Tag Archives: burundi

They don’t cook coups the way they used to.

While the dust has settled on the coup that wasn’t, opposition leaders here in Burundi are wondering if it’s just a matter of time before the other shoe falls.

FRODEBU spokesman Pancrace Cimbaye, speaking to AFP, said, “We think the government is trying to create a chaotic situation, enabling it to sweep aside all the politicians in its way.”

MSD’s Alexis Sinduhije, who I spoke to on Sunday, and who has recently been accused by the government of plotting a rebellion in the Rubuvu National Park (an accusation that was dismantled at length in the local newspaper, Iwacu), said simply, “We are waiting.”

There was a time when a good coup in Burundi could be counted on for family fun and entertainment. These days? You're lucky to get a couple of drunk, decommissioned soldiers trying to escape by canoe!

AFP reported on Sunday that Friday night’s security sweep netted 16 conspirators who have been charged with plotting to “destabilize” the country. The arrests took place with great fanfare on a public beach here in Bujumbura, played out in front of cameras for the state-run TV station. (According to a man I spoke to today, at least one conspirator tried to swim to safety.) Burundians might not be able to stage a coup like they used to, but they sure know how to stage the disruption of a coup’s planning.

This was, of course, less a coup d’etat than a pas de coup. After initial rumors of a failed military putsch swirled here in Bujumbura – threatening to upend the drunken bonhomie of salsa night at Le Kasuku – the government prudently shifted gears and retreated to less alarmist accusations, stepping back from charges that might have broader implications. According to the AFP report,

A foreign diplomat said the government originally planned to arrest a number of political opposition leaders suspected of being behind the mutiny. “But wiser heads prevailed and fortunately they decided to stick with the army.”

Good news, maybe, for opposition leaders (for now). It also provides a not too gentle reminder that this wouldn’t have been the first time the Nkurunziza regime cooked up a coup plot to silence critics.

All dressed up with no one to overthrow.

But long-simmering tensions in the army, should they erupt into a serious revolt, would open up, as one Burundian man told me, a whole new “box of Pandora.” Not for nothing was Sinduhije fearful that the Ministry of Defense would try to pin charges of fomenting an army rebellion on him, during the last wave of discontent in December. (“It would not be a scoop if I am arrested,” he told me, wryly, at the time.)

“We have a law which is privileging those on top, but nothing for the others,” a friend was telling me.

“They’re scared. The top of the army is scared,” he said.

That 2006 law promised housing and lifetime pensions to the widows of officers killed in the line of duty, while offering nothing to the widows and children of ordinary soldiers. This, understandably, has caused a great deal of discontent among the rank-and-file.

In fairness, these guys don't need too much provocation to begin with.

“The guys are angry because they are afraid if they die on the front, their families will be thrown out on the street,” my friend told me. “And that’s what is happening.”

He said a group of 36 widows and nearly 200 children have been living in tents outside of a barracks here in Bujumbura since October, protesting their ill treatment by the army. Most have houses to go to – relatives or friends upcountry – but they refuse to leave until they get fair treatment. “They’re protesting against what they think is injustice,” he said. They’ve already begun to form a political movement, and are planning to make a run on parliament in this summer’s elections.

“The problem with the widows is the country is refusing to face its past,” he said. “It symbolizes the sickness of this country. Nobody wants to turn back.

“It can be very dangerous for the country.”

First you salsa; then you coup.

It is 8:15am in Burundi right now, which means the government has had a good 12 hours or so to doctor its story regarding last night’s alleged foiled coup. I would like to say I’ve been diligently burning the midnight oil, working the phones and probing trusted sources for all the juicy details. Sadly, this has not been the case. Instead I’ve spent the better part of the past 12 hours at Le Kasuku’s salsa night, lending further credence to the time-tested wisdom that a good salsa, like a good coup, is all in the hips.

Little breaking news to report so far. Early reports, according to the BBC, uncovered a dubious plot of ambiguous provenance.

