My trip into the tiny nation of Burundi had the makings of a plot from one of those thrillers on the ID Channel; that, or a really bad Ashton Kutcher comedy. A story where a police chief of a small, unknown African village befriends an unsuspecting American tourist, and then, well, hilarity ensues.
I was on another one of my “let’s cram as many countries as I can into 10 days” tours. I landed in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, where I would meet my driver who’d take me straight into Burundi. Its border lied just an hour and twenty minutes south and I thoroughly enjoyed the drive down. Rwanda was super clean, developed and seemed friendly and safe. All good vibes. However, as soon as we arrived at the border, the mood changed.
I should have known something was up when my driver explained to me that he wouldn’t be taking me past the border. Instead, I’d change drivers and cars when I crossed over; something about being difficult to take the car across the border. Looking back, this should have been my first tip-off that the nation of Burundi may not have been a place extremely welcoming to foreigners—especially when the driver from neighboring Rwanda chooses not to enter.
Rwanda immigration stamped me out and Burundi stamped me in. No sooner had I been handed my passport back from the window, than a group of curious Burundian police officers surrounded me and my car. They wanted to inspect my bags–which I guess was pretty normal–but they seemed to really take their time about it. Even after the search, we all kind of just stood around for a while, which I didn’t understand. I was ready to get the show on the road, but there seemed to be an awful lot of conversation going on between the officers and my driver, none of which I could understand. I was beginning to get the impression that my arrival had quickly turned into some kind of “event.” What could they all be discussing?
To make it even more weird, there was no one else crossing this border. I mean, no one! Every other land border I’ve crossed in my life had been jammed; packed with cars, semi-trucks, people on foot, taxis, vendors. But here, I was the only one. It was The Twilight Zone, African edition.
About ten minutes later, it looked like we were finally ready to roll, but with a surprise addition. One of the officers, who seemed very intrigued that an American was visiting his country, informed me that he’d now be our escort into the village. Awesome, right? Almost. Right before leaving, he told me I ought to buy the crew at the border some beers, and I’d need to slide over $2000 Burundian dollars (about USD$2). I figured that was a small price to pay, especially since I’d have my own police escort into town, so I complied without hesitation. But it was weird. And now we were off.
The back of the 20-year-old Toyota had a decal that read “Tigre Express,” and on the front windshield, an “Allah Akbar” banner. I noticed a stark difference between the Rwandan and Burundian sides of the border. Once we entered Burundi, I saw almost zero cars on the road. In fact, many of the locals were actually sitting on the highway, conducting personal business, chatting, chilling. The driver would honk the horn and the people would scurry off the road, surprised at seeing an actual moving vehicle. Really, the two-way highway looked totally abandoned and unused.
As we made the hour drive to the village of Kirundo, the officer never stopped talking. He was excited to tell me all about his country and kept insisting he’d be my guide/protector/security for my stay. He spoke broken English with an accent that sounded true to the stereotype from the movie Coming to America. I couldn’t quite get his name right, but it sounded like Festus. Maybe it was Fatiste? I’m not sure, so we’ll go with Festus. He claimed he was second in charge to the chief, and brought up this “chief” several times during the drive. Festus made it a point to let me know he was letting the chief know that an “American” was visiting, and later mentioned to me that I’d meet the chief and could give the chief a “gift” when I saw him. A gift? Uh oh.
We passed a handful of police checkpoints along the way and stopped for gas at a roadside stand that sold petrol from old two-liter beer bottles. Soon we arrived in town and the officer personally checked me in to the Rama Hotel. The Rama would be a one-star property in the US, but was top of the line for the tiny village of Kirundo.
Festus and I enjoyed some beers and conversation at the hotel, and I was excited that he was comfortable enough for me to break out my iPhone and snap some selfies. I even got some video of us toasting, which I knew would be awesome for Facebook. Remember, in most of these African countries (actually most all countries), taking photos of military or police is strictly forbidden and can get you in hot water. I thought I was really getting away with something grand, as I Snapchatted the two of us goofing off and carrying on. He again mentioned a “gift for his chief,” and I had a feeling this whole experience would not be free. I paid for the beers of course, and then we were off to tour the village.
Kirundo was actually pretty cool. Many of the streets were cobblestone, and while poor, the town was pretty clean. Festus would have the driver pull the car over every couple of blocks and have me get out of the car with him so he could show me off to the locals. It felt kind of like he was saying, “Hey, look at me—I brought an American to our town!” Small, curious crowds would assemble around our car, looking at me like they’ve never seen a gringo before. I had the feeling the people really loved me…or I was going to die. I couldn’t tell which one.
