|The protocols of power
The foregoing encounter between Maziar and the Deputy Governor of Muramvya may seem absurd. But for everyone present this was a serious situation. There was no hint of bemusement on the faces of Richard Ntawe and Gladys Ntibareha standing beside us. It was very clear to them what was at stake here.
I don't believe that the Deputy Governor of Muramvya was being difficult just because he could be. In justifying the requirement for a permit, he cited security considerations: "If something happened to you, they would come after me." I doubt that he cared much about our safety. More plausably, I think he was worried that if a superior discovered that we had engaged in an unapproved political or cultural activity in Muramvya, then he might be held accountable.
For Maziar and me this could have been a downright pain. The performance could have been stopped; our cameras confiscated, Maziar and me arrested and hassled. It would have been uncomfortable. But even the worst case scenario would have been resolved within days or even hours by the intervention of the Belgian Ambassador in Bujumbura.
Had Richard or Gladys been acting on their own, outside the protection of an American NGO and western journalists, the repercussions could have been far worse. They will not have had the good offices of the Belgian Ambassador to turn to.
In places like Burundi transgressions of the protocols of power can be severely punished.