Thirteen soldiers in Burundi have been arrested for plotting a coup to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza, the army chief of staff has said.

Major Gen Godefroid Niyombare said the 12 soldiers and one officer had been caught in a meeting near Lake Tanganyika earlier on Friday.

Investigations were ongoing and more arrests should be expected, he added.

Opposition candidate Alexis Sinduhije, as I noted last night, was wary of where those investigations might lead.

“They are going to arrest me again,” he said. “They are going to arrest me and say Alexis has plotted to overthrow the government. They have been working on something to destroy the whole parties.

“Everyone is calling me. They think we are targeted.”

The popular wisdom around the bar last night held that the coup plot was cooked up by anxious ruling party cadres desperate for an opposition leader to pin it on. At least one cheeky ex-pat – who may or may not have been this reporter – suggested we start a betting pool on which presidential hopeful would be behind bars before the weekend was through. He also recommended, given this country’s troubled history, that a new term – beaucoup d’etat – be introduced into the political lexicon to describe a country in which the military coup has supplanted the democratic election as the preferred means of transition.

On-the-ground reports here in Bujumbura, meanwhile, have provided the sort of levity that only a failed coup can provide. There was the much recycled rumor that the alleged plotters were arrested in pirogues – i.e., dug-out canoes – in Lake Tanganyika. (“We don’t do coups by water,” said one Burundian.) Then there was the claim made by at least two ex-pats that the Minister of Defense was seen boozing at a Chinese restaurant with the Chinese ambassador, a full two hours after details of the alleged coup surfaced. This is, you have to admit, a funny way to react to a coup.

I will be following the latest news – no, seriously – throughout the day, and should have a better sense of where things stand some time this afternoon. Also, for what it’s worth, I would like to note that I broke the coup story on Twitter a good 20 minutes or so before the BBC. I suppose that makes me the no. 1 trusted news source for stories you care nothing about.

I went all the way to Burundi and all I got was this lousy failed coup.

Word is still trickling in about the arrests of 12 soldiers and one officer involved in an alleged coup plot tonight in Burundi. I have heard nothing but skepticism so far around town. One analyst texted me: “Weird and staged thing.” Another: “Staged – almost certainly.”

More arrests, according to the BBC report, are still forthcoming. President Nkurunziza, it seems, continues to tighten his grip.

I just got off the phone with Alexis Sinduhije, the opposition candidate.

“They are going to arrest me again,” he said. “They are going to arrest me and say Alexis has plotted to overthrow the government.”

The Amazing & Incredible Adventures of A Not Altogether Guiltless Letter to Malawi!

I have been taken to task by at least two friends this week for general shittiness related to my correspondences, or lack thereof, and I would like to commend those friends for: a) holding me to my word regarding Mr. Richard Soko, fisherman, Malawi (see below); and b) not even suggesting that said shittiness could perhaps, in any way, be applied to the time that has elapsed between our own correspondences.

The long-delayed and -dreaded postal ordeal turned out to be, in the end, less harrowing and soul-searing than I’d feared. In fact, from the time I set foot in the post office to the time the sealed and stamped envelope left my hands, I’d aged – both physically and spiritually – by no more than three minutes. That this only compounds the guilt and general self-loathing I feel at this point, of course, can be left unsaid.

SEE! the hand that writes the letter!

FEEL! the card going into the envelope!

NOTE! the Malawian address, hand-written with care!

FOLLOW! the letter on its perilous voyage to the central post office in Bujumbura!

SAY! goodbye as the letter prepares to vanish into the bowels of the African postal network!

************

An interesting postcript: the very helpful and not at all unfriendly postal worker told me that the letter should be arriving in Malawi within the week. This makes me wonder exactly which sea turtle or tree sloth is being used by the Malawian postal service, since Richard’s last letter – dated mid-November – only arrived in New York last week. For once, it seems, Burundi can be held up as a model for us all.