Most people were very friendly, smiling and waving; especially the kids. Others stared at me with great confusion in their eyes, as if they had no idea what someone like me could possibly be doing in their town. We passed a building/shack were young men and boys were packing bags of flour. One of the boys came close, and I wished I would have taken a photo; he was white all over, covered in flour dust. One English speaking young lady wasted no time introducing herself to me, asking for my number and taking a seat in the backseat of our car. Festus quickly booted her out and shooed her away, sternly lecturing me that the girl was a thief and if I wanted to “f*ck a girl” that night, to let him know and he would arrange. I assured him that was not on my agenda.
We made our way about town, stopping at a small plaza with a monument before Festus showed me the town hospital, from outside the gate. Actually, all I saw was the gate, but for some reason this was something Festus thought I should see. He’d continue to have the car stop every few minutes, showing me off to more locals as we rolled up and down the streets of Kirundo. I couldn’t help but notice a random soldier in fatigues patrolling the streets on foot, stiffly holding a giant gun in front of him, as if he were keeping something bad from happening. What was this town on alert for?
Then it was down to the see the lake, where we had to maneuver down a small and very bumpy dirt road to reach the banks. It was sunset and the scene was gorgeous. Two small, handmade boats and their pilots cruised up to say hello and for whatever reason, Festus explained I’d now owe them $2,000 Burundian dollars each. What the heck?
After a cruise back through town, still stopping frequently so Festus could show off his prize (me), we arrived back at the Hotel Rama and found ourselves in a small club towards the back of the hotel. It wasn’t much of a “club,” but there was a bar and some flashing, colored lights—so technically, had there been anyone else there besides us, and a DJ, I supposed you could start a little party. Festus and my driver took a seat at the bar and we were shortly thereafter joined by three of Festus’ cronies: officers from his squad. And guess who was buying the beers? Luckily, they weren’t big drinkers; I imagine if this scenario was playing out in Mexico, we’d be drinking cerveza til dawn.
But that pesky “gift for my chief” did come up again, and this time with a much more serious tone. Festus got super close to me and suggested I “go get the envelope.” Jeezus, I had to pay the piper $120 USD–ouch! But what were my alternatives? I later talked to some fellow travel pros, and they had all kinds of ideas on how I should’ve/could’ve/would’ve gotten out of this, but in the moment, I just wanted to get outta there. I fetched the dinero and excused myself to bed.
Luckily I was not dragged out of bed, hogtied and kidnapped in the middle of the night, as I feared. I actually slept okay, had an omelet at the small kitchen downstairs for breakfast (which would later gave me horrible food poisoning), and waited for my driver. We had an 8AM pickup time, and of course Officer Festus was joining us. I first thought this whole “police escort” thing was a blessing, but it was turning into a curse. I just wanted outta there.
To make it worse, my driver was super late. He finally showed up over an hour past our meeting time, accompanied by Festus, who today was sporting a bloody lip. He blamed a motorcycle spill. I had my doubts. Festus’ crime-fighting partner, whose name escaped me, joined me in the backseat.
The drive outta there took forever and the intensity and anxiety increased ten fold. Immediately exiting the village on the highway, there was a rope strung across the road with rags tied to it and soldiers stationed on each side of the road. Sigh, of course we pulled over and we all had to exit the car as some elaborate conversation ensued, as if we were negotiating the transport of plutonium across state lines.
Festus told me to present my passport to “The General,” a 40-something gun-toting man wearing a beret and a slew of patches on his sleeves. He slowly leafed through my extended-passport (which contains extra pages), examining each page as if he were looking for something that would indicate I was a spy. When he got to the last page, he started over at page one and repeated the entire process. Then, with glaring suspicion, he asked me why I was visiting Burundi, why I came to Kirundo, and why just for one night. I gave him my normal answer: “I’m trying to see all the countries in the world,” which clearly he didn’t understand. He went through my passport again and then asked me the same questions. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, while the other officers looked on and a few villagers who were walking with their baskets stopped to stare at us under the midday sun. After I’d answered all his questions, he gave me a stare that seemed to last ten minutes. Nobody moved or said a thing. No one even blinked. It was a scene right out of Locked Up Abroad. Finally, he handed me back my passport and said farewell. We all got back in the car and the rope was lowered so we can pass. Not before leaving another “gift,” though. This was becoming a very expensive route!
