Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Yesterday, the school called yet again for me to come fetch my unwell daughter. She came home and slept 6 hours. I woke her up so she could eat something. Then she went back to bed and slept until this morning. The bloodwork we had done on the weekend doesn't show any problem. But the labs here are notoriously unreliable. They have trouble with their equipment and the proper storage of the substances used in testing... Anyway, she's home today resting. I have stayed home withe her. I managed to do an exercise video. Then I sat down to read the newspaper again. Big mistake. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it is certainly more comfortable.

Below is another article from L'Evenement. First, just a little backgroud to help you understand it better: Burkina is undergoing major land-reform right now. The idea of land ownership is quite new to this country. Out in the villages, families work in feilds that their families have worked for generations and it is never sold or traded. It is not considered an object of ownership like a bicycle or a goat. And certainly there are no written records, titles or deeds.
But all that is changing. Government agents are slowly sweeping through the country, drawing lines on the ground and writing up titles. But there's a catch. You have to pay for it. Yup. You have to pay to "own" the land that has been in your family for generations. And that plot where your home is located ? You better be able to pay for that land when the agents come through or your ancestral home will be bulldozed. And your millet crop? You better be able to pay, or your food staple for the year is gone.
Now, often the land prices are not expensive, by developed world standards. I have one friend that was going to lose her home and it was a matter of 70$ to pay for the land and get a title. But that was a huge sum for her. Far more money than she sees three or four months! And many poor people here are in this situation, scrambling desperately to hang on to their families' homes. And guess who snaps up all this cheap land when the poor can't pay? Could it be.....wealthy elites that like to dabble in land speculation?

So, I present, once again, a very fast and rough translation of a one-page article in a respectable local newspaper:

The Forgotten of Balkuy (an article by Idrissa Barry and Claire Pinsard)

The SOCOGIB company just received a government permit to “improve” the area behind the President’s new palace in Ouaga 2000. This improvement project consists of building a luxurious housing development. Only, there’s a problem: all of the land designated for this project has been occupied for generations by the peasants of the village of Balkuy for their fields and the Peul herders for their animals.
Since October 2005, the peasants of the village of Balkuy are at an impasse. They don’t know what the future holds. Their source of livelihood may well be taken away from them by SOCOGIB, a company owned by the ultra-rich Alizeta Ouedraogo. To better understand their peril, it’s good to look at how the situation developed over the last year.
During the rainy season of 2005, earth moving equipment arrived out in the peasants’ fields. They suppressed some small paths and created others, dozens of meters wide. They set out markers in the center of each field.
Upset, the farmers went to their village chief, Issa Tabsoba. He knew no more than his villagers did about the matter. He decided to contact the director of SOCOGIB. He obtained a meeting for October 31, 2005.
The SOCOGIB official informed him that luxury houses were going to be built on the site. He said the fields, being located just behind the President’s residence, shouldn’t be “naked”- wasted on millet crops and cattle of villagers But the official promised that an inquery would be made into their claims. To date, no one has shown up, except for one agent that counted the number of Peul herders using the land.
Seeing that the situation was going nowhere, the villagers formed a group “The Crisis Committee of the Peasants of Balkuy”. The head of the group is Alexis Ouedraogo (no relation to Alizeta O. It’s just a super-common last name here).
He decided to get things moving and sent a letter in September to the Mediateur (Ombudsman?), the Mayor’s office and to the SOCOGIB. In November he sent another letter. All in vain. His desperate calls for help elicted no response whatsoever, except for the acknowledgement of receipt from the Mediateur. The Mayor’s office of Bogodogo, which is responsible for the village, showed no interest in the problem of the peasants.
But peasants are not the only people concerned by this. There is a charitable orgaization called “Vision for Burkina Faso” that owns two hectares in the area affected. This association has planted tree to “contribute to the fight against the desertification of Burkina Faso”. Also, there is a 56 meter deep well that is intended as part of an information and training center they wish to build. How can all of these investments just be ignored? That’s why the organisation is asking that they be paid 10 million cfa ($20,000) in reparations so they can buy another parcel of land elsewhere. Until now, they have received no response to their request.

