There is little indication that one is about to enter Bujumbura City especially if one entered the Country through the Akanyaru border post.
Apart from the Bugarama and Kayanza rural towns, the descent on the Capital is a smooth one with little human activity to attract the attention of a first time visitor.
It is when one reaches the mountainous commune of Gasenyi that the City of Bujumbura comes to full view. Tough looking soldiers are dotted all over this area given its strategic position for it over looks the concrete jungle that is Bujumbura City.
Bujumbura City is beautifully flat. A visitor accustomed to hilly Kigali City will be relieved to realise that they can walk miles on end without having to move up a single hill in this City.
The many years of civil strife have had their toll on this amazingly beautiful City. It has suffered neglect as evidenced by blocked drainage systems in the town.
Nausea inducing dirty water and filth from the Central market welcomes you to the City centre.
There is little regard for traffic regulations in the City. Taxis ferrying passengers can stop anywhere and vehicles; private and commercial, park anywhere even in the middle of the road.
Traffic Police can take a bribe as low as FBU 500 (Frw250) as one pal was to witness.
Everything seems to be sold on the black market here. From mobile phone SIM cards to cigarettes. Money changers can sometimes be annoying. They will insist on offering their services despite your incessant pleas to be left in peace.
Bujumbura City is hot day or night. It is difficult to experience a cool breeze of fresh air in this lake side City. One starts dripping in sweat immediately they leave the shower room.
It is not all gloom in this City. Three years of relative calm have brought about some infrastructural development. High rise buildings are sprouting up in different corners of the City and old ones are being refurbished.
According to a friend working with Bonesha FM, a local radio, residential areas for the affluent section of Burundians are also coming up.
Kiriri and Kinindo are such areas that are now settled by the rich of this City.
Kamenge and Nyakabiga slums just on the outskirts of the City are slowly but steadily emerging as important business centres.
Roads to these areas are being paved and artisans line the road sides engaged in different metal fabrication works, a tell-tale sign of the rise of the informal sector.
Regional Banks like ECOBANK have already realised the business potential that Burundi poses. The Bank’s high rise building in the centre of the City is an addition to the beauty of this colonial town.
Inefficient service sector
I always harboured the feeling that Rwandan waiters/waitresses were the worst on the planet but not until I set foot in one restaurant in the Burundian capital.
A recent scientific study conducted in 178 nations rated Burundi’s population as having the lowest satisfaction with life in the world. It is difficult to know what the variables of the study were but the attitude of this particular waitress spoke volumes.
This behaviour provoked a comment from a travelling colleague wondering why people in the town seemed too proud despite being among the poorest on the planet.
One has to rely on all the five, six senses if you like to survive in this City. It was a colleague’s sharp sense of smell that helped us locate a pizza shop.
A tour of any City would be incomplete without exploring its night life. This is one area that deserves thumbs up in the City.
Night clubs are dotted everywhere in this City, from Havana club to club Toxique, revellers party like the world is ending the next day. The famous Amstel and Amstel Bock beers flow freely in this flat City.
There is a visible influx of western culture in these hang out places mainly because of the many returning Burundians who have lived in different European Countries.
Bujumbura is also famous for its sand beaches at the coast of Lake Tanganyika. Places like Saga Plage have been made famous by artists like Lo Lilo who have shot eye catching music videos from these beaches.
Bujumbura is a City clearly on the rise. Joining the East African Community is one best thing that has happened to this Country since Independence. Companies from other East African Countries are opening up branches here.
Sustainability of this development will require political stability. A recent agreement between Government and the only remaining rebel group FNL Palipehutu led by Agathon Rwasa and its acceptance to change is a welcome development that pundits believe will put an end to civil strife that characterised one of the poorest Countries on the Planet.