WHAT IS WOMEN’S DAY LIKE IN BURKINA FASO?
In Burkina Faso, International Women’s Day is a big deal. Men go to the market to buy vegetables and extras (condiments) needed for cooking, and then cook for the family! In a patriarchal culture that seldom sees men cooking, it’s a fun and special day. Women often go out at night by themselves in groups to dance, drink and make merry in a way only women can when they are among women only. It’s beautiful, and makes us wish every day could be like this!
We salute, honor and bless women around the world, especially those working under such difficult circumstances in undeveloped countries like Burkina Faso. Their strength and resilience is a credit to us all.
With its activities in 2015, the BARKA Foundation has made numerous contributions to the improvement of living conditions of the people of the eastern region of Burkina Faso, which fall within the logic of the SDGs. This is particularly true for the WASH, health and education related SDGs. The foundations two main projects of 2015 – a 5-Village WASH Project, and a Social Arts project which encouraged discussion of the need for clean water and good hygiene through a locally produced theatre play – can serve to highlight some ways in which the SDGs were promoted in BARKA’s work.
The following are two examples of goals and related targets which were directly addressed by BARKA’s activities:
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
– By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births
– By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births
The play “Water for the Present and the Future” promoted better hygiene and management of water sources in villages and schools. At the play’s dramatic centre lies the death of a young child from acute diarrhoea. The villagers decide to improve their hygiene practices and take better care of their well in reaction to this traumatic event. The play was written in collaboration between BARKA and the theatre specialists from Escape Culturel Gambidi and the involvement of local actors and artists in the writing process ensured that it would reflect the reality and life experiences of the people of Burkina’s eastern region. The play was enthusiastically received by villages and schools alike and commitments were made to improve hygiene and water management practices.
Goal 6: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all
– By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
– By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations
– Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management
The core activities of the 5-Village WASH Project were the construction of 4 wells in villages of great need in the region and of six blocks of latrines in four schools. The sites of the wells were chosen using the method of Water Accounting: Maps of the partner village’s water points were created and analysed to identify the sites with the greatest need. The participation of local communities and their ownership of the wells was ensured through the training and continued support of village water point committees. Construction of latrines was accompanied by hygiene education for teachers and the donation of hand washing stations to schools. The latrines are all gender specific to ensure that girls will feel comfortable to use them – contributing to the achievement of a target under SDG 5, to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training”.
The BARKA Foundation has received first-hand information from a soldier who was in Naaba Koom at the time of the assault against the last die-hards of the RSP who refused to drop their weapons.
He informed a BARKA staffer that just before the soldiers advanced, they were read an excerpt of a speech by Thomas Sankara (copied below), about how “…the slave who does not organize his own rebellion deserves no pity for his lot. He alone is responsible for his misfortune if he harbors illusions in the dubious assurance of a master’s promise of freedom…” The slave here of course was referring to RSP soldiers still clinging to the corruption and privilege they received under the Compaore regime.
After the speech was read, the soldier said they were all ready to go and fight. It was very emotionally charged. As everyone now knows, they advanced without meeting resistance from RSP. The army solders from Bobo Dioulasso, who held a grudge against the RSP since 2011 when some of their soldiers were killed by RSP troops during a popular uprising (which sprang from social protests over the student killed in Koudougou), wanted desperately to be in the front line. As cool reason thankfully won over hot headed revenge, they were placed in the last ring of soldiers behind those of Fada, Kaya and Dedougou.
The army personnel who were taken hostage by the RSP when they tried to carry out their orders to lead the disarmament, were freed without harm. No one was killed in the assault. The shelling that had occurred earlier had hit only uninhabited buildings.
Although no deaths were reported, the soldier which BARKA’s staffer spoke to confirmed that the renegade leader of RSP’s final attempt to cling on to power had shot and killed some of his own band– RSP soldiers who had wanted to turn themselves in at the last moment, who had come to their senses. We are unclear how many RSP soldiers were killed, or whether they are included in the final official death toll which stands at 15, with 230 wounded. Even so, the government’s statement that there were “zero deaths and zero injuries” seems to not quite tell the whole story.
One official statement from an Army spokesperson said there were no casualties because the last of the recalcitrants left before the army got there, fleeing either by motorcycle or by foot. The soldier BARKA spoke to confirmed that some RSP soldiers were still on the loose. He also informed us that as these soldiers were caught and rounded up, they were beaten. If these fleeing RSP soldiers were unfortunate enough to be found by the soldiers from Bobo, they were beaten badly. The New York Times reported that an army spokesman said that only 15-20 soldiers soldiers of the guard unit which once numbered 1300 refused to disarm.
