The 'Offering Economy' Of Burundi, Where Family Rites Are Financial Burdens

In Burundi, birthdays, baptisms and burial ceremonies tend to be marked with big family gatherings. Guests are expected to help out by offering, for example, a case of beer. For families with modest incomes, the price of so much partying is often untenabl

The road between Bujumbura and Gitega in Burundi (Dave Proffer)
The road between Bujumbura and Gitega in Burundi (Dave Proffer)
Gabby Bugaga and Stany Ngendakumana

BUJUMBURA – Family festivities are a central feature of life in Burundi. But they're also financially taxing, as families are expected to contribute to each and every gathering – even when they simply can't afford it.

"I have a list of more than 150 people who contributed at my mother's burial. And so I have to spend money every time I receive one of their invitations," says a determined yet discouraged civil servant in the Gihosha district of Bujumbura, the capital of the central African nation. This family head earns less than $200 per month. More than 30% of that money goes to funding family festivities. The man makes those contributions reluctantly, but with one single conviction: that they are central to the traditional culture of encounters and solidarity in Burundi.

There are many festivities that make up the day-to-day life of every Burundian. Among the most observed are dowries, pre-dowries, weddings, visiting and receiving in-laws, baptisms, birthdays and burial ceremonies.

Burundians are not formally obligated to make financial contributions to such events, yet most do – out of fear that they'll be marginalized by family members or neighbors who are quietly keeping track of who gave what when. Contributions vary, but typically a family might offer a case of beer or lemonade, which can cost anywhere from $8 to $15.

Some people, however, are starting to balk at paying. In the Kamenge district of Bujumbura, one man is currently in an argument with his wife and his brothers over his recent decision to stop paying for parties. After contributing money for a colleague's wedding, the man ended up having to go into debt in order to buy rice and beans for his family.

Calls for fewer festivities

Given the financial burden such festivities can place on families, civil society organizations like PARCEM, a local NGO, are calling on the government to simply abolish certain festivities. "One way to reduce spending would be to decrease the number of festivities important for Burundians," says PARCEM representative Faustin Ndikumana.

The government did just that in the 1980s, when Burundians – as they are doing once again – overspent on festivities and in some cases dedicated more time to preparing parties than working. "Why wouldn't we do it today?" says Mpitabakana Philippe, an 80s-era congressman.

The country's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, took a first step in a speech to the nation given on May 1. "We are asking Burundians to change their mentalities by giving up wasting on festivities," he said.

Others are trying to encourage changes on the cultural level. Abbot Alphonse Ndabiseruye, executive secretary of a Church-based development organization called the ODDBU, has begun working directly with people in the Kabezi and Mutambu districts, teaching them to understand their social worth is not determined by festivities. He wants to encourage other priests to spread this message.

Others have begun experimenting with so-called "affordable" festivities, where hosts provide free tea or coffee but charge their guests for alcohol. "I think it is an interesting case because at a time when other are making wedding a time of consumption, it shows that less spending means a better party," says a guest at one "affordable wedding."

Read the original article in French.

Photo - Dave Proffer

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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