The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Trustee's gift offers hope for education

Ezechiel Nibigira and his wife, Esperance Nibigira answer questions Friday morning. They both attended University in Burundi, where only three percent of the population attend college.

Ezechiel Nibigira and his wife, Esperance Nibigira answer questions Friday morning. They both attended University in Burundi, where only three percent of the population attend college.
Photo credit: LAURA EASLEY/The Falcon.

Former rebel fights political corruption

By BETH DOUGLASS, , BEKAH GRAHAM,

Published: November 4 2009

Unable to attend a university because of his Hutu heritage, 19-year-old Ezechiel Nibigira fled to the bush to fight alongside other rebel soldiers. For those living in the Republic of Burundi in 1993, conflict between marginalized Hutus and economically elite Tutsis was constant.

Last Friday, Ezechiel Nibigira, 37, sat next to his wife and childhood friend Esperance Nibigira to share his life story with SPU alumnus in a Queen Anne home. He wore a dark gray business suit and silver-rimmed glasses; his cell phone and business cards never out of reach.

The Nibigiras came to Seattle as part of a month-long trip to the United States, visiting friends and meeting with Burundi nationals living in the nearby city of Kent. They spent Oct. 24-31 at the home of Norm Edwards, a member of SPU's Board of Trustees.

Edwards, a former SPU vice president and 1955 SPU alumnus, met Nibigira through his involvement with the Free Methodist-affiliated Hope Africa University in Burundi.

Nibigira is the director of customs for Burundi. His opposition of government corruption has angered many people, Edwards said. Because of this, Nibigira travels with as many as eight body guards at a time.

"Personally, I am not afraid," Nibigira said. "We are bold, we are strong. In whatever we do, we do not fear."

He was appointed to this position by President Pierre Nkurunziza, who he met in the African bush during the 1994 to 2003 National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Front for the Defense of Democracy rebel party movement.

Ezechiel Nibigira shares the story of his rise from poverty and experience with education in a torn country. Nibigira went into the bush when he was 19 years old. He is head of customs in Burundi.
Ezechiel Nibigira shares the story of his rise from poverty and experience with education in a torn country. Nibigira went into the bush when he was 19 years old. He is head of customs in Burundi. Photo credit: Photo credit: LAURA EASLEY/The Falcon.

It was during his time in the bush that Nibigira learned about Hope Africa University, a Free Methodist institution, which began in Kenya but moved to Burundi. HAU enrolled students regardless of their ethnic group, Nibigira said.

"I did the work study program, cleaning classrooms and offices to earn money for school fees," Nibigira said.

He later began receiving a scholarship from Edwards, who donated through the United States nonprofit Friends of Hope Africa University.

Nibigira was a member of HAU's first graduating class. "I finished, I have done business administration and economics, majoring in banking and finance," he said.

Two years after graduation, Nibigira was appointed by President Nkurunziza to the position of marketing director for Burundi's coffee board, which controls export of both public and privately traded coffee. It was here that he partnered with Starbucks to market Burundi coffee beans.

After his first six months on the job as director of customs, the country's tax revenue went up 25 percent, Edwards said. This is because of Nibigira's stand against government corruption, he said.

"No directors have led the department for more than a year. I have been the director for two years," Nibigira said. "There has been constant progress during this time."

In these two years, Nibigira said Burundi's gross national product increased from $7 billion to $13 billion.

In addition to his director position, Nibigira is also the chairman of the CNDD-FDD political party's Youth League, composed of ages 18-40. Since life expectancy in Burundi is 46 years old, this is most of the population, said 1971 SPU alumna and former Burundian missionary Carol Ogden.

"In our Youth League, we are trying to unite young people in Burundi," Nibigira said. "All ethnic groups, they are coming together."

Instability in Burundi has improved in the last couple of years, said Frank Ogden, a 1957 SPU alumnus and former Burundian missionary.

Every remaining rebel movement has ceased fighting and President Nkurunziza has been in office more than four years, Nibigira said.

Previously, only two percent of Burundians attended a university, though the vast majority of these were Tutsis, Frank Ogden said. The current number is around three percent, he said.

"I think we take for granted here that we have equal opportunity for higher education," Carol Ogden said. It is a huge privilege, especially considering that these doors are just opening for people in Burundi, she said.

Last year, Esperance Nibigira graduated with her degree in social work. She now provides guidance for widows and children suffering as a result of Burundian civil war.

Both she and her husband were the first in their families to attend a university, Esperance Nibigira said.

Full ride scholarships for HAU students cost $1,200 a year, but Edwards said any donation is accepted.

"In the Christian community, so many people are sponsored overseas. It is a very rare occasion with a nominal gift, when a donor can see how a gift can influence someone's life," Edwards said. "Some people never meet the person. What a blessing, a gift to see."


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