Documentary Photographer Alexandra Buxbaum is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘Bujumbura –City in the Heart of Africa’. To see Alexandra ’s body of work, click on any image.
Burundi, is a densely populated, landlocked country in East Africa and ranks as the poorest country worldwide, with 70% of the population living in poverty and just $272 GDP per capita in 2022. Bujumbura is the country’s economic center and its main port. Bujumbura is situated next to Lake Tanganyika, which is the longest freshwater lake in the world.
The lingering effects of colonialism have led to a permanent state of political instability which has not allowed the country to focus on economic development, and there are high levels of corruption and mismanagement amongst the elite within the government which has affected the amount of foreign aid coming into the country.
There is a big divide between the ruling elites and rural farmers that provide almost all of the resources to the party-state, yet the farmers and ordinary citizens are for the most part powerless. After gaining independence in 1962, there were a series of political assassinations, coups, bouts of ethnic cleansing and two civil wars has contributed to the country being underdeveloped as any economic progress achieved became undone by the next conflict. In 2005 peace was restored, but returned to large-scale political strife as President Pierre Nkurunziza tried to run for a third term. In 2020 General Evariste Ndayishimiye became president, and with peace restored he declared that “the only enemy that remains a threat to citizens is poverty,” and has put out an ambitious plan to accelerate the process of socio-economic development.
The history of Belgium Imperialism in Burundi can teach us a larger lesson of how racism has been deliberately used to divide and rule the exploited masses, and what can happen if these tactics are not stopped in their tracks before they gain a foothold.
Photographer's Statement: After an almost two-year hiatus from my travels due to the pandemic, I was invited to participate in a cultural exchange and teach some photography classes in Bujumbura, Burundi. Burundi is the world’s poorest country and has a travel advisory of Level 3: Reconsider Travel, and this place would be my first introduction to the African continent. During my brief time spent there, I only experienced the warm hospitality Burundians are famous for, had more than once been met with the curious gaze, friendly smiles, and intrigue from the children who approached me for a rare opportunity to see firsthand for themselves a ‘Muzungu’, which is a Bantu word for a white person. On a few occasions I was asked why the west always looks down on Africa, to which I had no answer for. People would point out all the mass shootings that happen in the US and then ask how we could then possibly consider their country to be more dangerous. Everyone I encountered took great pride in their country, which has rich cultural traditions, and the young people I met wanted to engage in meaningful work that would in some way help out their country or uplift some of their fellow citizens out of the cycle of poverty. I was deeply moved when the young women from the maternity clinic where I spent a day photographing did not let me leave before they performed a traditional dance for me, gifted me with a handcrafted basket and a hand sewn dress made from local fabric. The clinic is located in the poorest, most neglected neighborhood in Bujumbura; these local women, who had the least to give, gave me the most with their generous spirit…and that is what makes any trip worth the journey.
All images and text © Alexandra Buxbaum
By Alexandra Buxbaum
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