I cursed inside every time we hit one of those “roped-off” checkpoints; there were five in total before reaching the Rwandan border. I thought we were never going to get there. Every time we rounded a bend I hoped and hoped I’d see the border, but just more road and another checkpoint. To make it worse, the window crank on my door was broken, so I was afraid the officers would think I was being defiant by not rolling my window down, when all the other passengers did. I was the only asshole in the car not rolling his window down at the checkpoints. I was afraid it would upset them and that they were thinking the worst, like, “Who does this guy think he is?” So I’d open the door, but then worried that doing that was even worse: a threat to the officers, like, “Why is he getting out of the car?!” I couldn’t win!
90 minutes later we finally arrived at the border and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get out of a country. When Festus requested I give another “envelope” to his deputy for accompanying us, I almost said “Get the f*ck outta here with that,” but alas, I sighed and shoved a final twenty in his hand and just got the hell outta there.
If you go:
I would not recommend traveling to Burundi by land, as I did. Flying into the capital with other travelers would probably be a safer bet–you’re with many other visitors, in a big city–versus being “the only one” crossing by land…it was literally deserted and the spotlight was definitely shined brightly on me! It’s important to note that I’d even hired a tour service for my trip into Burundi, I wasn’t just exploring alone. I used Burundi Safaris and Souvenirs. I was disappointed that they didn’t do a better job fighting off the shakedowns for cash. It didn’t even seem like they tried.
I can’t lie: part of this experience was actually very cool! I mean, who can say the “police” of a rogue nation put their arms around you and rolled with you the entire trip?! Beers and selfies with African soldiers in uniforms–pretty epic right? That part was.
But the part that had me nervous were the bribes and just overall not knowing how far it would go. All in all, I probably spent about $300 “taking care” of my “security” service, which was worth the experience itself. But all the time I was preoccupied wondering, “just how far will this go?” What’s to stop them from asking for $1,000, $10,000, $100,000??? I imagined the police jailing me until my family could wire them copious amounts of money for my freedom; pinning some bogus charge on me, just to make some money. Things just didn’t seem right, from the moment I arrived; and got more unsettling every moment. Part of me really liked Festus. Maybe the language barrier made it hard for me to get comfortable, but it was certainly the numerous requests for money that soured me. I don’t know his circumstances. I do know that those officers make a terrible salary, and sadly, depend on getting money the wrong way in order to survive. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I hope he and his buddies were able to use my cash to help their families; my bets are on this. If Festus is reading this, dude, it was really cool hanging with you…just a little scary, because of the reasons mentioned above.
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t note the absolute beauty of Burundi. The countryside was spectacular, and so many of the people were very gracious and friendly. Unfortunately, the “police encounters” overshadowed most everything else. But Burundi is a country I would love to return to, stunning in many ways!
So long Festus! Thanks for the memories.
UPDATE: April 14th, 2017
Since publishing this article, I have been overwhelmed at the immediate response, kindness and concern from Burundians–many of them checking up on me, personally apologizing for the incident with the officers, and even inviting me back to visit again. Some have gone further to take time to explain to me the tense situation and sensitivity/paranoia along the Rwandan border.
I want to underscore that I do believe this to be the real Burundi: a nation filled with wonderful people, beauty and kindness. I’ve traveled to 82 countries on this earth–and plan to see them all. So I’ve traveled enough to know not to judge an entire country by one isolated incident. I wanted to say thank you for all of your comments and well wishes (you can see them HERE on my Facebook page and below in the comments section), and I do recommend my followers and readers pay a visit to Burundi, just not using that particular border. Thank you and God bless all my new Burundian friends.
This entry was posted in Africa
70 thoughts on “Burundi”
Your trip was messed up by the driver and the festus guy while they are the ones who suposed to make your trip enjoyable. Normally burundians are very welcoming people. It’s just that you didn’t know ,you had every right to report whatever hapened to you.
The reason you found the road almost empty it’s because there is a tention betwen Rwanda and Burundi. Rwanda has recently trained rebels to distabilise Burundi. Rwanda has sent people to attack #Burundi several times.
But i wish you’ll come back, but come via Tanzania you’ll be happy with your trip by road.
Sory for what hapened!
Mr. Harushimana, what a nice message from you, thank you! And thanks for educating me on the tension between the two countries. I was certainly able to se ethe beauty of Burundi beyond the experiences with the police there. Thank you so much for the welcome, I really appreciate it!
i do not think there is anything to attack in Burundi, you guys are attacking your own country and starving,jailing your own people.this iSs just paranoia Rwanda is not your enemy,you are your own worst enemy. I just hope that you open your eyes before it is too late, i was born in Bujumbura and it pains me to see the situation you guys are in just because you ve chosen to follow a bad leader.may God bless Burundi
I am Burundian in exile in the US for many years.
