater prejudice, that of being a tamed people.

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