Burundi “where living is an act of resistance”: Ketty Nivyabandi

Ketty Nivyabandi during a protest on May 13, 2015, in Bujumbura

In May, women brought the struggle for democracy to the Burundi’s capital’s city Center. In the first major protest in Bujumbura, the women protested much more than President Pierre Nkurunziza’s move to take a third term. They demanded peace, unity, democracy, and recognition of their own power. As Ketty Nivyabandi, Burundian poet and activist, declared, “We came here to express our distress. We, the women, we are made helpless in this country because women are always the first victims of conflict. We are always the first to be affected by the situation, and we are tired. We want respect from our nation, we want freedom of expression for all Burundians.” In the aftermath, Ketty Nivyabandi was forced into exile, but not into silence. She continues to express, demand, and organize. According to Nivyabandi, the Bujumbura has become more and more like Oran in Camus’s The Plague, “a city where living is an act of resistance.”

In this season of bare life, silence is impossible: “It is impossible to remain silent in the face of all that’s happening in Burundi. We are a generation of Africans who did not live throught the struggle for independence, and we were too young to understand what was going on during the struggles for multi-party democracy. But today, we bear the responsibility to struggle for liberty in our countries. I feel responsible. I don’t want to look at my children, later, and tell them there was nothing I could do during this period in our history.”

Ketty Nivyabandi sees the current moment in Burundi as part of an African wave, “There is a wave blowing across Africa where a new generation demands greatness. We want excellence. We want leaders who deliver, and we want our laws to be upheld.” Call it Spring, call it harmattan, women’s protests have led to mass protests have led to hope and the promise of democracy.

For Ketty Nivyabandi, the push for expanded democracy is always already a push for democracy itself, and the “Burundi crisis” is a global crisis, “If the justice system, the judicial system, is not independent, and is not able to function freely, how is this a democracy? Democracy is not about going to vote. It’s not just about voting. It’s all the conditions that allow for the freedom of every citizen to express their views and to choose the way they’d like to be led. Right now there is no choice. Our responsibility as global citizens is to ensure that this doesn’t go on. That this is stopped as soon as possible. Urgently. We need to act urgently.”

We need to act urgently, because the very substance of peace is at stake: “My hopes for Burundi are as big and wide as the sky. But most of all, especially this year, I hope for peace. Not the kind of peace that is signed by a few, on a loose sheet of paper. The kind that sits in people’s bellies. A sense of freedom and possibility. The kind that secures and liberates every Burundian to be what they wish to be. All that artists and poets like me can do is to be so true with our art, that through it, Burundi is able see itself, and to keep stirring its heart alive.”



(Photo Credit 1: Ketty Nivyabandi / VICE) (Photo Credit 2: aufeminin.com)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.