It was a morning, just like others – but not really. They had been lucky enough to get a temporal job, and thus feed their families for a couple of months, before sinking back into joblessness once again. Some of them had done clever calculations regarding their children. It was just before the end of the second quarter of the school year, and with a little saving, they were going to be able to keep their children in school for the rest of the year. Nothing predicted trouble, the job was usual. And in that particular morning, nothing was abnormal – at least as far as they could see. But somewhere, an invisible problem was waiting for them in the wrong corner. Someone had cheated, but that was not known by the future victims of his act. Someone had acted out of dishonesty and his act was going to spoil everything and send waves of desolation into their families[1].


That morning, as usual, they were positioned in their usual places. They began to repeat the usual gestures of construction site workers. Getting a bucket of soft concrete and giving it to the next on the queue, singing and dancing a little bit to keep tiredness and boredom away; and to make the painful exercise less painful – that was very common. And then, without a warning, the walls collapsed, the pillars crumbled – though built in “hard concrete”! The blue sky suddenly turned into darkness, and horror overtook them so quickly that they had no time to flee. They died on the spot, buried under the heap of rubble of that building they were working on. They died so quickly before understanding what was happening. Those who had time to understand found themselves trapped by the weight of the heap of broken walls and pillars they had built themselves. They saw death coming, but could do nothing to escape! Their wounds and deep bruises took their lives away.


Pictures were taken and shared on social media. We heard, we saw, we read, we were shocked, and then we decided to turn the page – a bit too quickly, I would say. In fact, before turning a page, we should have read it well. We are used to scenes of horror and we have learned to move to the next chapter very quickly. Is this a reflex of survival? It seems so! Long exposure to other people’s suffering, especially when it involves our thoughts and emotions, can be fatal to our health. And then, we have seen worse that this! But still, this is not enough argument! We need the courage to read the page and reread it if necessary, before we turn it. Ignoring evil, is another way of allowing it to act freely or to be reinforced. Not ignoring evil could be risky, but it is more human.


What happened should not have happened; this kind of disasters can be avoided; but only if we have the courage to analyze their causes, and seek their solutions. A problem which is ignored is encouraged and it can strike again closer to us, or in our homes, tomorrow. Those “unknown” men and women are our fellow citizens after all. We may not know them, but for some of us, they were friends or relatives. Besides, some of them had wives and children. They may be unknown to us, they are not for everybody. We rent houses, and nothing proves that they are free from the cheating that led to the death of those innocent builders. We will also be losers if these evil practices stop. Our security is at stake.


Some will say that this reflection is useless, and wield God’s will and the wickedness of mother nature to put it to an end. But, that cannot convince me. Such an argument is not enough to soothe my anger and sadness; and my desire to see my people live better. We are meant to master nature, not to be helpless victims in its blind hands. And the God on whose shoulders we enjoy putting all kinds of evil once said that He is love. Let us have the courage to accept our failure in this case. Let us think, amend our ways and live better lives. This is why we have a brain. A three-floor building is built to be used for many years. If those poor workers had not be crushed, the building would have collapsed much later and kill its occupants – and I and you could those! Whenever evil is not dealt with, it is given more opportunities to strike, and no one can say with precision who the next victims will be. Your next construction site is not beyond the range of the strike; and it could be the next hecatomb.


Now, time for diving! This “accident” does not seem to be an accident, to me. Somewhere, there was a moral failure, invisible to the victims (probably) but very dangerous for them, which went unnoticed. Somewhere, someone was dishonest, someone cheated. Maybe, it is the factory that made the cement which was used, or the maker of the iron bars. Standards exist, and they exist for a reason. An honest industrialist who loves humanity more than he loves money, will not cheat with standards because, that can have dramatic consequences. And if the cheating was done with the quality of the building materials, we have a government body whose role is to make sure that standards are complied with. It was set up for our security, and its running costs come from the people, including those who perished.


Was the control of quality well done? Did they see nothing abnormal or did they sacrifice the users of those materials to get some millions of….? I am not insinuating anything, I am just asking questions. I hope that investigations will help us know what took away those lives. Cheating exists, and it is dangerous, more dangerous than we actually think. This is why I affirm without hesitation that without moral values commonly held by people and decision makers, we run huge risks. Without values, society becomes a dangerous jungle, and everybody is at risk.


It is possible that the maker of cement and iron bars did their job well, and that the controlling body also did its best. In that case, the cheating may then have been at the level of the manager of the construction site or his helpers. On construction sites, cheating in making concrete is not rare, and stealing cement seems to be a culture. Honesty is not always valued. Is this the cause of desolation in the families who saw their loved ones go in the morning, only to find them in mortuaries later? Let’s hope that investigations will answer this question for us.


Values are essential. We cannot go farther than our moral state can allow. Values come from the commitment not to live in a way that hurts others, but to live in a way which promotes the common good. And, without this commitment, we end up with a mindset which makes us grasp whatever we can even if others must perish. Honesty, as it is said, is the prince of moral values. And its lack kills, simply. It kills individuals, families, organizations and nations.


And, since we are talking about houses and construction, why don’t we push further and talk the infernal race around the issue of housing? Harassed by the greed of some landlords and pressurized by the need to keep the rhythm of our generations, we are engaged in an unhealthy race for personal houses. We prefer to live in unfinished, dusty houses, without electricity or water, but in our own house. And since we do not have equal capacity, mansions, unfinished houses and bushy building plots shape the face of some of our neighborhoods.