Behind all of this scandal lurks a woman of undeniable power: Alizeta Ouedraogo, the director of the AZIMO real-estate company and mother in law of Francois Compaoré, younger brother of Burkina’s President. One of the threatened peasants put it this way : “If this woman is allowed to do such things, it’s because she is protected by Francois Compaoré and the President himself!” Sadly, the peasants are so desperate and hopeless that many of them are thinking this way. But the fact is that the core of the problem is really that these simple farmers and herders have no titles to the land in question. And in cases where there is no title, the land belongs to the government….So, if the housing developers have reached an agreement with the government, they are technically within their rights to construct there, destroying all the fields that provide a living for hundreds of people.
But there is a problem in all this that the developers have forgotten: we are in Africa and our traditions are oral, not written. Titles to land are a very recent thing. And how can you demand these kinds of papers from a population that is mostly illiterate? It’s a cruel joke.
The peasants of Balkuy work these fields because their fathers before them did so, just as their grandfathers did and long generations of their ancestors.
The problem might be simplified if there were not such enormous communication problems. Nobody in the land development company will even dialogue with the peasants or their representatives. The SOCOGIB says they have “announced” that work will begin when the time is right (?!!?) and that people will be compensated for any losses. The peasants will also be “prioritized” in the allotment of house plots for sale in Balkuy proper. But none of these propositions were made directly to any of the people concerned. In any case, the villagers are not impressed. The problem isn’t housing or money. The concern is about having fields to grow food in.
“What next?” is the question everyone in Balkuy is asking. They don’t know where to turn, as all doors seemed closed against them. The situation needs to be resolved. Burkinabé citizens shouldn’t have to live with such incertitude about their future. It’s not about the houses that are going to be torn down. For the farmers and herders, it’s all about the land, without which they cannot live. Land is heavy with symbolism. You cannot alienate it without alienating African Culture. Even today, many Africans still believe in the power of the Ancestors and the Land.
It is scandalous that these people should be left like this. A financial solution seems the most realistic way out. Furnishing alternative arable land seems too complicated….unless maybe there is some land not too far away that would be acceptable (ie; not in the President’s backyard). But there is no way to know about any of this, as those in power refuse any kind of contact with the villagers (or even the media).
The villagers of Balkuy aren’t against modern progress, but they would like things to made clear and fair. We can only hope that our President, who doesn’t want “naked” land behind his residence, doesn’t keep neglecting the fact that he needs to pay attention to the people, who have been living and working on the land since long before he came.


Pardon My French said...

Oh, wow...I just don't understand how these kinds of things can continue to happen. We learn what happened to Native Americans as schoolchildren, so it's incredible to know the same kinds of things are still occuring. I'd like to link to your blog on mine, if that's okay.

BurkinaMom said...

I feel just like you, believe me! I am astounded that there is no huge outcry about this.
That would be great if you want to add a link to my blog. I'd LOVE for more people to hear about this horible injustice!

Anonymous said...

I am not surprise that the goverment is resposible for such things. Burkina-faso is my country and i am soo frustrated to here here such unjustice. My mother who live there send me a letter concerning this situation. She is horrify , There always injustice in africa" La loi du plus fort". The Alizet gando come on l'appel has to remember that she will not get away with all this in front of the Lord.I am far away and yet i can't sleep because of all this. In Australia here things are soo differents , yesterday i here in the news that the Victorian government making an offer of 2.5 millions aust dollars to a Farmer who is living in the land where the goverment will devellope houses. My Parents and grand-parents just need an acknowlegement of the land rights. Yet the have no ideas of negociations . It is shocking, the cruellest thing to do a human.Greediness Put Africa soo behind. There soo many things to change and yet my people are strugling with communications.