A land of milk and honey.

I am living in Burundi, which is almost funny to say, because if you’d stumbled across this blog at home or at the office or on whatever Apple pleasure device you call your own, you might have felt a sense of ambiguousness, or amorphousness, at what you’re reading. I have used my little digital platform to talk about Angolan oil wealth and Ugandan homosexuals and the heartbreaking sincerity of letters from Malawi, but I haven’t always had a lot to say about Burundi itself – apart from observing that it is a useful butt for jokes that begin with, “If you think [insert impoverished country here] is poor…”; and a comedic foil for anyone hoping to make light of a particularly dire situation (i.e., “At least we’re not in Burundi!”)

Well I, for one, am in Burundi, along with eight million or so other people, most of whom, if my months here are any indication, are probably poor; most likely illiterate; guarded toward their neighbors; skeptical of their leaders; not at all unkind; worried for their children; unsure when the next meal will find them; hopeful, impossibly hopeful; and generally glad to be tilling their soil and drinking their banana beer and making do in whatever thrifty, belt-tightened way, if only there could be a few good leaders and a small dose of good luck to help this country back on the right track.

A good deal of the song sounds something like, 'MSD, MSD, MSDeeeeeee!'

I was at a campaign rally a few weeks back for the Mouvement pour la Solidarité et la Démocratie – Movement for Solidarity and Democracy, or MSD – led by the charismatic and controversial Alexis Sinduhije. The party was opening a new permanence – a permanent office, I suppose – in Bururi province, and during the obligatory flag-raising ceremony a strident, militaristic tune filled the air. Few in the crowd knew the words to the MSD anthem, and I could hardly blame them: the song carried on for six or seven minutes. Between the murmuring and lip-synching, I asked a man beside me to translate the refrain.

“When MSD gets there, the international community will recognize that we are again a country that will rise above our problems and again be a land of milk and honey,” he said. It was, admittedly, not the catchiest tune. But you sort of get the point.

The crowd lip-synchs its support

Say what you will about Burundians, but they sure know how to open a permanence in style!

This is a proud and anxious year for Burundi, which is holding its first direct presidential elections since its 12-year civil war officially ended in 2005. (The 2005 polls brought in a new parliament, which in turn chose former rebel, gospel singer, and football afficionado Pierre “Peter” Nkurunziza to lead the country.) Even after the formal peace was brokered in 2005, the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL), the last and most recalcitrant of the Hutu rebel groups, continued to wage a small-scale war in the bush. They formally agreed to lay down their arms in 2008; last April, they finally carried through on their promise. Thus 2010 marks the first year since the civil war began in 1993 that no armed factions are at loose in the countryside, and that the government – ostensibly, at least – includes all of this country’s dissonant voices (43 officially recognized political parties, at last count).

Burundi’s past experiences with elections have not always ended well, and have always been surprising. Beginning with the election of the Tutsi nationalist Prince Louis Rwagasore as prime minister in 1961 – won at a time when Burundi’s colonial overlords in Belgium had shifted their allegiances to the country’s Hutu majority – Burundian elections have always defied by the conventional wisdom. Calling for elections in Burundi has, in effect, always been a precursor to defeat.

The lesson for Buyoya: don't hold an election unless you're sure you can fix it

In 1993, when Tutsi strongman Pierre Buyoya called for elections – prompted by a wave of post-Cold War reforms across the continent, and signaling the end of 30 years of Tutsi military rule – he was upended by Melchior Ndadaye, an ethnic Hutu whose brief experiment with reform ended with his murder at the hands of Tutsi extremists from the army. When Ndadaye’s Front pour la Démocratie au Burundi (FRODEBU) party, wayward custodians of the transitional government which brought the civil war to an end, called for elections in 2005, it was the Conseil National pour la Defense de la Démocratie -Forces pour la Defense de la Démocratie (CNDD-FDD) – a rebel group that threatened to return to the bush should they lose – which surprised everyone with a sweeping electoral win. FRODEBU, full of wounded pride, retreated to lick its wounds, and CNDD-FDD suddenly found itself, despite a complete lack of governing experience, at the helm of this tiny, troubled nation.

