Thursday, February 28, 2008

I was just finishing up typing my blog entry for the day about half and hour ago. It started out “The day of protest and demonstrations here in Ouaga has begun quietly, for most of the city”

I was interrupted by a call from our driver, Mahama, who we’d given the afternoon off. He told us that the protest here is Ouaga was heating up and that no one should try to go out. JP should definitely not try to get back to his office at the IRD.

Though things are calm here in the Zone du Bois where we live, the city is erupting into violence in the north, center and south. Mahama told us that one person has been killed.

I went into the kitchen to listen to the the local Mooré radio station with Fanta. We heard local grassroots activist Thibault Nana exhorting everyone to come out and join in the protests. In particular, the target is the ultra-rich neighbourhood called Ouaga 2000. It’s where the people that held last weekend’s chic birthday party live. President Campaoré lives there, too, in a mind-bogglingly sumptuous palace (Yes, I have been inside as a guest. I was his daughter’s sunday school teacher. True story).

The government had tried to head off major trouble by announcing yesterday afternoon that import taxes on certain staple goods would be lifted for the next three months. This was pretty tricky on their part. I think they counted on the fact that most Burkinabé people (who don’t have much education) would misinterpret their announcement. Maybe I’m being unfair- but I’m not so sure.

As an experiment, I asked some of our household workers about what they had heard on the radio. They told me that the government was lifting import taxes and that within three months, prices would all be back to normal.


I have read the press accounts in three different newspapers this morning and they all say the same thing: The import taxes will be annulled for three months, starting today. Prices might not go down immediately, as merchants sell older stock that they already paid tax on. But within a short period, prices ‘should’ come down. (NB: How this would happen was not made clear. They just seem to trust that all the merchants will lower their prices to pre-tax enforcement levels. We may equally imagine that some of them will lower their prices just a smidgen, so that prices are somewhat more palatable to the public, but they make larger profits than ever, thanks to the abolished taxes.)

When the grace period is over, the idea is that import tax will be reinstated. And I don’t think they have much choice. Bretton Woods institutions frown deeply and get crabby when governments fail to collect taxes.

Anyway, all the government could have hoped to do was gain a small breathing space- this was no real long-term fix.

But the government plan for peace and order was defeated because- guess what? It looks like Thibault Nana (and probably lots of other smart folks) know how to read. Foiled again, Blaise and fat cat pals! Nana and others no doubt listened to the radio, read the newspapers and immediately realized that the Burkinabé people were being thrown a bone. An insultingly tiny rotten bone.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know what to expect. I ventured into town twice (Curiosity hasn’t killed this cat. Not yet, anyway!) and found most of the shops and stands closed. Most of the larger gas stations were open, but heavily guarded by soldiers. At the Total station alone, I counted 10.

As we drove down the road, I noticed that visibility was quite bad . You could only see a few blocks ahead because the air was so hazy. It turns out it was mostly smoke from burning tires over in sectors 10 and 11 to the north of the city center. Friends tell me that the protests there started early this morning in these areas, also known as Hamdalaye and Ouidi . People living in those neighbourhoods couldn’t get out and go to work and people needing to pass through them were trapped as well.


babzee said...

My frown lines are deepening. CNN brings us cheery news (? -- !!) from Kenya and the US shrugs and smiles and says fuggedaboutit once again. Now Our Lady in Ouaga tells us people are pissed off at being duped and defrauded by their governments EVERYWHERE. Oh, keep your head low, curious cat. You draw the eye and reflect too much light!

Pardon My French said...

I saw Ouagadougou on the news yesterday as I was passing back and forth through the living room to the kitchen, not about the riots but about Dominique Strauss-Kahn's visit. I'd be interested in hearing more about how the African people reacted to what was said in those meetings.

I read somewhere that the traditional IMF policies end up hurting the poorest, and that governments should have the flexibility to set their own econ policy with priority on debt relief. However, if I'm understanding you correctly, governments cannot always be relied upon to automatically do what is best for the ones who are in the most immediate need. (If I'm wrong, correct me by all means). Thank you for the update on what is happening. Please take care.