Burundi

There’s an old saying that the first 90% of the job takes 90% of the time, the last 10% of the work takes the other 90% of the time. Due to my travel commitments, there was a delay in the publication of Clear Eyes—partly also because of my map exploits in Modena and Venice.

In the end, it all worked out for the best—the book was published on March 4th, the day Columbus arrived in Lisbon from the New World. If you are a regular reader of this chronicle, you already know a lot about the background to my new book—but here’s the official blurb.

On Saturday 8th September 1492, Columbus weighs anchor from La Gomera in the Canary Islands. His destination is Japan, which he hopes to reach in about three weeks. Instead, he arrives at another continent, which he firmly believes to be the Indies. American Indians, Indiana, Indian Wells, and many other names are a consequence of his miscalculation.

Peter Wibaux is the author of award-winning novel The India Road, and in his new book Clear Eyes he portrays the first voyage of Columbus in a new light. The outbound journey, and the torrid relationship between the admiral and Beatriz, countess of La Gomera, are just the start of a great adventure. In the Indies, the Spaniards inflict the most terrible punishments on the Taino people, as the Spanish captains search for the riches of Cipango and Cathay.

By the time the fleet departs for Castile, the flagship is lost and the Spanish captain Martin Pinzon is filled with hatred for Christopher Columbus. The journey home is fraught with danger, as the two vessels fight the winter storms of the North Atlantic. But that’s nothing compared to the political strife in Iberia, which will determine the fate of the New World.

A corrupt pope, a seductive courtesan, and the cruelty of the conquistadors add spice to a story anchored in facts and researched in the libraries of Italy, Spain, and the United States. Spices are what Columbus hopes to find, but will the expedition return with more than it bargained for?

I very much hope you enjoy Clear Eyes. You can buy it here for $4.99, although Amazon sets its own prices hither and thither in mysterious ways.

Now I’ve shared this good news, I want to focus on the title of this article, lest you think I’m leading you astray.

After two weeks of travel, and particularly after being in the US bang in the middle of the primaries and witnessing the whole Trump dog ‘n pony show, I’m not short of subjects.

Refugees are one of them, and if you land in London starved for news after a week in the States you’re hit with the double R: Refugees, Referendum.

Think Syrians, Greece, closed borders, recession, perfect storm, right?

Wrong, think Burundi, which hasn’t even made the news. You, reader, are well-informed, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. But if I were to say ‘Burundi’ to many of the people walking the strip in Las Vegas, zombied out on cocktails and slot machines, I believe I would be told it was a dance, or perhaps a new libation.

The headline from the Ugandan newspaper screams: Burundi refugees hit 250,000 mark.

Two thousand a week at last count, mainly fleeing to Tanzania, but also to Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC—and nary a whisper in Europe.

Two hundred-fifty thousand is roughly the total refugee traffic into Europe in 2014, and definitely a number of concern. And some of the countries to which these people go are hardly models of democracy and stability—in fact the notion of seeking asylum in the Congo is nothing short of bizarre—these must be desperate people indeed.

One man's meat is another man's poison. Congolese refugees in Uganda while Burundi refugees head for the DRC.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Congolese refugees in Uganda while Burundi refugees head for the DRC.

So what’s up with Burundi?

Well, this a small nation by African standards—about the size of Maryland, a little smaller than Belgium. Ten million people, the population of Portugal. The median age is seventeen. Compared to thirty-eight in the US, forty-two in the EU.

The usual vast range of natural resources, including rare earths, and the incomprehensibly associated poverty.

And an all too familiar tribal problem: 85% Hutu, 14% Tutsi. As in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or Assad’s Syria, the minority has often dominated the political system—but the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is a Hutu. The country engaged in a twelve-year civil war, between 1993 and 2005, and since then the ethnic violence simmers just below the surface.

In April last year the country once again exploded, as the Tutsi-held military reacted to President Nkurunziza’s bid to secure a third term in office.

And so it goes. The West walks by as if nothing’s going on, and Burundi is only a concern for the UN High Commission on Refugees.

Genocide, NIMTO. Not In My Term In Office.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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