I love my country and would have stayed through it all .
You can thank God for coming out of your experience only short of few dollars: many have lost more, even their lives in the same country you visited. Now, just a word of cautious, sir, use your discernment as for what people tell you about Burundi; Burundians are notorious in speaking half-truths and we are very selective.
I am sure if you care so much for Burundi, and you seem to be, follow carefully the history and the recent events which heightened the uneasiness you felt between Rwanda and Burundi; search deeper then you will gain useful knowledge that perhaps you could use to help bring healing in Burundi. The rumors that Rwanda recruited Burundians to go to war? Which war? Is one of the many things you should be “quick to listen to, but very very slow to believe and to respond to.
God bless your trips and hopefully one day we will meet in a free, peaceful, corruption- free and welcoming to All especially to sons and daughters of Burundi who are presently just dreaming to see their mother land.
Wow, thank you for such a thoughtful note, I really appreciate it. The first thing I did when I returned home is immediately jump head first into studying Burundi’s tumultuous history. My trip into Burundi, and then all the comments and emails from Burundians after, has been such an education. I’m so glad to hear from you. Stay in touch and thank you again.
Thrilling experience…. You re the most lucky guy of this season as Burundi is crossing the most difficult moment/season these days…A place where assassinations and disappearances are normal infos to hear at a daily basis. Crossing from the clean Rwanda to Burundi is like heaven to hell..
Sorry for you
Wow, thanks for the insight and the comments. I appreciate it.
Taylor you need to check your sources
I hope you write book about all these experiences one day. Glad you shared this, and glad you are ok (:
Thank you Serena!
Like Taylor said, you re a very lucky man to get out of there safely. Burundi is going through a tough time since April 2015. A lot of people have fled to neighbouring countries especially people from kirundo. And yes there are tention between Rwanda and Burundi but not like David said, its Burundi trying everything to provoque Rwanda, dont know what’s the Burundi gouverment’s agenda to so. Thats why your driver couldnt cross to Burundi from Rwanda, and that’s why the border was empty. No one goes in especially foreigners with the current paranoid government. They think you re a spy or a journalist there to report attrocities currently happening. In short, Burundi is beautiful and people are nice and welcoming in general, but not now. People are scared and you re don’t know who is watching, and definitly you are a very lucky man. I wouldn’t recommend anyone travelling there even by air cause the reality is pretty much the same in the Capital especially for foreigners.
Wow, very interesting! It totally caught me by surprise. Here I was, paranoid and on-guard visiting South Sudan (where I ended up having no problems at all)…I pictured Burundi a sleepy little nation, care-free and laid back…but that was my mistake for not doing the proper research. Thanks Sean, for your feedback.
Sean, that is a lie. Where are you from? I am from this region and what you say abut Burundi is wrong. You just can’t tarnish the image of the country like that. I suspect you are part of those who do not want Burundi to have peace. I know there are problems in Burundi right now (or in the past) but not to the level you describe them. Actually those who cause those problems are those who go around proclaiming themselves experts of what the situation is. Burundi is a poor country, the population is almost as green as their landscapes. But it does not mean they are bad people. Burundi has a potential to turn around the situation. They have minerals. They have water resources. They lack unity and harmony to be able to work hard towards the development of their country. Of course they need education. You should be educating them instead of tarnishing their image, if you are better than them, Sean.
To Randy: Burundi is a beautiful country, you haven’t seen it yet. Please come back. Like you said, just fly in the capital Bujumbura. You will have a better experience. Bujumbura has some of the best beaches in the region and good restaurants and more “civilized” people.
Thank you my friend, I wish you and Burundi all the peace and harmony you deserve. All the best!
Great reading Randy. Thanks for showing the great side of Burundi. It’s a hidden paradise. We are hoping to see you again here with a better experience.
Thank you Fayaz!
I’m glad you had a great stay and a very memorable tourism in my home city of Kirundo Ramblin’ Randy. As you witnessed, the people of Kirrudo are pleasant and the countryside is spectacular. That was just a glimpse of Burundi. They are many places & things to see in Burundi. In fact, I built the narrow road you took going down to lake Rwihinda ( Lac aux oiseaux in French). “That’s my family ranch & that road is private.” Lake Rwihinda is known to be the last destination of migratory birds from Europe during winter season in search for tropical paradise. Like you, I traveled the world before settling down in Noth California many years ago. I had same experience in southern America, in Europe, in Asia even in Africa. Yes, Burundian are not rich Maney wise but they are rich in their hearts.
