17 March 2011

Events haven't warranted

All has been calm since Tuesday, and what actually happened on Tuesday remains unclear. The students gathered in Zogona/Zone du Bois, but the military made it very clear that renewed demonstrations were not welcome. That there were injuries is certain, and I have a first-hand report of shots fired in the area...but the extent of casualties isn't being reported anywhere. Not too surprising given the treatment of journalists during the Friday march (Anglophones: I think that bit only showed up in one of the French articles I linked. At least one journalist says police struck him and took his camera; others have claimed they were chased away).

For some reason, all the news outlets seem to think that the University closure is the biggest part of the story, but while that's a big deal (though I recently read that the universities haven't been functioning for a year anyway because of unofficial professorial striking; frustratingly, I can't find that link again), it overlooks the equally important closure of ALL schools. This is ... indescribably unfair.

The life of a student in Burkina Faso is HARD. I had students who biked 15km every morning to come to class. Some of them didn't really have any family in our village, so their options at lunch were to bike home or go hungry - they certainly didn't have the money to buy food. In theory, the school had a canteen to serve lunch to just that population; in practice, said canteen was open for about a week and a half of the school year. Many of the students had no one to speak French with at home, so they barely spoke the language they were being taught in. Above the homework we professors gave, they have penurious chores, like hauling water 2 km or more in calabashes on their heads, or in certain seasons getting up at 3 in the morning to work the harvest. Often sick from malnutrition or contaminated water, students who miss class face more than just the loss of points for whatever assignments happened to be due that day - they will likely also receive a penalty deduction of more points. That can be avoided by going to the doctor and getting a note - but when you're sick, biking 15km is not an attractive option. And on top of all of that, many of the students aren't getting any support at home - a sad fact is many students are not only not encouraged to attend school, they are forced by their families to drop out so that they have more time to plant the fields, or work in their father's shops, or help their mothers cook for the passel of young children in the courtyard.

That's not all the challenges. Just some of the major ones, enough to make my point. Which is this: if you see a student in your class, they REALLY WANT TO BE THERE.

Apologies. In the next post I'll take a step back from the editorializing and get back to letting my friends and family know what's going on.

14 March 2011

Quiet today.

An impressively thorough report on Friday's protests. Even for you non-francophones, check out the video at bottom to get some idea of the scale of the march.

It's hard to know what will happen tomorrow. The report above says there will be a meeting at the university. The professor I met yesterday said the teachers would demonstrate. Various expats I've talked to have said that they've heard the students will try to march again, specifically to take the road that they were prevented from taking Friday (which would have led to the police headquarters). Some say it's calm today because they're all regrouping.

Updates as events warrant.

12 March 2011

It's not over...

Friday was quite a day. We had an interesting moment in the office as I and two of my coworkers compared our reactions. Without revealing who was who, as we watched smoke rise in the not-distant distance, one of us expressed annoyance at the logistical problems being caused by road shutdowns, another nervousness at the prospect of widespread violence, and the third excitement for the Burkinabé people asserting their rights.

The short version.

The long version (fair warning, some of these links are in French):

Despite my assurances in my last post, all has not been quiet in Burkina.

As I mentioned there, it all started on Feb. 22 with the death of a student in police custody in Koudougou. The police claim it was illness, the students claim it was brutality. I have no independent information to confirm or deny either cause; I can only say that either is entirely credible.

From there, protests quickly spread, many following the Koudougou example of violence and the burning of government buildings. The word on the street here is that in at least 20 towns buildings have burned. I sat down with a Burkinabé friend, and between the two of us we could list 13 of which we'd heard news reports or first-hand accounts:

Koudougou, Kongoussi, Kaya, Ouahigouya, Léo, Boura, Koupela, Pouytenga, Diapaga, Gourcy, Dori, Yako, and one I can't remember.

Above that number, I can name several more where I know there were protests or riots, but I don't know whether there were injuries or damages: Tougan, Sabou, Bogandé, Boulsa, Fada, Bobo, Tenkodogo, Gaoua, and Po.

In short, this thing is big. In response, university students in Ouaga planned a massive "peaceful" march for last Wednesday. However, other groups wished to join in (unfortunately, I've lost the link to that story), so the march got moved to Friday. There was also some disagreement about the route to be taken.

Yesterday, the roads were lined with police. The students marched, peacefully as planned, up until the intersection where the two routes (one proposed by the protesters, the other by the mayor) diverged; at that point, the students that tried to take their chosen route were teargassed. The smoke we saw from my office was the result of tire fires, which the students lit along their entire route - driving from work last night and back in this morning, I noticed at least a dozen charred spots along the roads (one exactly 2 blocks from my house!). From friends scattered around Ouaga, I heard about similar fires in Zone du Bois, Zogona, Zad, and possibly Pissy.

Other than that, I didn't hear about any injuries until this morning, when I stopped by my aforementioned friend's kiosk. In my neighborhood at least one kid was injured when another selling drinks hit him with a bottle. The news reports say there was at least one death yesterday, and that protests continue around the country, though I saw nothing driving into town.

There will be more Monday. While sitting with my friend, a fellow who works at the University joined the conversation and expressed in no uncertain terms his and his colleagues' anger with the government, both in general and specifically with their handling of this situation.

Last week was the students. Next week, the teachers. It's not over.

I admit it. Of the three of us in the office Friday, I was the nervous one.