On 29th October each year the Anglican Church remembers James Hannington, a bishop who was killed for his faith on 29th October 1885.
The bishop’s name has been much used in East Africa since then, he has been remembered as a saint. At least one of those who used his name was less than saintly.
Visiting Burundi in 2009, one of the list of projects I had been detailed to visit was one which had received £60,000 in funding from Ireland, paid through an evangelical Christian agency. £30,000 had come from the church, £30,000 had been collected by a parish in lieu of a gift to their clergyman who had retired and asked to receive no retirement gift.
Hannington met us at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning. The arrangement had been for him to arrive at 8 o’clock, but he had complained of arriving at the Burundi border too late to cross on the Saturday evening.
Hannington was unapologetic about his lateness and then said he had to hurry because he had important business to which to attend, a comment that seemed odd for a church member on a Sunday morning in Africa.
Hannington was to take us to visit the school which had been funded with the £60,000, except that he didn’t. He took us to a school which he said was like the school funded from Ireland, he did not have time to take us to the school itself. After a perfunctory visit to the school, Hannington disappeared.
After attending church, I went with a Burundian friend out to the rural community where the funded school had been built, except that it hadn’t.
We were told that there had been a delay in acquiring the site. Then we were told that there had been a delay in acquiring the materials to build the school, some of which lay on a patch of waste ground. Then we were told that there was a dispute About the ownership of the land that was to be acquired to build the school. Then a group of men said they had done work to prepare for the school and had not been paid.
My Burundian friend stood shaking his head. He had no doubt money had been paid for the school. He had no doubt who had control of the money.
It would be two years later before I returned to Burundi. We went back to where the school should have been two years previously. There was now a school there. My Burundian friend asked how much the church had given. “£30,000,” I replied.
He converted it into local currency. “This school could have been built for £15,000,” he said.
It was with a sense of anger that I told my friend that £30,000 was only half of the funding, that the Christian group behind the project had received the other £30,000 from a parish.
”This is not good,” was his only comment.
Back in Ireland, I talked to the director of the evangelical agency who had undertaken the project. He admitted that Hannington was a self-appointed “fixer,” that if projects did not go through Hannington, he had the contacts to make life difficult.
Such is the reality of countries such as Burundi.
On 29th October, I remember such fixers, and wish misfortune upon all of them.