Now that you saw yourself that you can visit Burundi and come back indemne, organized and go back for a week or two and see the beauty of Burundi.
Thank you for visiting my hometown especially for sharing the beautiful sunset of my lake.
Next time, email me and I’ll suggest place to visit in Burundi.
Raymond…WOW! Your comment left me speechless! So much to say, so much to ask about! YOU built the road???!!! That is amazing! And now you are in my state of California? The world is such a small place, and I feel richer knowing Burundi and you. Let’s keep in touch please. Thank you again for your kindness.
Hey Randy? Thanks for these interesting travel stories I enjoyed reading the Burundi experience. Funny that Mbatushimana is selling the accusations to Rwanda for all Burundi problems. Now is it Rwanda that asks Burundian police officials to ask for bribes?
Thanks for checking out my article, Joss!
Oh, I am very sorry to hear this story of yours. I am an European living nearly 4 years in a small village approximately 12km from Kirundo and I pass that border very often. Your feeling of abandoned place is because there are no buses passing from Kigali to Kirundo because they were recently banned (because of relations between Rwanda and Burundi as it was already explained) and locals are afraid to cross because they might have problems with authorities. Burundi might seem tough, but for travelers it is actually quite safe.
Have you tried to refuse to give them money for every stupid thing? It actually works very well. the police guy probably wanted a lift for free to his place and he played it to “your escort” and he saw you are quite easy to get money from as you was probably uncomfortable while they were debating so he continued to accompany you. Also 2000bif is quite a lot, it would be enough to give nothing or max 500bif. About passport, they always stare at it they don’t quite understand all the visas and stamps (apart from Burundian and Rwandan maybe). There is no point in explaining how you want to travel the workd, because 99% of them never left Burundi. Police, checkpoints, soldiers and guns are very normal in many countries of Africa, you see them in Rwanda very often too. Anyway, I completely understand your feelings, I am sorry for this Burundian experience I think most of it was because you did not speak French at least :-(( but as someone already mention, Burundians are very kind people, maybe simple, but with big heart.
Maria, thank you so very much for your notes, I really, really appreciate them…more than you know! I saw your comment on Facebook and see you are from Slovakia (one of my favorite places, AND my family’s background!!!)
I am so intrigued on how you came to Burundi…please share your story with me, either here in the comments, or through a private message. I would love to know!
Thank you again!!!
Thank you maria, I agree with you. All wazungus planning to visit Burundi may get in touch with you for guidance
i enjoyed to read your experience. hope you will come again in Burundi without those inconvenient. we are crossing a difficult moment in our country but hope that one day it will finish. Burundi is very very beautiful country and burundians we are good people. its rare that we will ask for money but as i said the situation is bad that’s why you met people like Festus. we are sorry for that. it was a pleasure to read you.
What a beautiful note…God bless you Michaella! You are the reason I know Burundians to be so wonderful!
What a lucky foreigner! am not here to fight with Harushimana, but Randy from what yourself saw, and coming from Rwanda, you cld tell if Rwanda is really destabilising Burundi, did you see anything at Rwandan border side that cld indicate something like that? but even as a foreigner, if i travel somewhere and security organs like police is able to come and toast beers with me in all sorts of pity bars, asking all those so called gifts every 10 mins,proposing me some dirty service with local girls, I don’t need someone to explain to me that this is a failed system in a failed country!By the way, where in this world,police officers of a country in tension with its neighbours leave their posts and positions laike a border to spend their days in escorting one and single American tourist in a peaceful village without any problem as Festus was claiming? Do they do it for any and every tourist visiting their country? if you saw the two countries, what can Rwanda really envy from Burundi to the extent of training rebels to destabilise them? We all know that when you fail to manage your house , you try to drag your neighbours into your issues. Glad that you managed to get out of that scary and risky environment.
Hi Charlie and thanks for the note. I am certainly not educated enough on this situation to comment in good conscience, but I thank you for your viewpoints, and I do wish nothing but peace and harmony for both nations in the future. Thanks Charlie.
Jee, why would this happen when crossing the border into a country that just experienced major violence and killings? It’s a wonderful country but not a playground for uninformed tourists, glad you only got money issues! Please bear in mind that your actions have consequences for the other foreigners living in Burundi, I dont feel like spending my days paying off every single police officer. You really didnt see that coming?