Incredibly, these men would prove unfit to govern

You can argue that the experiment was doomed to fail – that a party raised and founded on a culture of violence would find the tricky business of politics to be less palatable than their preferred gun-barrel diplomacy. But the Burundians I’ve spoken to all describe those first months as a time of great promise. The war had ended; the corrupt old guard of FRODEBU – tainted by years in power, however neutered – had been swept from office; and the new ruling party – running on a platform of human rights and good governance – had stirred hopes of a fresh start for the country.

The honeymoon was over before it started. Rights groups quickly uncovered a campaign of repression and political violence being carried out at the hands of the ruling party; and the corruption that, to some degree or other, had always played a part in Burundian politics, soon took on the momentum of a runaway train. Describing the disillusionment that set in once the first hopeful signs faded, one restaurant owner in Bujumbura told me, “It was like a dream had been taken away.”

The presidential jet: If found, please return to this address

The scale and audacity of the crimes was shocking, even to the most cynical observers. The presidential plane was sold under bizarre circumstances shrouded in sleaze and secrecy; and the free-for-all became so brazen in recent years that the anti-corruption watchdog OLUCOME, citing $30 million in stolen revenues in the first half of 2009 alone, called graft “a way of life” in Burundi.

“It is the first time that people have stolen more than $30 million at one time,” said Gabriel Rufyiri, the head of OLUCOME, when I met him last week. “That’s the first time in our history that such an amount was stolen. It was the first time that a presidential jet was stolen in view of everyone. And all the criminals are there, and they’re becoming stronger and stronger. They are becoming stronger than the state. We see that corruption is becoming more endemic than before. The corruption is being legitimized by those who were supposed to fight against it.”

Rufyiri, like most outspoken critics of the government, has received numerous threats on his life. He has been imprisoned, according to his own count, “at least five times since 2002.” Twice he has had to flee the country.

In the five years since CNDD-FDD took office, a culture of repression and impunity has come to dominate the political scene. And yet people are oddly hopeful – that particular, African hope that finds even the darkest clouds to have a silvery lining. While the threat of violence remains high around the elections, most believe the prospect of a return to civil war are slim. Nearly 300,000 lives were claimed by that lost decade; the country is only just getting back on its feet.

“The Burundian people are not ready for more war,” a pastor told me.

Today I met a man, Pacifique, who has spent the past 10 years living in Antwerp. He was sitting beside me at Aroma, the café, complaining about the heat (the first time I’d every heard an African pining for the cold of Europe). It was his first visit to Burundi in more than two years, and the difference to him was palpable.

“The mentality is changed,” he said. “In Bwiza” – one of the city’s poorest, liveliest quartiers – “people are doing some trade and commerce. They are talking about some things with politics they were afraid to talk about before.”

Pacifique’s daughter, a placid, pot-bellied little girl, came down the sidewalk and joined us. She planted a kiss on her father’s cheek and unfolded some schoolwork for him to look over.

“I don’t believe in all this politics, Hutu and Tutsi,” he said. “We speak the same language, we are the same people.”

First there was Hollywood; then Nollywood. Now, meet the filmmakers of Bujumburiwood…um, Burundywood…uh…

Sadly, my friends in Rwanda have already claimed “Hillywood” for themselves.

The boys of Bujumbura patrol the streets in third-hand T-shirts and ill-fitting jeans, carrying stacks of DVDs they sell to passing motorists, sidewalk diners and curious passers-by. Rifle through the selections in this busy capital of Burundi and you’re likely to find Nigerian crime dramas, Tanzanian romances and Hollywood blockbusters pirated in China. What you won’t find are films made in Burundi.

