Independent, August 29th 2006

August 29, 2006

A personal struggle with the violent, hopeless heart of Africa

By Peter Stanford

Published: 29 August 2006

Forgiveness is not a popular concept these days. Instead, we seek justice, compensation and, often, revenge when others have done us wrong. These were the immediate goals of Richard Wilson when his 27-year-old sister, Charlotte, was murdered by rebel gunmen in Burundi in December 2000. A VSO worker in neighbouring Rwanda, Charlotte had been travelling on a bus – the Titanic Express of the title – with her Burundian fiancé, Richard Ndereyimana, when the attack took place. As well as the couple, 20 other passengers were robbed, stripped and then killed in cold blood.

Titanic Express begins with an account of Wilson’s battle to find out how his sister died, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Foreign Office officials and the Metropolitan police officers assigned to the case are among the obstacles he has to surmount. More than once, he contemplates commissioning someone with a gun in Burundi to do to Charlotte’s killers what they did to her.

As his investigation unfolds, however, Wilson makes contacts with other aid organisations in Burundi, foreign journalists and exiles from its corrupt political system and ethnic tensions between Tutsis and Hutus – the same animosities that caused the genocide in Rwanda in 1995. In the process, he becomes an expert on Burundian politics – a microcosm of the problems that continue to afflict parts of post-colonial Africa. Movingly, he goes beyond a desire for revenge to develop an understanding of why Charlotte’s killers did what they did. Yes, they were heartless murderers, but something had happened to make them like that. In violent, hopeless societies, everyone and everything is infected and degraded.

It is not an easy personal journey. Wilson continues to struggle with a more primitive reaction even late in the book, when he meets a BBC World Service journalist from Burundi who has close links with the rebel group behind the attack. But his honesty carries the reader with him. Intimate books charting an individual’s quest only work if the author is prepared to show himself, warts and all. This Wilson does unflinchingly.

He also goes beyond the particular to ask broader questions about grief. It is a messy, painful, isolating experience that society today is reluctant to acknowledge or support. In his anguish, Wilson speaks to and for all who cannot easily put loss behind us and get on with life as if nothing has happened.


One Response to “Independent, August 29th 2006”

  1. Desire Katihabwa Says:

    I dream of a day that People of Burundi, and Africa will see a new day of hope for justice. My country was devastated by a culture of impunity and innocent lives continue to suffer, the international community continuing to ignore the number of crimes committed there, I have a dream to see a generation of People who will rise, no feeling intimidated to challenge any issues faced, I have a dream to see young Hutu and Tutsi who suffered the consequences of a culture of corruption, intimidation and dictatorship, working together a Burundian citizens for a better future of our Nation Burundi, and most importantly the continent Africa, I have a dream to see a generation who refuse to comply to the mentality “Africa has always been corrupt”, but rather be part of the “Do it generation”, be a generation who talk of solutions and possibilities, and not meditating on impossibilities and stumbling block.

    That strong generation of Africans will, one day, come and change the course of the continent of Africa, even if it means to pay a price, they will not fear to finish the work they started.

    May God bless Africa!

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