Fear in Bongoland
Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania
238 pages, 7 photos, 4 figures, 3 maps, bibliog., index
ISBN 978-1-57181-263-6 $120.00/£85.00 Hb Published (October 2001)
ISBN 978-1-57181-331-2 $29.95/£21.00 Pb Published (October 2001)
eISBN 978-1-78238-470-0 eBook
2003 MARGARET MEAD AWARD
“This book by Sommers opens up new and fascinating avenues of research.” · Cahiers d’études africaines
“The combination of a broad perspective on exile, work, language, and religion and a personal account of people living with fear renders this book highly recommendable for students of refugee issues, social history, popular culture and new religious movements in Africa." · H-Africa
“... reads like a lucidly written novel. Once you start reading it, it is difficult to stop.” · Journal of Refugee Studies
“Sommers skillfully weaves the tapestry of fear and resourcefulness, religion and politics, survival and loss, that make up the lives of Burundi refugees in urban Tanzania. The young men whose stories form the backbone of this book truly come to life: we get to know, and respect, John, James, William, and Marko as friends and human beings ... In showing some of the divisions within the Burundi refugee community, Sommers' analysis provides a welcome corrective to the totalizing ethnic categories that dominate so much of the writing on the Great Lakes region.” · Peter Uvin, author of the 1999 Herskovits Award Winner Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda
“This finely-crafted ethnography gives us a powerful sense of what it must be like to be caught in the net of political control and social obligation, and yet through hard work, luck or concentration, to open a hole in the net and wriggle free. A trip to the beach, or a pair of trousers, will never seem the same again. Highly recommended.” · Paul Richards, author of Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone
“Dr. Sommers' innovative and pioneering research contributes immensely to our understanding of African refugees and, in particular, to our knowledge about self-settled urban African refugees.” · Art Hansen, from the Foreword
“In sum this text is a useful addition to the literature and provides some fresh insights into the plight of self-settled refugees.” · African Affairs
Spurred by wars and a drive to urbanize, Africans are crossing borders and overwhelming cities in unprecedented numbers. At the center of this development are young refugee men who migrate to urban areas.
This volume, the first full-length study of urban refugees in hiding, tells the story of Burundi refugee youth who escaped from remote camps in central Tanzania to work in one of Africa's fastest-growing cities, Dar es Salaam. This steamy, rundown capital would seem uninviting to many, particularly for second generation survivors of genocide whose lives are ridden with fear. But these young men nonetheless join migrants in "Bongoland" (meaning "Brainland") where, as the nickname suggests, only the shrewdest and most cunning can survive.
Mixing lyrics from church hymns and street vernacular, descriptions of city living in cartoons and popular novels and original photographs, this book creates an ethnographic portrait of urban refugee life, where survival strategies spring from street smarts and pastors' warnings of urban sin, and mastery of popular youth culture is highly valued. Pentecostalism and a secret rift within the seemingly impenetrable Hutu ethnic group are part of the rich texture of this contemporary African story. Written in accessible prose, this book offers an intimate picture of how Africa is changing and how refugee youth are helping to drive that change.
Marc Sommers is an international consultant and Research Fellow at Boston University's African Studies Center. He has explored the impact of war and urbanization on children and youth in Africa as well as Colombia, El Salvador and Kosovo. Dr. Sommers has published numerous articles and reports for popular and scholarly audiences and presented on Capital Hill, at the United Nations and on radio programs. His photographs have been exhibited in the U.S., Europe and East Africa. In 1993, Dr. Sommers received the annual Award for the Outstanding Paper on Refugee Issues from the American Anthropological Association's Committee on Refugees and Immigrants.