Tuesday, June 17, 2008

After a morning running errands, I turned toward the Avenue Charles de Gaulles at about 11am only to find it blocked by riot police. And just a few blocks down, clouds of tear gas obscured the road.
Something was going on. Something not good.
When I pulled into my driveway about five minutes later, I got a text message on my cell phone. It was from the French Embassy, warning of gun fire near the University. The University which is about seven blocks from our house.
And yes, as I got out of the car, I did hear funny popping noises.
For about an hour there were spurts of gun fire. At a couple of points it got very, very loud and close. My neighbour Tony, who ventured out (brave Aussie lad) in his truck, said that the Avenue Babanguida (about four blocks away) was blocked off and the police line had reached that far.

I sat outside our gate on a log with Rasmané, our guardian, listening to the guns. We shook our heads in bafflement.
"I guess they're shooting in the air to break up the crowds?" I ventured as round after round went off.
"They wouldn't actually shoot the students, would they?"

I'd heard that the students might protest today. Beside their usual grievances of huge class sizes and irregular course hours, they have a new reason to gripe. The Burkina government that never has money to hire enough professors suddenly found the cash to establish a PSU unit. That's Police Speciale des Universités. That news was like pouring kerosine on a fire, I'm afraid. But I don't have any definite news. Nothing has been reported on the radio or TV as of yet.
And as far as I can tell, I am the first to publish this news on the internet.

Things seem calm now. It's 3 pm and there hasn't been any gunfire since about 12:30 or so.

After I got home at 11, the French Embassy then called with a warning. Nothing from the US Embassy, which is par for the course. For all the blah, blah, blah about Keeping Our Citizens Safe , the US doesn't acually do much. At all. I'm a warden for the Embassy. All they have to do is call me and I phone my list of 30 or so families and warn them of possible danger: Stay out of the University area. There is rioting and gunfire.

There are all kinds of Americans living overseas. Here in Ouaga, they are mostly do-gooders, in the best sense of the word. They are missionaries trying to help people out of poverty, NGO workers doing all sorts of aid work and the every-present Peace Corps. I really feel like the State Department could step up their commitment instead of ignoring this population every time there is violence threatening.
Since I moved here in 1999, there have been several bad incidents here in Burkina. And the US Embassy always drops the ball IMO. For example, during the police/army conflict of 2006, I had to call the Embassy to get the go-ahead to warn people. And it was not a false alarm. That night stray gun fire hit houses and killed civilians.
And today once again, the Embassy looked out for their own personel, but couldn't be bothered to at least set the Warden system in motion.
Yes, they do send out emails. But the chances of someone checking their email -especially here in Ouaga, are pretty slim. This situation merited phoning everyone to make sure the word got out and no one would inadvertantly wander into danger.

I have no other real news about what happened this morning. I'll post again if anything comes to light. And please write to me if you see anything in the international press or on the internet.


Cyndy said...

HI Beth,
I am going to miss you in Ouaga. But I don't want to be selfish. You and your family need to move on to greener (literally ) greener pastures.
Anyway, I got a heads up from Rakieta's sister and brother in law but I always look to you for English translation and perspective.
I'll be talking to Rakieta in a little while and will peruse the internet later today for you.

babzee said...

Jeebus I can't wait until you are only dodging thrown baguettes and puddles of dumped milk on French highways.