Saturday, January 26, 2008

Call me biased, (heck, I’ll do it myself "BurkinaBIASEDMom, that's my name. Don't wear it out!” ) but an article written by JP was published in yesterday’s issue of L’Evenement and it was pretty brilliant.
Here’s a little background for you. I won’t go into great detail, as it’s pretty complicated, but this is the outline: There is a small community in eastern Burkina called Kounkounfouano. It’s probably not on your map. It’s been a good place to grow crops and raise cattle but not anything to get excited about. It’s so small that it doesn’t have it’s own chief. They have been under the jurisdiction of the chief of Natiboani (a nearby village). And things worked out pretty well, until gold was discovered in Koukounfouano. All of a sudden, the chief of Boudanggou/Gonaba was claiming that the hamlet owed him allegiance (including, not surprisingly, a share of the gold). Well, the King of the Gulmou got wind of all this and called both chiefs to his palace in Fada so he could resolve the conflict. Both chiefs are under him and have to admit that the King is the “Boss of Them” (as my younger kids might put it.). So, the King had a listen and pretty quickly decided in favour of the traditional authority of the Chief of Natiaboani. And he told them to go home and play nice.
And it looked like things were going to be ok, until the government started mixing into matters they didn’t understand. It was small things at first. When it was time to vaccinate the kids in Kounkounfouano against measles, they tried to send health workers from Boudango/Gonaba , rather than from Natiaboani. The villagers thought it was another political manoeuvre to undercut their recognised chief and refused. Next, the government sent census agents from the wrong village. And the people of Burkina don’t much like census agents in the first place……After some other events, things escalated. Men from Gonaba attacked Kounkounfouano. The government sent in the CRS (riot police!!) on December 19. Two men were killed and many homes destroyed.

So, what does my dh have to say about the problem? First of all, he remarks on the title of the newspaper article that described all the events that I just outlined above. It was called something like “Rural Land Rights- A Deadly Powder Keg”. He points out that this is very unfair, as the rural areas of Burkina are remarkable for the very small amount of conflict there is over land. And certainly there is very little real violence. Problems are usually well-regulated by traditional authorities.
His next point is that the government needs to realise that the services provided to rural populations by the local authorities are seen by the people as a means of creating their identity and of either reinforcing or undercutting their political allegiances. It matters very much to these people where their police/vaccines/census takers come from, as they see it as a way of saying where they do or don’t “belong”, who they do or don't have to listen to. And in this case, they don't want to obey (and give crops and gold) to the Chief of Gonaba and want no confusion about the matter.
His main point, to sum up the rest, is that the government administration here needs to be better organised and to respect the local populations more. No arguing with that.
When the article, which is quite long, ends up on their online version of the paper, I’ll link to it asap.

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