So, yesterday, two young Burundian men, argued on twitter. They had a heated conversation on the worst forum ever! 140 characters can never fully encompass a well-argued thought. People just create soundbites to get the best viral moment and to have the best “shut the fuck up!” comeback. It really is the worst place, but it happened. Moreover, people don’t seem to understand they reveal themselves through their tweets, arguments, comebacks, etc.

Anyway, they fought. Thank God it was only done verbally and virtually. I am not here to be a referee of that fight. Since every contest demands a winner, was there really one? Either one could have won depending on who you ask.  Unfortunately, the confrontation contained no bravery, no nobility, no honor or any common sense at times. Chaos would be an adequate word to describe the spat. The name calling, the blame game and the concentration of vitriol was just lethal. It is a miracle they are both still alive.

They fought and fought, and I still do not know when they stopped or if they stopped!!!! They called each other names with a disheartening savagery. We could spend an eternity arguing who was right and who was wrong but that would be beside the point. No one won that god-forsaken verbal boxing match. Yet, it wasn’t a complete waste of time, because if one cared enough, one could find a fundamental common feeling between those two: PAIN.

It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to figure out both young men are individuals who have been hurt and who have been persecuted. They most likely feel the same way millions of Burundians do. We all have PTSD to stronger and lesser degrees. However, I am not here to compare pain and institute acceptable or unacceptable thresholds of pain. There isn’t a pain chart for the soul! We could create one, but it wouldn’t be truly helpful. Do you know why?

Pain is singular. Pain isn’t scientifically quantifiable, and I mainly saw pain in that exchange. I saw the sort of pain that clouds judgments, unleashes nastiness, viciousness and pushes us to see our adversary as the “other”. The angrier we get, the more they become an object, an entity, an enemy. The “other” becomes SOMETHING instead of SOMEONE. An object can easily be discarded but human beings, not as easily. Dehumanization isn’t only about putting people in concentration camps; it is also about ignoring the humanity in the adversary.

How convenient it is to see the “other” as different, almost on a cellular level. Nevertheless, the adversary is a human being, with a beating heart, a soul, someone’s son or daughter, someone’s father or mother, they have their own story, their own fears, apprehensions and hopes. In the end, as much as they would hate it, the two young men aren’t that different. They might even be quite similar. Yet, I am sure they would rather die than admit it. We won’t hold that against them.

As they tried to eviscerate each other, trying to prove whose pain supersedes the other’s, they probably forgot 2 things:

  1. No pain is objectively greater than the other. It is mostly subjective.

It fucking doesn’t! It never will. Pain doesn’t give you any legitimacy. As cold as it sounds, pain doesn’t make you special in people’s eyes necessarily. Some might see your pain and feel sorry for you, but it will not ultimately give you extra or special treatment. I highly doubt it.



The saddest part of life is you might not get justice. But one thing is sure: being persecuted doesn’t entitle you to persecute or prosecute others who have done nothing. You have no right to inflict the same or worse pain unto others. The troubles, pain and sorrow you went through, should-and that is wishful thinking-make you a bit more empathetic to other people’s pain. If revenge or inflicting pain on the innocent is your only goal, then you are no better than those who hurt you. If you keep saying to yourself “I have suffered so they should all suffer”, then you are just hurt perhaps beyond repair. Hopefully not.

The two men didn’t realize they shared-almost-the same pain because they were too busy fighting. To a certain extent, it isn’t their fault! Family dynamics, society, trauma and injustice don’t teach tolerance, love and forgiveness. Pain teaches exclusion, resentment, hate.

They never stopped fighting to find a way to heal, to find common ground. I guess conflict is always more entertaining than healing. If you can fight using your words or your body, people call you a warrior, a fighter, a tough guy/girl. They say you don’t fuck around. If you can fight, no one can call you soft or a coward. As a society, we always give quasi-infinite value to warriors. Those who forgive? They are weak.

This is how cycles of hate and resentment are perpetuated, as they have in our beloved Burundi for decades now. All this ethnic bullshit started more than 100 years ago and the wars, massacres, killings, rapes, people fleeing, it started in the 50’s, which means almost 70 years ago. A person born at the beginning of the conflict is a grandma or a grandpa now. LET THAT SINK IN!

Yet, here we are…still fighting amongst ourselves as to who is right and who is wrong.  One thing is certain: the two gentlemen aren’t ready to lead us because they haven’t healed yet. I am not taking a shot at them. They are just not ready. There is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps they will be in the future, but for now, they must sit on the bench.

Burundi is a conservative country, with a society that claims to stand for just causes because those values are in our traditions and history. What is more just than forgiveness? It is one of the hallmarks of Christianity, the religion that landed on our beloved country more than a hundred years ago and that has taken hold of almost every Burundian. Yet, I fail to see forgiveness. I fail to see compromise. I fail to see people breaking the cycle of hate, violence and revenge. How many times have I heard people my age and younger claim to want to break the cycle? They always talk about it, perhaps they mean it. However, not to generalize, the exchange yesterday, from two people who are supposed to represent the future of our beloved Burundi, just showed us that the mentalities haven’t changed. We still have light years to go.

I will not stand here and pretend to offer a solution to fix problems that have been going on since my grandfather was a child. I do not have the answers. I actually have more questions than answers. I just believe recognizing that we have a problem, is the first step. Yes, the young generation has a deep-rooted problem. We are not in peace with ourselves and/or with others, as much as we thought. We carry that “hate baggage” with us. It is mostly subtle and subliminal, and rarely it is overt. We wear our pain like a badge of honor when it is only a damn curse. The twitter fight was a useful reminder that we still have a long way to go. It is a fucking long road ahead and we must start as soon as possible.

Forgiveness isn’t easy when your family has been massacred, prosecuted, persecuted, forced to flee, humiliated, etc. Forgiveness is nearly impossible. That is what we must aim for; the impossible if we ever want to live side by side, together and in harmony. It isn’t a utopia. It is achievable. We just got to do what those young men haven’t done yet: HEAL.

How do we heal? I don’t know to be honest. I will leave that to you. I am no expert in healing. But we must.

One last thing, if we want to build a long-lasting peace: we must hold accountable those who have spread death and destroyed our country. Those who have killed, raped, maimed, looted, humiliated others must pay for their crimes. I don’t care about their names, ethnic group, religious/political affiliation, academic level, color, province they come from, year they committed the crime, etc.

Lady Justice is blind, right? She must get the perpetrators and help us heal. Let’s try and make it happen. One step at a time, one dialogue at a time. I know it will not happen overnight, but we must believe in that healing before it happens.

Just one man’s opinion.

Now smile and go on with your day.

Freeman. B

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