I didn’t Alain. And that was my mistake. I simply didn’t do enough research. I was so concerned about the trip to South Sudan during that trip, I focused almost all my research and attention studying South Sudan and its issues, safety, etc. Also, I figured since I actually hired a tour company to look after me, things would be okay.
Also Alain, I’ve visited 15 African nations, many while they were experiencing problems (war, famine, crime, coup attempts)…and never ever had the issues I had in Burundi.
Wouh..this it is those who happened to me too .. the people of the companion have never seen a White of all their lives? They were the ones I thought. They started touching my hair, everybody around me, I started to freak, but the landscape of Burundi is really beautiful. Concerning security is not really a country To visit, the police are really suspicious of each white person who is in their country, for each visitor, I would not recommend you to visiting Burundi during his times
Were you there as a tourist or working? The people in the town were all very friendly to me.
Chris, unless you have something against Burundi, the country is peaceful apart from political conflicts and people are very welcoming. How can you reccomend people not to visit the country whereas no single foregner has lost life in Burundi since 2015 ( from which many think things have turned bad)?
Kirundo is the best border of all borders. As a Kenyan living in Burundi, trust me Burundi is so beautiful a country with so hospitable folks. Looking at what that policeman asked from you, surely is negligible. If you had hired a tour guide, in police uniform, you would have bled your cash through the nose. Festus had to leave his duty station to give you company and safety. He is a true Burundian. Kirundo is an efficient border, quiet, stress free with policemen who understand their role. The thorough checking is normal. Infact they frisk and question Burundians more than foreigners. It also seems you were interested in affordable tourism and you got it. Having travelled all these countries, you needed to survey on what lied ahead of you. I assure you RWANDESE POLICEMEN ARE NAUSEATING 10 TIMES MORE THAN BURUNDIAN can be thought off. The Rwandese will harass you even at the airport (especially the thin ones who cannot even afford a taxi into the airport…..not to mention a flight ticket) My suggestions:
1. Before visiting a country, make a survey and have a rough idea of what lies ahead.
2. As a tourist, always make professional tour guides priority number 1.
3. Any other time you visit, identify your host. Use public means to avoid being on the spot ofcourse with a known company. Be careful with drivers and policemen who offer to help. Or any unfamiliar face that rushes to be friendly. As a rule, I don’t talk to anybody whom I don’t know in a foreign land. I only do that to policemen…..limited.
4. Get to know the exchange rates. Have local currencies on you. Decide what you are willing to part with. Refuse the company of a police officer….unknown and new to you.
Burundi may be having trouble but Those troubles don’t affect foreigners apart from RWANDESE. Otherwise to me, you had the best trip. You just spent less for a VIP treatment in a remote village.
Thank you so much for the feedback and the tips. It was definitely a learning experience, and I really appreciate communication like yours. All the best.
I am a Burundian Police officer myself and I am from in this region you toured ( Kirundo), I know every single place you mentionned. The Police officer behaved like a begger to you as many africans believe white people have much money, but he had no criminal intention at all. As I was reading this story, I had to call the provincial police commissionner ( in Kirundo) to find out how truth this can be. The police officer has missconducted some how and infringed the code of deontology and code of conduct and the commissionner in charge of police in Kirundo has been instructed to deal with this isolated behavior. I am happy to know nothing wrong happened to you and you saw how the locals were very happy with you apart from the fear you were feeling because of wrong information you have heard before you even come in country. I however, have to say I don’t agree with you on the comparison you are trying to make between Rwanda and Burundi since you sound like Burundi should follow Rwanda’s path because you are far disconnected from the truth and history of these two countries. You should also mention or know that since the political problem started in 2015 in Burundi, no single foreigner has lost life on Burundi territory or fears to. I would advise any person who visits Burundi to seek guidance, help or information from the official services and not from isolated individuals as you did with the police officer since he was not on his official duty even if he was in uniform.
Once again, welcome back to Burundi, we love foreigners. Feel free to contact me from my email as well
Wow, how nice to hear from you and thank you for contacting me. I’m going to send you an email, please let me know if you don’t receive it. Talk soon.
