The motto of Hope Africa University is “Facing African Realities”. Sometimes our students think that phrase means “eliminating African realities” but when considering work abroad it is important to understand the impact of poverty, culture and politics on life as an expatriate in Bujumbura and specifically on us at HAU. We live in what is, while we hope for what will be.
The protests of April/May 2015 followed by an attempted coup and months of intermittent but localized violence have been tremendously disruptive—politically, socially and economically. Specific neighborhoods in Bujumbura have suffered all the violence—our up-country team has experienced no impact other than economic. Even in Bujumbura the violence has been between the police and opposition—not otherwise interpersonal. Our house is in a neighborhood that has had no violence and overall, the violence seems to have faded away since the beginning of 2016.
In 2014 foreign aid represented 42% of Burundi's national income. The loss of direct foreign economic support (US and European), the loss of many NGO and diplomatic workers from the economy and the loss of some key educated workers has greatly impacted the economy and the ability of Burundian families to pay university tuition. Nevertheless personal crime involving expatriates has not risen.
Restaurants and city life have picked up of late. Still, expatriate families with children, apart from missionaries, are few, and the enrollment at international schools is markedly down. Some goods may be in short supply but we have not faced unmet needs. Internet service and telecommunications remain strong. Electricity and water have been as reliable as before the crisis.
In April 2015 the university had 5600 students, 400 in medicine. Now, following a graduation of 2500 students, there are about 1800 students with about 230 in medicine. Many others have put their education on hold for security or economic reasons. The medical school has not added a new class in 2015, 2016 or 2017 to replace graduates. Other departments have contracted sharply and many faculty and staff have been let go.
Nonetheless fundraising for the university remains strong and the university is slowly resolving its cash flow arrears in the face of reduced tuition income.
Another reality is the effect on our team. After relocating away from Bujumbura twice due to security issues, in early 2016 our teammates the Watts (a family of 6) were permanently reassigned to the Kibuye team. George Watts had been the head of the MBA program and for a time the vice-rector. Their departure has been another reality but we look to continuing improvement in the security situation and growth of our team.