For an impoverished country still struggling to emerge from more than a decade of civil war, that might not be surprising. But as peace returns to this troubled African nation, Burundian filmmakers are hoping to finally put their country on the map.

For my report from the frontlines of Burundian filmmaking, check out my piece in Variety here.

Memo to McCall Smith: Africa sux!

Seems not everyone is charmed and cheered by the syrupy sweetness of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, set in Botswana. Speaking at the Jaipur Literature Festival last week, the best-selling author responded to criticisms of his rose-colored view of the continent.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has a lot of problems, but it is not universally bleak and I wanted to show the inherent goodness in Botswana, which is a very well run country, with very little corruption and a wonderful people,” said Smith.

This, it seems, is a controversial statement. As Reuters reports, “In Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series, there is little corruption, disease or dictatorship.”

Bowing to the criticism, McCall Smith announced plans for a new series, The No. 1 Malnourished AIDS Orphans Agency. This will be followed by a film adaptation of his unreleased novella, The No. 1 Brutal Kleptocrats Club, starring Don Cheadle.

McCall Smith's new series focuses on The Real Africa

***********

Yesterday a hippo was wallowing in the water off the shores of Saga Plage. It attracted quite a crowd. Every now and then it would surface and spout water from its nostrils and wriggle its little hairy hippo ears. Squeals of delight all around. Little boys flashing their smooth little backsides decided to throw sticks to get its attention. Luckily, carnage was avoided.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here: Burundi edition

Three and a half weeks after applying for a one-month visa at the Bureau de l’Immigration here in Bujumbura, my application has finally been processed by the relevant stooges. This means that less than a week after getting my January visa approved, I’ll be going back again to get an extension for February. Not exactly surprising, given the state of the immigration office.

By my reckoning I’ve made seven trips to le bureau this month, only to be turned back, brushed aside, pitied, blatantly laughed at, and denied. The paperwork wasn’t ready. The paperwork was lost. The paperwork was something-in-French-I-couldn’t-understand. And me, flustered, irate, trying to explain in my marginal français: “J’ai venu sept fois ce mois, monsieur! Quelle est la problème? Je ne peux pas revenir chaque jour! Je suis…[flustered hand movement] busy.”

Still, me and the head stooge seemed to build up a sort of rapport, if by “rapport” I mean “mutual loathing.” The man was stern, fierce, unmovable. In a country that’s only just emerged from 13 or 15 or 16 years of civil war (depending on who’s counting), I suppose you can expect sympathy for the white guy to be in short supply. So instead I just grumbled and sighed and fought my way through queues which usually looked something like this:

Still, I succeeded in getting my visa de sejour and in not swallowing my own face in a fit of self-consuming rage. Given the circumstances, it was a good day.

Haiti would be better if Haitians behaved differently (or, Things to Argue About With Other White People on a Rainy Day)

The Haitian tragedy of the past week falls – as my geographically astute readers will observe – just beyond the boundaries of the continent I currently call home. I don’t want to suggest that my travels in Africa somehow make me an authority on what is happening in Haiti. I’m not. The blog is This Is Africa – not These Are Black People.

This Is Africa

This Isn't

Billy Sothern at Slate nicely sums up the problem – and danger – of foreign correspondents trying to report about a complicated country that they’ve only just managed to bone up on over a few late night sessions of Googling.

But.

On the one hand, governments across Africa are – to some degree or other – sending aid to the beleaguered island nation. (The list includes the DRC, which, as Reuters reports, “has just been told by the International Monetary Fund [that] its debt levels are fiscally unsustainable.” Picture poor Kabila forking over all those hard-earned, debt-relieved dollars!) Plus at least one African leader has proposed “the creation of a new African state to resettle Haitians left homeless by an earthquake.”

