This is the 2nd part of a thus-far-three-part entry describing the recent unrest in Burkina. The first part can be found here and should definitely be read first for the following ones to make sense. Depending on how things evolve in Burkina Faso over the next couple of weeks the third part may or may not be the last. A French retelling of the events from a different perspective and with some background can be found here, on my friend Bernard’s blog. Please rest assured that everyone on the EWB team in Burkina is currently safe and sound.
On March 23rd I left Bobo-Dioulasso to head towards Ouagadougou on my way to Ghana for the West African Retreat, lovingly called the ‘WAR’. The WAR is when all of EWB’s volunteers in Ghana and Burkina Faso come together for a few days, and we even get a few special guests from southern Africa and Canada (The WAR is not, as perhaps its name might lead you to believe, a trip to the Ivory Coast to experience war first-hand). It’s a time to look back, look forward, work hard and reenergize. I was really looking forward to it.
Students were still on strike, but things had calmed down. There were no more protests and both Ouagadougou and Koudougou – which had seen the most action – were safe. I was on my regular Bobo-Ouaga bus, having just passed the halfway mark at Boromo, when I received a call from Florian, our EWB team director in Burkina. “Don’t come to Ouaga. There has been a minor military revolt. It’s not too serious, but we’ve moved from ‘Conscious’ to ‘Alert’ in our emergency plan and are monitoring the situation closely. If possible, stay the night somewhere near Ouaga. We’ll see what’s what in the morning and see how to get everyone to Ghana then.” So, ironically enough, I stayed the night in Koudougou. There, I met up with Rosanne (another volunteer) and her husband, who were in the same situation.
The next morning, the coast was clear, so back to ‘Conscious’ and on our way to Ghana. There were some small demonstrations that almost made us late for our bus, but other than that nothing to report. So, after a long trip, a quick stop at the border for some amazing sausages and Ghanaian bread, and a personally very trying ‘holding-it-in’ taxi-ride, we made it to the farming training centre in Bolgatenga. We had barely noticed the as-of-yet empty camps set up to receive refugees from the Ivory Coast coming through Ghana towards Burkina. That evening, Rosanne gave her husband a call to see how the situation had evolved. It wasn’t good. More military protests, shots fired in the air, someone may have been seriously hurt. I don’t remember anyone making jokes about the now aptly-named ‘WAR’ that night.
The WAR went by quickly and by March 29th I had made it back to Bobo safe and sound and I was getting ready to give a course the next morning at the Matourkou agricultural centre. I’d be taking the morning teachers’ bus to Matourkou, where I’d then stay for the next few days. In between times, the worst had passed in Ouagadougou, but there was still some notable military activity in Fada, a little bit outside of Ouaga, and in some other towns like Banfora, about an hour away from me and where some minor military/civilian fighting had occurred . Bobo, along with Dédougou, had been the calmest of all major cities throughout all the events, so I felt pretty far from it all once I got back, though it did feel a bit more serious to now have activity on both sides – Ouagadougou in the East and Banfora in the Southwest. Still, I gave class and was much more concerned about the fact that, because of various organisational issues, pretty much nobody showed up, rather than by my own safety.
And then rumour spread on the campus that the teachers’ bus had been stopped by the military on its way back to Bobo that afternoon. The teachers had had to get out and find their own ways back to their homes. The bus had come back to the college. That would be the same bus I was on in the morning. So, Bobo too.
That evening, the government declared a curfew in effect for the whole country. Everyone indoors from 9 pm until 6 am. Word from the embassies: avoid Ouaga, Bobo, Fada, Gaoua. Val (my coach and our director of human resources) was supposed to come facilitate an ‘interview day’ at the college with me on April 1st and there’s no way I could do that alone. Yet 8 internship candidates, students from the college all hoping for a short-term 4-month position with EWB, were depending on it. It was very important to me that we not let them down, but with the current state of things, it didn’t look like Val was going to make it. Events were becoming real.
Except, the next morning all the teachers showed up, with not a worry to share. The story goes that it wasn’t the military that asked them to get off the bus but rather a bit of a fear-monger who had seen some military activity and assumed the worst. In actual fact, the teachers now said, it was just a misinterpreted training exercise and they were just annoyed with the disturbance more than anything else. To this day I don’t know what the truth regarding that incident was, but Bobo was again open for business that evening and Val made it to the college without incident.
By April 3rd, nothing else significant had happened and the curfew was lifted. The student strikes had also ended about a week earlier. Things were back to normal and I saw no reason to expect they wouldn’t stay that way.
To be continued…