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Strong will to live

By | April 22nd 2012

Seventeen years ago, a 21-year-old lad left Burundi, his country of birth, in search for a better life after civil war threatened to ruin his motherland. He spoke to PETER MUIRURI.

Jean Pierre Nimbona, better known as Kidum was armed with $60 (about Sh5,000) and a small bag when he set out on a journey to the unknown, leaving behind his ailing father and other family members.

Kidum and his five children. [Photos: PETER MUIRURI/STANDARD]

That journey brought him to Kenya — a land where he has become a household name, thanks to his music prowess.

Born in Bujumbura 38 years ago, Kidum had occasional flare ups with his father who accused him of "just beating drums" all day.

Sad results

Kidum has seen the sad results of tribalism. Trouble started in 1993 after the assassination of the first democratically elected Burundi president from the Hutu community. It was alleged that he had been assassinated by the Tutsi-dominated military thus planting the seeds of a civil war that would plague Burundi and neighbouring Rwanda for years to come.

"My mother was a Tutsi while my father was a Hutu.I grew up and played with other young boys without knowing what my tribe was. That was until 1993 when war broke out," says Kidum.

With a year to go before finishing school, Kidum and his sister fled the country for the first time and headed to the DRC (then Zaire). There, they lived in a refugee camp where the squalid conditions were unbearable. The worst, however, was yet to come. In 1994, a plane carrying the then Rwandan president JuvÈnal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. The assassinations set in motion one of the bloodiest events of the 20th century. Kidum was still in the refugee camp.

"Things somewhat cooled down and we went back to Bujumbura," Kidum recalls.

Trouble, however, was not far away. A group of boys, Kidum included, arranged to pay a "courtesy call" on a neighbouring girl’s school one afternoon. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the group left Kidum behind on the day of the visit.

"Unknown to the boys, a military informer told the army that some young men had been seen marching on the roads, ready to join a known rebel group. All 17 boys were massacred. I could have been among them," recalls Kidum. After the episode, Kidum was on the run again, this time to the IDP camp where his father was.

"My father feared that I would be killed by the soldiers who had killed my schoolmates," says Kidum.

It was then that Kidum’s father gave him the $60 to leave the country. "Son, remember the drums you used to play as a young boy, perhaps it is time you took the practice seriously. Just leave," his father said.

Kidum found himself on the Burundi-Tanzania border post. He was perplexed by the possibility of leaving his homeland, perhaps for good.

"I took a long look at my country behind me and cried bitterly. My dad had told me to follow my childhood dream, but from where?" he wondered.

Lifelong ambition

However, with the encouragement of a friend, he decided to go to Tanzania. There, Kidum could not afford decent accommodation, forcing him to stay in a slum until his friend suggested they seek help from the Burundi embassy.

"The officials gave us bus tickets to Kenya. We met some Burundians in Eastleigh who accommodated us," recalls Kidum.

Before long, Kidum joined the Hot Rod band that used to perform in Westlands. It so happened that their drummer was away, giving Kidum the opportunity to achieve his lifelong ambition.

"In 2001, I travelled to Burundi and was received by the president, who had heard of my peace and reconciliation songs. Our performance there left people in tears. Imagine leaving the country as a refugee only to receive a hero’s welcome six years later," he says.

Sadly, Hot Rod band broke up in June 2003. In January 2004, Kidum visited the UK where a Kenyan who had seen him perform with the Hot Rod band suggested he forms his own band.

After the UK visit, Kidum headed to Bujumbura to think his life over.

"The friend suggested that I form a band and call it Boda Boda. The idea sounded great and so I drove to the Rwandan border but could not be allowed to pass since I had no money for my car’s customs fee," he says.

He, however, wondered why cyclists crossed the border with ease only for an official to tell him that boda bodas had no problem.

"Marcus’ suggestion of the band name and the boda boda experience at the border gave rise to the Boda Boda band in 2004," he says.

In 2005, Kidum would leave the music scene temporarily to vie for a parliamentary seat in Burundi but lost the bid.

Back in Kenya, Kidum has become a hit with his beautiful lyrics and perfect collaborations. He thanks Kenyans for their hospitality and urges them to safeguard the peace they almost lost between 2007 and 2008.

Kidum, who lives in Nairobi with his two sons and three daughters, has a word of advice to youths: "Your will is your power, If you lack the will, you are dead though still alive."

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