Beauty, harmony and order have no place! Disorderly or outright dangerous electric installations claim victims now and then. Our avenues and gutters are destroyed by heavy trucks bringing stones and sand to late construction sites; thus, creating ponds in the middle of the road during the rainy season. We end up with disfigured neighborhoods, mixing some pieces of beauty, the ugly and the risky. Is this the way we must to live? Can’t this be improved?


I do believe that there is another way of doing these things. What we have is not all we can have. We do not have to live stressed in our quest for a personal home.  And we do not have to build our homes in disorderly or dangerous neighborhoods. Our residential areas can be beautiful, good and peaceful. We do not have to lose our citizens’ lives in “accidents” on construction sited; or with disorderly or recklessly installed electrical wires. there is another and better way of doing.


Shelter is one of the most basic needs of human beings. We all need it, regardless of our different background. For me, a good housing policy should be one of the main pillars of a sound political vision, and a sound political manifesto that are worthy of our trust. Why vote for someone or for a group which has nothing to save us from this perfectly avoidable nightmare? And, for me again, good housing policy is the one that guarantees a decent house to every citizen who wants it, and who is willing to submit himself to the discipline that is required.  And to ensure good housing to all the citizens, in well managed, orderly and beautiful residential areas, there is a need to harmonize everything instead of combining frogs, panthers, gazelles and elephants in the same race.


Ideally, there must be companies that have the capacity build residential neighborhoods, with the guidance and supervision of public authorities. The building can then be done in compliance with well-defined regulation; and the different kinds of cheating can be dealt with more easily. All the houses in the same neighborhood can have the desired shape and quality. Then, it becomes easier to make sure that the gutters are well done and the areas meant for installations (electricity, water, telephone lines, etc.) or public infrastructures (avenues, schools, health facilities, leisure areas, business areas, etc.) are protected and well taken care of. With this kind of policy, it is possible to integrate safety measures in the shape, quality and positioning of every single house.


It then becomes possible to build identical houses (size, shape, external materials – roofing, bricks, external paint, etc.), depending on the financial capacity of potential buyers. This is a prerequisite for a beautiful and orderly city! Beauty and order count. The beauty of a city depends on the beauty of its neighborhoods, and the latter depends on the beauty of the houses, roads and avenues as well as the remaining space. If everybody does what he or she finds personally convenient, there will be lack of beauty, order and harmony, and some houses will be finished when others will be old enough to collapse. That kills the beauty of the city.


With the housing policy we are talking about, it becomes possible to avoid the many cases of cheating which are unavoidable when someone is building a house worth $ 30,000 when he or she can afford only $18,000. It becomes possible to control the quality of the materials used, to assess construction companies and deregister those which do not qualify. It also becomes possible to avoid risky electric installations done by “electricians” who are recognized by no official body – you see, I am pleading for the creation of an order of electricians to avoid improvisations. Connecting a wire to a bulb is not enough to be given the task of putting in place electric installations in a home. That is too dangerous!


But, of course, a policy like this requires political stability and economic dynamism. Most of the buyers will need to have regular and good income for many years, which implies job stability. And the bigger the income, the shorter the time of paying for a house or an apartment. And, construction companies need to get the invested money and benefits back; and this is not possible in a country which is always experiencing deadly internal political turmoil. This is why any politics which creates or reinforces factions, destabilizes the economy and creates frustration is our true enemy. You see, we began with construction, and we ended up in politics. Politics guides everything, it influences everything. We simply cannot ignore it.


But, the two equations - political stability and economic dynamism - are not impossible to solve. In life, there are very few problems which have no solution, and the two are not among them. If they persist, it is just a problem of leadership. A better leadership make them mere history! But superior leadership means moral leaders; men and women whose moral compass is perfectly and permanently functional. As long as we celebrate lies and dishonesty when they bring us tangible benefits, as long as our moral stand depends on who did more than what was done, we are doomed. As long as we tolerate thieves because they are “ours” and condemn honest men and women because they are not of our group, we will keep on perishing like defenseless sheep. We must come to a point where right is right, and wrong is wrong, regardless of who is involved. We must grow and learn to appreciate our true heroes, those competent and trustworthy leaders, with no regard to their background.


Lastly, if we talk about house building, we definitely must talk about our irresponsible tendency to build one-floor houses in areas that are good for Agriculture. I honestly do not understand why we prefer houses to food. Logically, in the hierarchy of basic needs, food comes before shelter.  We have a very small country, and we do not have vast naturally fertile pieces of land. The hard truth is waiting for us in the corner: when we have wasted all the good land, we will then realize that we cannot eat bricks and concrete. I fear that one day, we will have to import the most ordinary vegetables! If we keep moving on this path, we will hit the wall one day! But, should we wait for that?


The housing policy I was talking about can save us from literally drowning in the sea of our own making; and this can be done in two ways: (1) massive construction of house for people who will progressively buy them while living in them, (2) building upward by giving more room to apartments and less to individual houses, and (3) avoiding building land which is good for agriculture. This is how we can save agriculture, animal farming and protected areas. For without the three, we have no future on this planet.


True enough, the messy political whirlwind is still silently raging, but just like the others, it will have its end. We must keep dreaming, and dream big. Everything begins with dreams!


[1] This article was inspired by a tragic accident which took place recently in Bujumbura, when a three-floor house which was still under construction collapsed and killed four people (at least) on the spot.