Interview: Patrick Hajayandi wrote Faces and Traces: Paying Tribute to Unsung Heroes”

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Patrick Hajayandi is a peacebuilder, a researcher and a political analyst. He is passionate about promoting peace and fostering real development for communities affected by violence and wars. His story is that of a concerned citizen trying to create spaces for dialogue between people who have been wounded psychologically by years of ethnic violence across the African continent in general and in Burundi in particular. His work evolves around the use of storytelling as a tool to reconcile people and to heal wounded memories.

 Hajayandi is a political scientist. Trained at the Southern Federal University (former Rostov State University – Russian Federation) where he specialized in political processes and institutions as well as in peace and conflict studies. Currently, he works as a Senior Project Leader for the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation which is based in Cape Town, South Africa.


Andika: What is your book Faces and Traces: Paying Tribute to Unsung Heroes” about?

Patrick Hajayandi: Faces and Traces is a book about ordinary people doing extra-ordinary work. It brings forth stories of people who, in 1993 played an important role in protecting potential victims of violence without considering ethnic affiliation of the people they needed to save or protect. Most importantly, it shows that, despite the hardships and challenges related to war and its toll on affected people, there are always unsung heroes who try their best to keep the values of Ubuntu; who are ready to go the extra mile and to pay a heavy price to remain humane and to show kindness

Through this book, I also wanted to show that Burundi is not only about people who killed each other and many similar horrific stories. I wanted to show that there is a very positive side of Burundi that people tend to ignore. I wanted to highlight positive and inspiring stories of people who did what was right despite adversity. Stories of people who saved many lives of their compatriots.

The book “Faces and Traces: Paying tribute to Unsung Heroes” is not only a book but also a space where the voices of those unsung heroes can be heard. A space where the actions can be acknowledged and used to inspire the young generation of Burundians.


Andika: Why did you think of writing this book?

Patrick Hajayandi: It all started with a need to give thanks to people who protected me in 1993 when I was running away from school where killer mobs were forming. Then I thought that there may be other people who had similar experiences. Then I decided to conduct research, to ask questions about people who protected others during the 1993-2003 civil war that erupted in the aftermath of President Melchior Ndadaye’s assassination. In those days, the decision to save a person from an other ethnic group was not considered heroic, but a betrayal. That’s why those heroes remained in anonymity for a long time. But today, it is time to acknowledge the good they did and thank them. That is the motivation that pushed me to write the book.


Andika: When did you know that this was the right path for you?

Patrick Hajayandi: Since I was young, I always dreamed of writing books. I edited my first collection of poems when I was still in high school. Some of my poems were sent to RTNB (Burundi National Radio-TV) and read during one of my favourite radio programs “Lundi Reveil”. And when the civil war was in full swing, between 1997-1999, I wrote my first autobiography, shortly before leaving for my university studies in Russia. Unfortunately, the book was not published.


Andika: What do you like most about your book?

Patrick Hajayandi: What I like mostly about my book is the fact that it gives a voice to people who could otherwise be voiceless, ignored and left anonymous. It brings the unsung heroes back into the arena so that they could share their stories and be acknowledged for who they really are. I also like the many lessons that one can get while reading this book, especially the fact that people are not born heroes, and that they become heroes because of the hard choices they make.


Andika: What is the biggest obstacle you have faced when writing your book and how did you overcome it?

Patrick Hajayandi: The biggest challenge was to find the right storyteller…. You know, not everyone knows how to tell a story in a captivating way. It was difficult but important to ensure that I could align the right storytellers with good and inspiring stories. That was the main challenge. I overcame it by relying on other’s help (I don’t believe in working as a lone wolf or in self-made men). I believe in cooperation, partnering with others. And that is what helped me. Basically, other people helped me in identifying the right people with the right stories. At the same time, I believe that my book is just a drop in the ocean. There are many stories that are untold, and it is up to every aspiring writer to tap into these huge resources for inspiration.


Andika: If your phone could ring right now with your dream opportunity, what would that be?

Patrick Hajayandi: The opportunity to finally write my first monograph, as a political scientist.


Andika: What do you want people to remember most about you and your book?

Patrick Hajayandi: From me, I would like people to get an inspiration. Simply said, they should remember that I am an ordinary Burundian trying to make this world a better place. But also that what I do, they can do too. I am not special. If I wrote a book, they could write even many books.  And from the book, they should keep the lessons shared by our unsung heroes and learn how to practice Ubuntu. One of the lessons from the book is this: You don’t need to be special to do the right thing. It’s all about the decisions you make in order to stick to what is good.


Andika: According to you and based on your experience, what does it look like to make your way into writing and especially history? What would be your advice to Burundian writers?

Patrick Hajayandi: It is difficult to do something you don’t like. It’s painful.  That is why for those willing to start writing, you need to be passionate about it. But beyond passion there is also some hard work; a lot of learning and sometimes some sleepless nights. It is also important to be able to collaborate with others, learn from their failures and successes and get inspiration from them. It is also great to keep your own identity, not trying to be someone else.

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