Thanks Randy, for the information ,in my experience l would say your travel agent did not do the work professionally and looks like never provided you with a tour guide. In most countries in Africa security agents ask for “kitu kidogo” something small basically because most governments pay peanuts. For example in Burundi the said police officer could be earning a salary of not more than $50 per month. Yet the house his leaving in if he has a family would be costing him $60,per month. That’s where in situations like yours they try by all means to extract a penny by doing all sort of service as a guest taking advantage of the situation. Certainly with the current situation in the country they would love to makesure any foreigner is secure, to keep the countries image, because the issues in the country are purely internal, they have nothing to do with foreigners. Rwanda and Burundi have almost similar history that’s why they are always at longheads, one ethnic group once to dominate the other and it all goes on how the ethnic group works on its PR. The one that knows how to do good PR will be looked at as a perfect one and one with zero PR will be looked at negatively. Burundi still has a long way to go to promote it’s countries lmage especially if it’s going to attract tourists who would bring in the desparately needed foreign currency. By the way how did you manage to get the visa to Burundi, had you applied for it from the embassy in America or you had an official invitation allowing you to pay on arrival, because entry visa to foreigners is becoming a nightmare despite the challenges in the country, they are not doing enough to attract people to come and see realities on ground.
Thanks so much for the kind words and the insight. Even more than traveling to Burundi, publishing this article and reading all the comments has become such a great learning experience. I thank you for taking the time to explain and discuss my experience with me and others here on the web page. I really appreciate it.
Regarding the visa, yes, I applied for and was granted one in advance, from the Burundian embassy in Washington DC.
Hey comrades, i kindly request you not to make this issue more political between the two countries that have been mentioned over and over, in the previous comments, if not mistaken Mr, Randy in the whole article never weighed the political relations between Burundi and Rwanda all he was trying, is to share his experience on Burundi tour-trip, But it came to my surprise to see comments from Harushimana trying to comfort him, while telling “naked lies” so was that burundi police officer Festus being ordered by any of rwandan official to ask for bribe and beers? So was Mr, Randy paying allthat amount just for security reasons? I think every sovereign country has to protect her natives and foreigners so if Burundi fails don’t blame it on Rwanda. But all i can assure Mr, Randy not all the Burundians are “infected with corruption disease”.
Better Mr,Randy has traveled to many countries so he knows which is which.
Mr, Randy sorry for some of inconveniences caused by some individuals.
Ronnie, it’s great to know you and thank you for chiming in. I’ve met some really nice people due to publishing this article, but am saddened that it has offended or angered others. I just love to travel and I write honest accounts of my experiences good or bad. This whole thing has been a great learning lesson and I’ve learned so much, from the comments alone. Thank you so much for yours!
Also, thanks for being a kind and rational peacekeeper! A little love and understanding goes a long way, as you already know!
What a pessimistic analysis!!
That is what we call a husty generalization. You are the first gringo to say this about my beloved country. Visiting Kirundo the poorest province doesn’t allow you to say this.
Me gustaria mucho encontrarte y mostrarte mi pais.
Did you come without any contact here?
I live at Ngozi, a nearest province of Kirundo I speak English, Spanish and French.
I didn’t really appreciate what you wrote.
If ever you trip ended there, never say again that you went to Burundi.
I recognize that it is not a developped country but never understimate once againmy country at that extent.
¡Hasta la vista señor!
Hi Karim, nice to meet you!
A pessimistic analysis? Not really…honest yes. If anything, optimistic, as I think I was able to see some of the true beauty in Burundi despite my challenges with the police.
Karim, I just write about my experiences traveling, what happens, and how it makes me feel at the moment. Some visits are very uneventful, like Singapore, and I say so. Others scare the hell out of me, like Burundi.
I didn’t come without proper preparation, nor a guide. I spoke with “Burundi Tours” at least six times before my arrival. And when I did arrive, I was polite, courteous and gracious–it’s how I behave everywhere–at home, or abroad.
My intention was not to insult Burundians–just tell the story of my trip there…right or wrong, I just write about my experience and feelings at the time. I am in no way generalizing all Burundians, just explaining what happened on my one night there.
Randy, I am really glad I found your blog. I live in the United States now but used to go through Kirundo when travelling to Kigali, Rwanda for school. Watching your short videos and pictures made me reminisce about my times back home. So thanks again, it was a pleasure watching those.
Like many already said, Burundi is not very safe. The people claiming safety probably belong to the ruling political party.
In Burundi, only two sets of people can have a peace of mind: people who belong to the ruling party or people who will see wrongdoings and say nothing. I have relatives who belong to opposition parties and this has been their very fact that landed them in jail.
My hope is that one day, Burundi will be safe for ALL BURUNDIANS so we can have more foreigners come visit and experience its true beauty.