(A brief but relevant aside: Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who made the suggestion, is rapidly gaining on Libyan Pariah-in-Chief Muammar Qaddafi for my annual “What the Fuck Was He Thinking” African Leader Award. “All we are saying is that the Haitians didn’t take themselves over there,” Wade told Reuters TV on Monday. “We have to offer them the chance to come to Africa, that is my idea. They have as much right to Africa as I have.” This from a man whose visionary plan to combat poverty in his country includes the construction of a 328-foot high bronze statue of the “African Renaissance” with a $27 million price tag attached. And built by North Koreans. From which he’ll take a 35 percent cut of future tourist revenues.)

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Haitians.

More to the point, though: I came across a heated cyber-skirmish between a couple of conservative eggheads over at The National Review which dragged my beloved little Burundi into the picture. The argument stemmed from a column by editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg – author of the right-wing polemic Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning – in which Haitians are, in a time-honored conservative tradition, more or less blamed for being poor. “The sad truth about Haiti isn’t simply that it is poor, but that it has a poverty culture,” writes Goldberg, while sounding actually not all that sad.

The blogosphere exploded with nearly three responses. John Derbyshire criticized the author’s woeful lament that “Haiti will never get out of grinding poverty until it abandons much of its culture.” (He didn’t, in fact, disagree “that we need to transform Haiti’s ‘culture of poverty.’” He just didn’t know how to do it.) With a stunning coup de grace, Derbyshire dusted off his CIA World Factbook and boldly proclaimed that “Haiti isn’t actually that poor.”

Chin up, Haitian man: at least you're not in Togo! (courtesy of Damon Winter, The New York Times)

Goldberg got testy at being misunderstood. “My meaning was only ‘there are places way poorer,’” he wrote.

At rank 203 out of 229, Haiti is in the 11th percentile. To put it another way, one country in nine is as poor as, or poorer than, Haiti. If one person in nine is shorter than me, I’m not that short. As for “arguably slightly poorer”: with Haiti at per capita GDP $1,300, I think Eritrea at $700 and Burundi at $300 would give you an argument.

I would like to see that argument. I would like to see Eritrea and Burundi gang up on Haiti and shake their fists and say, “Hey, Haiti, we’ll show you abject poverty!”

An Eritrean woman: really fucking poor.

This whole argument is so dangerously stupid it should come with an FDA warning. Bickering over indices and World Bank rankings when it comes to a certain level of poverty is sort of like arguing about whether or not your hot dog is Kosher: at the end of the day, it’s still really, really bad for you. Besides, when you consider the obscene levels of economic disparity you find in much of the developing world, you have to take those measures of per capita GDP with a big grain of WFP-distributed salt. Does Gabon’s gaudy $14,200 per capita GDP mean anything to all but a small circle of its oilgarchs? Does the great resource wealth of Namibia (per capita GDP: $6,400) improve the lives of its rural poor? (Actually, according to some, it makes them worse.) Are Kenyans better off than Burundians, since their per capita GDP is nearly four times as great? Even if they live in the far north, where people refer to “Kenya” – i.e., Nairobi – as a distant, far-off land?

Living the high life in northern Kenya

Despite the fact that the author’s idea of a good time is betting on Human Development Indices, this piece makes a good argument against the HDI. Conclusion: “Scandinavia comes out on top according to the HDI because the HDI is basically a measure of how Scandinavian your country is.”

Burundians: not very Scandinavian

I was talking this afternoon with Pancrace Cimaye, spokesman for Burundi’s opposition FRODEBU party. Cimaye – a stout, world-weary man whose paunch suggested a very Scandinavian level of Human Development – was talking about the extreme poverty in Burundi. He said that FRODEBU officials had a certain parlor trick they played in the countryside to show how five years of ruling-party rule had done nothing for the country’s development. I will leave aside the swarminess I feel about this schtick, since it sort of makes a point.

They would tell a gathering of party members – sometimes 1,000 strong – that if any of them had a 10,000 Burundian franc note (the equivalent of about eight US bucks), FRODEBU would match it with one of their own. Not a single man would raise his hand. So they would ask if anyone had Fbu 5,000. None. Then 2,000. Then 1,000. Finally, a few farmers would raise their hands. And that was it.

