If you were in Nairobi, Kampala, Dar-es-Salaam and I suspect Kigali by the afternoon of Friday, June 14, you would have read the details of the budgets of all the East African Community countries except one — Burundi.
Indeed, The East African, which came out a day later, had extensive reports on the EAC budgets – except, again, Burundi’s.
This conformed to a pattern that we have seen since Burundi and Rwanda joined the EAC in 2009. Burundi rarely gets any action.
This Burundi isolation is puzzling. Some people argue that it is because its main foreign language is French, unlike the other four who speak English.
However, Senegal, which is far away in West Africa, is French-speaking, and no one there can utter even a word of Kiswahili, which many Barundi speak, but it still gets more play in the East African media than Burundi.
Okay, it is one of Africa’s smallest countries, yes, but it is bigger than Rwanda, which cannot complain of inadequate coverage. In fact, Rwanda gets too much press, although some of it, according to Kigali, is of the “wrong” kind.
So size is not the issue.
One could say that it uses a currency, the franc, which East Africans don’t understand. But then so does Rwanda.
Burundi only appears when the regional media go the extra kilometre to cover it. So what can Burundi do to get East Africa’s attention?
Well, to start with, it needs to host a big private sector event, not just government and state sector stuff. If I were President Pierre Nkurunziza, I would channel money through a civil society group or something not directly associated with the government, and hold a big East African Bloggers conference.
True, that will bring a lot of badly dressed people to Bujumbura, but they are smart and would get Burundi’s story not just around East Africa, but the world.
Second, Nkurunziza needs to ensure that a Burundi football club becomes the winningest team in the region.
However, that alone wouldn’t do it. He needs to steal a leaf from his neighbour President Paul Kagame’s book, and set up the Nkurunziza Cup (with a handsome cash prize in dollars, not francs) for which East African teams compete.
But it is really the youth market Burundi needs to break into. And music is the route. Nairobi-based but Burundi-born Kidum is the country’s most famous musician in the region. However, Kidum is too much of a gentleman.
The country needs a colourful, controversial and wild musician like Uganda’s Chameleone, who seems to smoke and drink strange things, falls through his hotel room window, and is forever getting involved in car crashes.
He is a hot East African music property. Of course, he’d have to be as extravagantly talented too.
But nothing beats all the above like a good scandal. Not a corruption scandal; East Africans hardly pay attention anymore. Something like a Burundi minister running away with a top Western ambassador’s wife, then the ambassador chasing after and shooting both of them.
There would be 100 foreign journalists in Bujumbura within 24 hours of the shooting, and Burundi would be on television all over the world.
We all hope that this last suggestion is the one Bujumbura will dismiss immediately.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @cobbo3