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Fear in Bongoland

Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania

Marc Sommers
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 238
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  • Book Info
    Fear in Bongoland
    Book Description:

    Spurred by wars and a drive to urbanize, Africans are crossing borders and overwhelming cities in unprecedented numbers. At the center of this development are young refugee men who migrate to urban areas.

    This volume, the first full-length study of urban refugees in hiding, tells the story of Burundi refugee youth who escaped from remote camps in central Tanzania to work in one of Africa's fastest-growing cities, Dar es Salaam. This steamy, rundown capital would seem uninviting to many, particularly for second generation survivors of genocide whose lives are ridden with fear. But these young men nonetheless join migrants in "Bongoland" (meaning "Brainland") where, as the nickname suggests, only the shrewdest and most cunning can survive.

    Mixing lyrics from church hymns and street vernacular, descriptions of city living in cartoons and popular novels and original photographs, this book creates an ethnographic portrait of urban refugee life, where survival strategies spring from street smarts and pastors' warnings of urban sin, and mastery of popular youth culture is highly valued. Pentecostalism and a secret rift within the seemingly impenetrable Hutu ethnic group are part of the rich texture of this contemporary African story. Written in accessible prose, this book offers an intimate picture of how Africa is changing and how refugee youth are helping to drive that change.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-470-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Art Hansen

    The author of this book stimulates the reader with insights on a variety of interrelated subjects. Dar es Salaam as “Bongoland” and the commentary on urban youth culture and language enrich the discourse on urbanization in Africa. Those interested in social networks will be intrigued by the importance of Pentecostal patronage and the distorting impact of fear and suspicion on rural-urban (chain migration) and intra-urban (social support) social networks.

    Our understanding of a particular refugee population, Burundians in Tanzania, is enhanced through the author’s revelations concerning internal schisms (by class, region, and generation) and contradictions in what had been projected...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xv)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvi-xviii)
  7. 1 Introduction: Through an Urban Borehole
    (pp. 1-27)

    Soon after arriving in Dar es Salaam, just before Christmas in 1990, I discovered that asking young people in Dar es Salaam about their notoriousLugha ya Wahuni(Language of the Ignorant) was a useful way to start learning about their world. The outcast language, which was actually a rapidly changing vocabulary that youths invented and continuously revise, has helped establish their identity as a separate yet demographically dominant sector of Dar es Salaam society.

    In theLugha, simple responses can be dense with meanings. A young man might respond to a typical greeting, such asHabari ya mihangaiko? (How...

  8. 2 Empowered Victims
    (pp. 28-71)

    Growing up in Burundi refugee society taught the young men in this story about victimization, fear, secrecy—and how to work the system. While growing up in refugee camps, their elders had never allowed them to forget how their Hutu identity forced their families to flee Burundi in order to survive. At the same time, their refugee identity reminded them that they were foreigners in Tanzania, the only country they had ever known. In both cases, the young refugees learned that they were outsiders—exiled from the old country and less than citizens in their country of residence. Growing up...

  9. 3 Bongoland Adventures
    (pp. 72-116)

    One dusty, sweaty day at Pastor Albert’s tailoring shop, I asked some of the refugee tailors about seeing young men frying chicken heads and feet in pots of fat and selling them. They ventured daily to large poultry factories to buy the heads and feet, which they sold with salt and spices for five shillings apiece (two cents). I mentioned that I had seen thesewauzaji(vendors) in other Dar es Salaam neighborhoods, but never in their own. The refugees responded with pride. You cannot find that food in our neighborhood, they all agreed, because our neighborhood is not poor....

  10. 4 Suspicious Lives
    (pp. 117-137)

    Directly or indirectly, John, William, and James frequently alluded to the internalized fears that so often governed their perceptions. The term they most often used waskuogopa, which translates as being afraid, startled, or terrified (Rechenbach 1967). In one way or another, they constantly reminded me that they had much to fear. John was fond of giving me signals when suspicious characters entered the shop. James made it clear that we must never refer to Burundi in his shop, because he was surrounded by Tanzanians who might become suspicious of him. William’s concerns that Tanzanian visitors to the tailoring shop...

  11. 5 Undercover Urbanites
    (pp. 138-154)

    This chapter will describe how young refugee tailors presented, or, as Goffman termed it, “misrepresented” (1959:58) themselves as Tanzanians. Their strategies are contained in the termkujificha, a Swahili verb meaning “to hide oneself,” and one that John, William, James, and other young refugees often used to allude to those activities which pertained to hiding.

    This chapter describes the public personae of John, William, James, and Luka. James was far more relaxed than the others, since he operated as the only refugee in an otherwise Tanzanian tailoring shop. On the other hand, palpable tension existed in Pastor Albert’s shop between...

  12. 6 Satan’s City
    (pp. 155-180)

    Perhaps no aspect of African refugee society and culture is as overlooked by researchers and most humanitarian relief agencies as the refugees’ religious lives. This may also apply to religious studies: Pirouet, for example, observed that she was “not aware that theology [had] ever addressed itself to [the refugee] phenomenon” (1996: 82). For young Burundi refugees searching for opportunities outside the isolated settlements they grew up in, their Pentecostal faith, and the networks that emerged from Pentecostal congregations, played a critical role in facilitating their escape to Dar es Salaam.

    The rise of Pentecostalism among Burundi refugees is actually part...

  13. 7 Conclusion: A Second Refugee Generation
    (pp. 181-198)

    Three weeks before completing my field research in Dar es Salaam in 1992, I hired John and James to each make me a pair of pants. I could not ask William because he was visiting his family in Ulyankulu settlement, and would not return until just before I left town. John and James helped me choose the material, but I asked that they design the sort of trousers that they preferred to wear.

    John selected a sedate, blue-gray polyester material. The trousers had neither pleats nor cuffs, and seemed emblematic of his public persona in Dar es Salaam: practical, conservative,...

  14. Epilogue: The Forgotten People
    (pp. 199-207)

    The years since the end of the fieldwork period for this book (mid-1992) have been unusually tumultuous and unforgiving for Burundians. Yet the immediate signs for the future in 1992 were almost entirely positive. The government-endorsed constitution in March of 1992, which had set the stage for attempts to persuade Burundi refugees to repatriate (described in the previous chapter), were followed by the rise to prominence of an opposition party called Frodebu (Front pour la démocratie au Burundi). Formed by a cadre of Hutu intellectuals who had been refugees following the 1972 genocide, and “against all odds” (Lemarchand 1996b: 178),...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 208-216)
  16. Index
    (pp. 217-219)