John Gee, a member of the Diocese of Edmonton, is currently in Burundi, working in the Diocese of Buye for a three-month stint. We welcome this guest post to the blog.
When I first contemplated going to Burundi, I found that I had very little knowledge of its geography and history. Burundi is sometimes called the "heart of Africa" because it is heart-shaped and close to the middle of the continent. It is also called the "Switzerland of Africa" because of its landlocked position, mountainous terrain, and mixture of French and German influences. Hills are so ubiquitous in Burundi that the official name for a village, the smallest municipal government unit, is "colline" (French for hill).
Burundi has about 10 million people in an area of 27,834 square kilometres - about three times the population of Alberta in only 1/24th the area. Despite this, the country is overwhelmingly rural. Ngozi, the third largest city, has a population of around 50,000. Land is the most valuable asset and every bit of it is in use, right up to the tops of the hills. Fortunately the soil is very fertile and the whole country (except for a small area in the northeast) is blessed with abundant rainfall. The rainy season begins in mid-September and lasts until the spring.
The history of Burundi is unlike that of other parts of Africa. When the European powers divided up Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1885, Burundi had not yet been explored by Europeans and consequently was not spoken for. Shortly afterwards it was occupied by Germans coming from neighbouring Tanganyika. When Germany invaded Belgium in 1914, the Belgians retaliated by invading Rwanda and Burundi from the adjacent Belgian Congo. The two countries were under Belgian rule until they became independent in 1962. Another unusual thing about Burundi is that there is only one vernacular language, Kirundi, which is spoken by members of all tribes. This is a unifying factor that most African countries lack. French is the language of professional communication, and an increasing number of people also speak English.
The Diocese of Buye originally included all of Burundi when it was established in the 1930s, but is now one of seven Anglican dioceses. It includes the provinces of Ngozi, Kayanza, Kirundo, and part of Muyinga, comprising the north end of Burundi next to Rwanda and Tanzania. In addition to Ngozi, the major towns are Kayanza and Kirundo. Most of the churches are in small villages that can only be reached by very bumpy dirt roads. The most remote part of the diocese, in the east, can only be reached by going through the neighbouring diocese of Muyinga.
Buye itself is a village (located, of course, on top of a hill) where the first Anglican missionaries established their base of operations. The cathedral and the bishop's residence are still there, but the diocesan offices are located in Ngozi about 10 kilometres away. Buye's other claim to fame is that the current president of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, was born there. He also happens to be Anglican.