Friday, February 29, 2008

Everything over at Papiers was fine. The women told me that when reports that demonstrations had started reached the Village Artisanale, the guards had shut the gates to the complex. No one was allowed in or out until the evening. The management was avoiding any risk of damage to the 52 craft stands and all the other infrastructure they have built up over the years. The Papiers women said it had been ok for them- they'd already been shopping for their rice and vegetables early in the morning, so they made paper all day and had a meal together.

As for what went on elsewhere- here's what I've gathered from talking to people and reading a few different newspapers:
The morning started out calm. But there was definitely a military/police presence in the city. Troops were guarding many gas stations, banks and public buildings.

Many people had stayed home from work that day. Most shops were closed, as were most schools. But this latter information was not well- publicised. I had read it in the newspapers, but the message did not seem get out to most families. Many children showed up at school, only to find locked doors. I saw dramatic evidence of this that morning at the Ecole du Plateau- a really big public school near our house. At 7am, there was a crowd of well over 100 uniformed students left milling around the gates. I thought that was quite a bad sign. High-school boys are very suceptible to getting drwn into these protests, because it seems so exciting. How many of them never went back home, but went on to join in the vandalism?

The CRS riot police were also patroling the city, heavily armed. The Observateur says it like this: "These patrols, meant to secure the safety of people and goods and to prevent any vandalism, produced the opposite effect. The presence of these men in combat gear seems to have incited people to protest"

By 9:30, people had started burning piles of tires and trash out in the streets near the Rood Woko market. The usual way of getting these fires going is for the demonstrators to grab people trying to pass by on motor scooters. They are forced to watch as their gas tanks are emptied onto the barricades. The vehicle is usually returned, as long as the person hasn't protested too much about their "donation" to the cause.

At the same time, things started up in the Patte d'Oie neighborhood, near Ouaga 2000. When I write "things" I mean: destroying traffic lights, tearing down billboards ( especially the fancy electronic ones), burning tires and trash in the streets, blocking the roads and throwing rocks at vehicles that try to pass by. When you get down to it, it's not all that horrible. Yes, stoplights are expensive to fix, but at least they aren't trying to harm anyone. Most of thsi very minor vandalism is done by students- young men mainly.

Soon after, the northern neighborhoods like Tampouey and Dapoya errupted into similar bouts of mild vandalism. Some of the demonstrators were as young as 10 years old. In fact, the news accounts and the accounts of my friends all say the same thing: the protests here were unusual because there were many very young children involved.
The police arrived and made a show of force. The demonstrators threw stones. The police replied with tear gas. Cecile (our cook) says it was terrible.- the CRS in trucks, chasing down the people (many of them children!) as they fled the gas. The worst thing was that the huge clouds of gas affected even the people who stayed home, closed up in their courtyards.

It seems that this very violent reaction (approved by the mayor of Ouagadougou, who was on the scene) set off a much more violent chain of protest- The parking lots of two government offices were immediately attacked and many vehicles destroyed. Some bank builings and other office buildings were attacked. Lots of other cars and small stands were targeted.

In Nogr Massom (not far from where we live), the local mayor quickly brought out his own "security forces". While trying to "control" the mobs, one of the mayor's friends stabbed a young man. (He is intensive care right now) This completely set off the mob that went on to destroy some businesses known to be owned by Mayor Sawadogo. The mob even went to take revenge upon the daughter of the man that stabbed the protester. She was spared by the intervention of her neighbor, a Protestant minister.

SO, the protest against the high cost of living quickly turned into a protest of other things as well- such as shows of excessive force by the government and the attitude of the elites toward the average person.

That's as much as I know about it.
Today has been quite calm. As I drove through town today, I saw the black marks of the fires all over the streets and a few broken windows. The broken traffic signals were more of a problem. Traffic in Ouaga, already bad, just got a lot worse.
There's a huge military presence in the city - near the Moro Naaba's palace, I counted at least 60 stationed there. Truckloads of riot police are cruising around.
But I imagine that the weekend will be quite calm. I hope.
Still no email. Sorry.

1 comment:

babzee said...

Keep your apologies for situations you can control, BinBF! Accept our gratitude for reaching out as best you can.