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.


smacky said...

Thanks for the firsthand update. I was a PCV in Ouaga (taught at the university) from 1997-1999, right when the Norbert Zongo protests happened. Tire fires, the school closed for over three months, soldiers with machine guns guarding the entrances. Sounds similar to what's happening now. Stay safe. Hopefully the students can do the same.

Anonymous said...

I was in BF in 1999 w my PCV daughter - when the Gendarmes were in a very bad mood following the N Zongo protests. Dori - such a sleepy place for unrest! Thanks for this report and stay safe! Maybe Compaore lent out too many forces to his diamond buddy Momar in Libya.

Anonymous said...

I'd be nervous too.

Our prayers are with you and with the Burkinabé.