Karl, this comment made my day. If this article/blog brought even one ounce of joy to someone, I did my job. I’m so glad they the videos and pictures jogged good memories for you. The country certainly was beautiful and most of the people wonderful.
Where are you now Karl?
I live in Salt Lake City. What’s your hometown?
Awesome! Did you know my radio show airs in Salt Lake City??? I’m on Sunday nights from 8PM-12M on U92FM…will you tune in? The show is called Sunday Night Slow Jams. I am based in California.
Nice! That’s a hip hop and R&B station. And I think I might have listened to the show a couple times. Well, now I’ll pay more attention to it. So are you on a sabbatical or retired? How are you able to take so much time away from work?
I look forward to you checking out my show and letting me know what you think! I’m not retired nor on sabbatical…in fact, I work an insane amount of hours. But I just used every single vacation day to travel!
Thanks for sharing your short visit to beautiful Burundi you are a very lucky man to have not been jailed despite having a rwandese stamp in your passport☺
The police here is suspious of not only whites as Chris Spencer mentioned but also on all Burundians mainly those who are not member of the leading political party.
Many people are killed on a daily basis by that same police that was escorting you.
Burundians are paying of their lives for bad narcissist and paranoia leadership.
Hope it ends soon so life can go back to normal and tourism can florish again
It is good to see that Ngabishengera Sadate Steven,ACP commented on this post i think it would be good if your police can reimburse Mr Randy the 300$ (not to mention his time) and apologize to him(is the least you ca do). Mr Karim speaking many languages does not allow you to call someone a pessimistic analyst,how dare you? and your comments are inappropriate.Am glad you reached Rwanda safely. What a trip!
Thanks Sarkozy! I love Africa, and every country…even Burundi, despite the challenges on my trip there. Thanks for checking in friend.
i feel sorry to what happened to you Randy…. at the first time you arrived at RAMA hotel I saw you but didn’t knwow you’re having an awful experience with the policer agent. i really apprecieted the fact that in your arcticle you didn’t judge all the country relating to the experience you had…. hoping you’re coming again. burundian people are kind as many people mentioned it.
Thank you so much for the note! Did we meet? I thought Kirundo was beautiful and my main fears were of the unknown. I enjoyed my stay at The Rama.
My neighbour is from Burundi and although she moved here to Canada years ago, she always goes back home to visit family in her native country. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about this part of Africa – beautiful scenery, friendly people, interesting culture, etc.
Obviously, what you experienced was an isolated incident as it is not typical of Burundi. Unless they outright took your Passport and kept it in exchange for money, I would have just refused to pay bribes. Just make sure you do your research in the future for common scams and political issues so you don’t run into the same problem again.
Actually, at least from what other Burundians told me, the bribes and shakedowns ARE common there. I placed my confidence in hiring a guide and he was worthless.
Regarding your friend from Burundi, yes–so many Burundians from Canada have reached out to me regarding the article, I think that is so cool! Would be interested to see what your neighbor thinks of the article–her take.
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It is Lake Wehenda
You should have used the Kanyaru border from Kigali. It’s much much more safer and active. I can relate to most of the things you just wrote about the country but I also think that for you to fully experience a new country, 24 hours is not enough. I just came back from Burundi after a whole week’s tour of the capital and other provinces of the country.
Anyways, wish you happy travels with less drama.
Hey Tina! Kanyaru border? I wished my tour company was as knowledgeable as you! I put trust in a tour company and guide to keep me out of trouble, and sadly they disappointed me. I usually like to always stay longer in a country, but often I don’t have enough time away from work. I look forward to returning to Burundi one day, and thank you for coming by Tina!
Yeah, Kanyaru border is mostly used by travelers. Tour companies are actually the worst travel advisers. I find them alarmists for no reason. Ooh man, I wish you researched more about the Rwanda-Burundi feud so you’d have first-hand information. I knew about this prior to going and I was also told by some Rwandese while in Kigali.
We were almost scammed into getting a direct ride from Kigali to Bujumbura. While the Rwandese knew too well that they cannot cross the border into Burundi with a vehicle with Rwandese plate number, they still insisted that they would take us all the way. On further consultation, we were told that this is how they scam travelers. They take you all the way to the border but as you get your passports stamped at the immigration, they take off. I’m glad nothing of the sort happened to you.
But after a whole week touring different provinces, I loved Burundi’s experience but I don’t think I will go back. But you should.
Ps. I read the post on South Sudan, heheheh. Well, I had a different experience. However, your remarks on Kenya were nice. Made me feel nice about my country.
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