Laura Gordon

Laura Gordon (Survivor Corps in Burundi): Laura worked as an English teacher in Côte d’Ivoire in 2002 and Thailand in 2003. In 2006 she graduated from the University of Oxford with a 1st Class degree in Modern History. After graduating, Laura worked in Uganda as a research intern for the Uganda Human Rights Commission. At the time of her fellowship she was pursuing her master’s degree in International Affairs at The Graduate Institute, Geneva. After her fellowship, Laura wrote: “I'm more comfortable in my skin now, and after a couple of years of wondering where I belong, I'm now sure that it's overseas in the development world. I love Burundi and I'm desperate to go back.”

Q: What do Burundi, New Zealand, and Canada have in Common?

18 Jun

A: They all live in the shadows of larger, richer, more powerful neighbouring countries, often get confused with those countries, and really hate it!

The attitude of the Burundians towards their Rwandan neighbours has amused and interested me since I got here. As I blogged in my first post, the two countries have a lot in common, in terms of the same ethnic structure, the same colonial history, and a similar history of ethnic war. However, Burundians are keen to distinguish themselves from Rwanda at every opportunity, drawing favourable comparisons between almost every aspect of Rwandan society and their Burundian equivalents. I find these comparisons very interesting, and hope to blog at more length on this once I’m surer of my ground. But they also amused me, because I couldn’t put my finger on what they reminded me of  – until I was watching South Africa vs. New Zealand with Brian:

Brian: Where’s New Zealand? Is it in Australia

Laura (laughs uproariously) : No! And never say that to a New Zealander!

Brian : They don’t like it?

Laura (in a rare moment of brilliance): It’d be a bit like if you told someone you were from Burundi and they asked if it was in Rwanda!

Brian’s look of horror told me that I’d picked the right comparator!

Posted By Laura Gordon

Posted Jun 18th, 2009


  • Miranda

    June 19, 2009


    An excellent comparison Laura! (Coming from a Canadian)

    I wonder how this perception of Rwanda-Burundi similarity has impacted upon the design of recovery programs (especially DDR). I would not be surprised to learn that many International NGOs and Orgs would apply approaches similar to those implemented in Rwanda to Burundi. Would this mean that such programs and projects are not as effective as they could be? Thesis topic, perhaps?

    I’m interested to hear more on this note from you.

  • Alexandre

    June 19, 2009


    Très intéressante, cette perspective identitaire! Est-ce qu’une telle distinction existe également à l’intérieur du Burundi, entre différents groupes? J’imagine que oui, si le pays a un historique de guerres ethniques…

    Tu as pris l’exemple du Canada, qui effectivement tente de se distinguer au maximum d’avec son méga-voisin du Sud. Or, de tels efforts d’identification existent également au Canada proprement dit, notamment entre les provinces (lire ici: surtout Québec vs les autres, mais pas seulement!), et même à l’intérieur de chacune des provinces (ex: ville de Québec vs ville de Montréal)!

    Comme quoi, malgré un schisme énorme, ces pays, grands et petits, ne sont pas si différents, après tout…

  • Laura Gordon

    June 22, 2009



    Definitely going to look more into this, I haven’t had the chance to talk to many (read: any) Wazungu yet, but definitely interested to see what they’ll say. Having said that, people here seem very aware of the differences (and fiercely partisan in favour of Burundi), and there is a large UN body here which has been here throughout, so I’m not sure that they will have been transplanting Rwandan solutions en masse – but it’s an interesting point and I’ll look into it.

    Also haven’t had the chance to go to the regions yet, there has historically been a lot of regional rivalry in Burundi and regional exclusion as well as the Tutsi-Hutu division – the Tutsi dictatorship was also very regionally concentrated. There are also some provinces that have larger Tutsi populations than others – one even has a majority – and some that have almost none. I’m starting my profiling in Bujumbura, but I should be travelling to the regions soonish, and one of the things I want to look into is if regional inequality and identity is persisting and if so is anything being done about it – will let you know!

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *