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Burkina Faso: foreign, local and international incidents

Just a few weeks into the New Year and normally placid Ouagadougou observed its first sensational crime of 2008. A Lebanese man allegedly killed a local Burkinabé money changer during a business deal gone wrong. By the time the victim’s body was discovered Friday morning, the alleged murderer, his driver and his family had all fled the country.

At first local media didn’t report on the incident for fear of fanning the flames of sensationalism, so everyone had to rely on the rumor network to speculate what had happened. In the midst of this, Burkina Mom was near downtown that afternoon and reported this:

As he told me all this, I saw that some of the shops were closing, even though it was only 5pm.

They were all reacting to the rumour that this death was going to be “avenged” by Burkinabé mobs, who would come and attack Lebanese businesses, which are numerous here…There is certainly lots of tension between the Burkinabé and the Lebanese community in daily life. Many of the latter have been here for generations, but retain a very separate identity. As a general rule, the Lebanese are resented for their prosperity. They are also seen by the Burkinabé as harsh employers.

I am hoping that it all comes to nothing. But I'm glad that I did my grocery shopping already and won't have to venture out tomorrow. People are saying that the weekend is going to “chauffe” (get hot!).

By Sunday, the government reported that the alleged murderer, who is Lebanese, and an accomplice, who is a Burkinabé, had been arrested outside the country and were being extradited back to Burkina Faso. Lebanese stores remained shut the entire weekend, and no incidents of retaliation were reported.

However, reading an online account of the events, Burkina Mom came across this comment at the end of the newsstory from “A Concerned Citizen.”

I will avoid citing the Lebanese particularly, even though it is them in general who carry out these kinds of acts with the support of politicians and police officers greedy for briefcases full of cash. I will not to call for a popular uprising against this community, of which some members are now real Burkinabès and take an active part in the construction of our Nation. But we must recognise that a considerable number of foreigners think that this is still the Africa of the ‘ dirty negro slaves’ where everything is permitted to them .”

On a lighter note, for sometimes obvious reasons Burkina Faso’s ex pats always try to find methods to make themselves distinct from tourists. In the weeks around Christmas and Tabaski, the weather in Burkina Faso turns cooler, and tourists seem to be everywhere. One way not to be mocked by locals, instructs Valentine in My So-Called Life in Africa, is to break the tourist dress code. Here she describes how to spot a tourist (Usually in couples or large groups):

1)Usually wearing shorts. (A fast givaway!)
2)Both men and women wearing basball hats.
3)Carrying huge hiking backpacks and black plastic bags.
4)Wearing sun glasses. (I know it makes sense, but you just shouldn't)
5)Almost always the women have their hair braided Burkina-style with fake hair added in. (They think they will blend in more if they adopt the local hair styles – but a white woman with cornrow braids is a dead givaway that you don't belong!)
6)Followed by a large crowd of venders asking over and over again if they want something that they have already rejected about one hundred times. ( As if maybe by the one hundred and first time, the tourist might suddenly have a change of heart and buy that ugly keyring!)
7)Also sometimes followed by some Rastamen asking if you want to be their “Friend”.

From Dori, (265 kilometres north of Ouagadougou), Keith from Under the Acacias told a story that took place last month regarding a fight between a local man and a young soldier stationed in town.

It apparently started with a fight over a woman. So far, so predictable. What made this particular fight unusual was that it was a fight between a local man and a soldier – and the local man won, putting the soldier in need of medical treatment.

The soldier’s friends then apparently decided to take revenge, who then went on a wrecking spree in Dori. Any man they found on the street, they beat up, regardless of who he was, and without asking any questions. Two local pastors, friends of mine, who happened to be in town at that time, were among those who got beaten up.

A couple of days of high tension followed, with nightly curfews, and mutual threats of further revenge, and the possibility even that Tabaski would be cancelled in Dori. But now, following an “agreement” between the military chief and the local authorities, Dori is apparently peaceful again.