Now, whether that points to the corruption and incompetence of the ruling party – as opposed to any number of very complicated factors – is debatable. But the reality of the poverty it underscores is pretty concrete. I would be happy to bet my own Fbu 10,000 note that you could use that same schtick with a bunch of Kenyan Samburu or Ugandan Karamoja or Mozambican Makonde or Botswanan San or Nigerian Ijaw – or even hypothetical-$1,300-a-year-earning Haitians – and the result would be the same. At some point, the indices are just dressing-up some ugly, naked facts.

Knives and handouts: the story of Africans abroad.

Terrific thunderstorms last night in Burundi. Spent about 20 minutes sitting by the window, trying to catch lightning in a JPG. Managed this very pedestrian effort, which is only cool in as much as it shows that the whole freakin’ sky was lit up for as long as a very long breath:

Lightning lighting up Buja

This not being a town that does too well in torrential downpours, the streets were quickly, characteristically flooded. Not surprising, as the rain in Burundi tends to be of the Biblical and shit-kicking variety. (E.g., “No fewer than 717” houses in Buja were destroyed by floods in November.)

*****************

Meanwhile, my award for African Diaspora Story of the Week goes to a plucky piece in today’s Telegraph, “African carried out knife crime because he hated Britain and wanted to go home.” The African in question just happens to be a Burundian native, which prompted the stellar lede: “An immigrant carried out a knifepoint mugging in the hope he would be sent back to his war-torn African homeland because he hated life in Britain, a court has heard.”

The story of 21-year-old Kasiba Misigaro – who we are told, four words into the story, “was living off benefits” – is full of a certain tragicomic pathos. The clumsy scheme to mug “another African” (no nationality given) in the hopes of being deported sounds as ill-conceived and doomed-to-fail as a Burundian presidential run. Despite the defendant’s woeful protestation to the police – “I only did it because I wanted to go home. I don’t want to be here.” – he was sentenced to three years in prison (taking into account a whopping 21 priors), at which point his wish to return to Burundi will unceremoniously be granted.

The Daily Mail offers an almost identical story, worth perusing for the hysterical timbre of the comments at the bottom. (Sample: “Christ here’s one who wants to go home…why the hell are you keeping him…” Merci, Edouard in Toulouse!)

It also includes the following frightful representation of what a hypothetical mugger might look like, should you encounter one in, say, east London. (Q: Couldn’t find a black model?)

Not to be outdone, the Sun reports in a similar vein, helpfully identifying Burundi as

one of the ten poorest countries in the world, with the lowest GDP per capita on the planet. It is ridden with civil wars, corruption, poor education and AIDS.

They, too, provide a terrifying stock photo of a (white) guy with a knife.

Caution: Muggers are blacker than they appear

I can’t exactly fault a couple of right-wing tabloids (and the more credible Telegraph) for reporting this story the way they did. (Would my hometown News or Post have done it any differently?) And if I were a tax-paying Brit who helped pay this kid’s benefits – AND had to pay for his three-year imprisonment on top of that – I’d probably be a bit peeved, too.

What I can’t exactly bear, though, is the implication that there’s something wrong with this guy wanting to go back to what is, ultimately, his home. Note the incredulity of each of the authors below:

The Mail: [Misigaro carried out the attack] “to be deported back to a war-torn African country – because he found Britain worse than his homeland.”

The Sun: [The mugging] “was the only way he could get a free ticket OUT of Britain and back to his war-torn homeland.” (Their emphasis on OUT.)

The Telegraph: [He] “believed he would have a better life back in Burundi, one of the ten poorest countries in the world.”

Imagine! Leaving the stiff-lipped comforts of civilized Britannia for the savagery of his war-torn homeland! As one commenter put it: “I hope he does get back to wherever he come from and tells everyone how he hated it here.”