Lastly, as late as October 6, BARKA received an update from the US Embassy that people should continue to avoid the area of Ouaga2000, especially around camp Naaba Koom, because the army was detonating artillery munitions that did not go off when fired in the three salvos made before soldiers advanced.
And now, for those words of Sankara’s read by the Army General to inspire the soldiers before advancing on RSP:
Special Thanks to The Militant, Vol.62/No.14 April 13, 1998
`Freedom Can Be Won Only In Struggle’
Below we reprint excerpts from the speech “Freedom can be won only through struggle” by Thomas Sankara, a leader of a democratic and anti-imperialist revolution in Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) from 1983 until his assassination in a counterrevolutionary coup in 1987. Sankara presented this speech to the United Nations General Assembly in October 1984. The struggle Sankara led to begin the transformation of Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, provides an example to toilers in Africa and elsewhere of how social and economic advancement for the overwhelming majority is possible only through struggle against the imperialist system that breeds underdevelopment and misery. The excerpt is taken from the book Thomas Sankara Speaks, copyright (c)1988 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted with permission.
BY THOMAS SANKARA
A few simple facts serve to describe the former Upper Volta: A country with seven million inhabitants, more than six million of whom are peasants; an infant mortality rate estimated at 180 per 1,000 and an illiteracy rate of up to 98 percent, if we define as literate someone who can read, write, and speak a language; an average life expectancy of only forty years; one doctor for 50,000 inhabitants; a school- attendance rate of only 16 percent; and, finally, a Gross Domestic Product of 53,356 CFA francs per capita, or barely over $ 100. The diagnosis before us was somber. The cause of the illness was political. The cure could only be political.
Of course, we encourage aid that helps us to overcome the need for aid. But in general, the policy of foreign aid and assistance produced nothing but disorganization and continued enslavement. It robbed us of our sense of responsibility for our own economic, political, and cultural territory.
We chose to risk new paths to achieve greater happiness. We chose to apply new techniques and to look for forms of organization better suited to our civilization. We abruptly and definitively rejected all forms of foreign diktats, thus creating the conditions for a dignity worthy of our ambitions. To reject mere survival and ease the pressures; to liberate the countryside from feudal paralysis or regression; to democratize our society and open our minds to a universe of collective responsibility in order to dare to invent the future….
We swear – we state categorically – that henceforth nothing in Burkina Faso will ever again be undertaken without the participation of Burkinabe. Henceforth, we will conceive and decide on everything. This is a precondition. There will be no further assaults on our sense of decency and dignity.
Fortified by this conviction, we would like our words to embrace all those who are in pain and all those whose dignity is being trampled on by a handful of men or by a system intent on crushing them.
To all those listening to me, allow me to say that I speak not only in the name of my beloved Burkina Faso, but also in the name of all those who are suffering in any corner of the world. I speak in the name of the millions who live in ghettos because they have black skin or because they come from different cultures, and whose status is barely better than that of an animal. I suffer in the name of the Indians who have been massacred, crushed, humiliated, and confined for centuries on reservations to the point where they can claim no rights and their culture cannot enrich itself through beneficial union with others, including the culture of the invader. I speak out in the name of those thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically in crisis, whose only view of life is a reflection of that of the affluent.
I speak on behalf of women the world over, who suffer at the hands of a male-imposed system. We welcome suggestions from anywhere in the world on how to achieve the full development of Burkinabe women. In exchange, we can offer to share with all other countries the positive experience we have had with women who now participate at every level of the state apparatus and in all aspects of Burkina’s social life. Women in struggle proclaim in unison with us that the slave who does not organize his own rebellion deserves no pity for his lot. He alone is responsible for his misfortune if he harbors illusions in the dubious assurance of a master’s promise of freedom. Freedom can be won only through struggle and we call on all our sisters of all races to rise to the assault and fight to conquer their rights.
I speak on behalf of the mothers in our impoverished countries who watch their children die of malaria or diarrhea, ignorant of the fact that there are simple ways to save them. The science of the multinationals, however, keeps this knowledge from them, preferring instead to serve the cosmetics laboratories and provide plastic surgery to satisfy the whims of a few men and women whose charm is threatened by the excess of calories in their meals, the richness and regularity of which would make you – or rather us front the Sahel – dizzy. We have decided to adopt and popularize the simple measures recommended by the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
I speak, too, in the name of the child – the hungry child of the poor who furtively eyes the accumulation of abundance in the rich man’s stores. The store is protected by a thick glass window; the window is protected by impenetrable bars; the bars are protected by a policeman in helmet and gloves, armed with a billy club and posted there by the father of another child who can come and serve himself, or rather be served, just because he has the credentials guaranteed by the system’s capitalist norms….