Going back a little further, Burkina Faso lost one of its most heroic, crusading journalists in late November to a long-term disease. Liermè Somé had taken over the helm of L’Independant, the weekly launched by the investigative journalist Norbert Zongo, who was assassinated along with three others in 1998. Those murders have never been solved, but after nearly a year of anti-government protests, Zongo’s death has helped usher in a variety of media reforms, including better protection for journalists. Regardless, Somé still had his run-ins with those in authority, which is why I met him back in 2003.

From AfricaFlak:

When I first met him at that nightclub, I was overtaken. I was just a few months in Burkina Faso, a few more months out of journalism school. This was a real, live battle-hardened African journalist. (One who liked dingy bars, also.) He had been jailed, threatened, seen his colleague assassinated and chosen to replace him. This was the kind of guy I read about in school. From the first moment, Liermè did much to tear down that lofty perch I built for him – no one person could be a model for perfection, especially a journalist. If Liermè taught me anything it was to be content with merely being human: Messy, imperfect and yet always striving to make something better for yourself, your family and your world.

Any foreigner spending time in Burkina Faso will tell you that there is much more to the country than disease, murders and revenge. Take green beans, for instance. Not only are they an important aspect of local cuisine, but this vegetable has become enmeshed in a huge global market. Green beans may be extremely popular – and important to local economies – but they can only be found in village markets during certain times of year. The beginning of the New Year is one of those times. Girl Raised in the South found the beans in a unique way.

My friend, Rasmane, approaches us and asks if we would like green beans. Well OF COURSE I do!! He tells us that we are going to get green beans, but that I can't buy any of them. Hah…we'll see about that. After a long walk we arrive out in in this huge field. Thirty or so people are sitting on mats sorting through piles and piles of green beans, while others are out in the field picking them off the plants… We were immediately put to work sorting green beans with the rest of them–assuming that I would of course get a cadeaux for all of my hard work. Turns out sorting green beans is a lot harder than I thought. I got yelled at several times for not throwing out bad ones. They only accepted perfect un-blemished green beans to be packed in the box, the other rejects got piled on the mat. The good beans got packed in boxes and were being shipped to France, while the bad ones would be eaten or sold in our market.

4 comments

  • dce

    Why do they hate ‘foreigners’ so much or is the writer?

  • Excellent question. I am remiss in editing Burkina Mom’s next comment, where she points out that somebody stated “Concerned Citizen” should start a blog because these observations were so spot-on. I am not so certain if “Concerned Citizen’s” line of thinking appeals to an angry minority or whether it is widespread. I’ve lived in Burkina Faso for nearly five years and found the people to be very friendly and open to foreigners — even though we live quite differently than the average person here. We’re seen as rich — and we are (comparatively). Other than my personal experiences, I’ll admit that Burkinabe may view differently the Lebanese nationals who live here. That’s because where Europeans and North Americans work mostly as missionaries and aid workers, the Lebanese are business owners; they run the largest grocery stores, auto shops and factories in town. Some people may bristle at their supposed economic power. Lebanese also hire a lot of locals, and as Burkina Mom points out, some people feel they can be hard on their employees.
    These issues may lie far from the surface in Burkina Faso, but in a country that has a history of vigilante justice, a crime such as this may stir up many emotions. Long story short: I think “Concerned Citizen’s” criticism towards some foreigners is a minority opinion.

  • I agree, John. I don’t think the Burkinabe hate foreigners generally at all – in fact they are a very welcoming people. But there is increasingly a feeling of being “left out” of the prosperity that the rest of the world is perceived to enjoy, and this can breed resentment.

    This is made worse if, as a Burkinabe, the foreigners you meet coming to your country have attitudes of arrogance and assumed superiority, which sadly many do.

  • edgard

    Hey!
    Bravo Keith…
    As a Burkinabe born living now in Riverside California,i was reading this report with a broken heart…and i do believe that John probably this attitude of the kind of tourist we dont want to see around.I have meet people here in the USA that have been going in Burkina for over 8 years now and they love it.
    Dear john its not late to get back to the realities of the country.There is a lot of problem there for sure,but just look around where is the most peacefull country in all West Africa.I do understand the reaction of yoy are calling “mob“ its just like jackson Brown singing in of his famous song:when people cant taking anymore,they they starting throwing bricks and stones.

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