Burundi: The Biography of a Small African Country.

Author:Gooding, Philip
Position:AFRICA - Book review

Watt, Nigel. Burundi: The Biography of a Small African Country. 2nd ed. London: Hurst, 2016.

Nigel Watt's biography of Burundi remains the premier English-language text on Burundi's post-independence history. Having worked in Burundi from 1998 to 2002 for Christian Aid and CARE International, Watt uses interviews and his personal experiences to enhance his scholarship. He then places the events and conditions he describes within broader social and political contexts, which he details expertly. This second edition of the book, the original having been published in 2008, updates Watt's work so that it accounts for recent events, most notably those surrounding Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term as president in 2015. In keeping with the methodologies used in the first edition, much of the new material is informed from personal accounts following the author's 2014 research trip to Burundi. Watt's conclusion that the Burundians themselves are their nation's greatest resource supports their prominence in his history (244).

Burundi: The Biography of a Small African Country is successful partially because Burundi is often overlooked in English-language texts. The nation's limited exposure exists as much in Anglophone academic writings as it does in media publications. This book, therefore, sheds light on events and conditions that are often little understood, except by experts. Watt exploits this gap in most peoples knowledge with an easy writing style and a focus on personal accounts, rather than on the minutiae of historical theory. He thus makes Burundi's history accessible to Anglophone undergraduates, development workers, and interested travelers.

Watt's strongest contribution to historical knowledge amongst academics revolves around his analysis of space. That is, the ways in which he places Burundi and its numerous composite parts within both micro and regional contexts. Most impressive is the way in which he describes moving frontiers between warring parties and communities during the 1990s and 2000s, particularly in the major cities. His deep understanding of Bujumbura's geography and peoples provokes further analysis in what could become an urban history of Bujumbura; something that is yet to be written, and which appeared less attainable before Watt's book. The new edition then explains how these frontiers have shifted in form and nature since the 2005 election; an important dynamic for understanding the current...

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