In our opinion, we need a serious study that takes into account all of the elements that have led to the calamities that have befallen the world. In this regard, President Fidel Castro expressed our point of view admirably in 1979 at the opening of the Sixth Summit Conference of Nonaligned Countries when he declared, “Three hundred billion dollars is enough to build 600,000 schools a year with a capacity of 400 million children; or 60 million comfortable homes with a capacity of 300 million people; or 50,000 hospitals with 18 million beds; or 20,000 factories to provide employment for more than 20 million workers; or make possible the irrigation of 150 million hectares of land, which with an adequate technical level could provide food for a billion people.” If we multiply these figures by ten – and I am sure this would fall well short of today’s reality – we will see what humanity squanders every year in the military arena in opposition to peace.
One can easily see why the masses’ indignation rapidly becomes rebellion against the crumbs thrown their way in the insulting form of aid – an aid often tied to frankly contemptible conditions. One can understand why our struggle for development demands that we be tireless fighters for peace.
This blog series would not be complete without the inclusion of its final dramatic chapter. Burkina Faso has been quiet today (Sept 30) and yesterday, like old times, before the disturbance of the coup. But everyone was waiting for news which came trickling slowly out of the Burkina government.
What we knew late Tuesday night was that the army was preparing an attack on the RSP barracks Naaba Koom II. General Diendere had asked RSP elements to stand down and disarm, however it was clear that there were still some RSP holdouts, who may have even gone rogue and were now acting on their own. The New York Times just today cited that there were only 20 die-hards refusing to disarm. They had even taken hostage the army personnel that was in charge of overseeing the hand over of their weapons.
Atmosphere in Ouaga was tense as the army closed in and took positions around the area of Ouaga 2000 on Tuesday afternoon. A government announcement was made asking citizens to stay away from the Ouaga 2000 area. The government declared the situation to be at an impasse and accused the regiment of soliciting help from “jihadists” in the following statement:
“This handful of die-hards has taken hostage not only members of the former R.S.P. who wanted to rejoin the side of reason, but also officers of the national armed forces tasked with disarming them. But even more seriously, the government knows that they have called foreign forces and jihadist groups to their rescue to realize their dark scheme.”
Western nations fear the advancement of jihadist groups in the West African region (such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or AQIM) and the Compaore regime’s strongman tactics had kept them at bay, in large part through the support of the US and France via military training, intelligence, etc. Some analysts have expressed concern about the possible rise of terrorists groups in the area after the fall of the Compaore regime. Although that remains to be seen, it is widely known that General Diendere was a chief negotiator in the region and would have access to these jihadist groups. Diendere would later “categorically deny” this accusation that he had approached such groups to come to the aid of his ill-fated coup attempt.
By late Tuesday evening, the army was prepared to strike Naaba Koom II, the RSP barracks, which was said to be largely abandoned at that point save for the remaining few RSP soldiers refusing to surrender. The Burkina Faso army fired several rounds of heavy artillery. They then advanced into the compound without meeting any resistance and the last holdouts surrendered without a fight. The army had succeeded in doing what it set out to do- take Ouaga back from the RSP and coup leaders without any further bloodshed.
The following day there was no news for many hours. People were not sure what had taken place and whether there were any casualties. Although Diendere had said he thought there would be many deaths, his fears proved to be unfounded. By the late afternoon the Burkina government released the following statement:
“The coup elements of the former R.S.P. remained unbending in their will to define the Burkinabe people… Using delaying tactics in the expectation of foreign reinforcements and in the hope of an eventually rallying of internal support, these coup elements, surrounded by a group of die-hards, have held the daily lives of millions of Burkinabe people. Faced with a situation that had become intolerable for our people, and determined to turn this dark page in our common history, our patriotic Defense and Security Forces carried out their responsibilities successfully.”
With RSP now officially disbanded and the last remaining stalwarts defeated, the only remaining piece of the puzzle was General Diendere himself, whose whereabouts were still unknown. He was not in Naaba Koom at the time of the shelling. His car was reported to have been burned. Tweets were sent saying he had tried to seek refuge at the US Embassy which turned him away. The Embassy later tweeted, “We are following the situation closely. General Diendéré is not located on the premises of the Embassy of the United States”, followed by the tweet, “Embassy networks is not and could not shelter any person or family seeking refuge.” The number of Embassies at which Diendere tried to seek asylum is unknown, however sources say he received several refusals before eventually finding temporary refuge in the Embassy of the Vatican, located near Diendere’s office and the US Embassy which are also situated close to the Presidential Palace. This was not actually confirmed until Wednesday by the BBC, although it had been widely talked about on Twitter beforehand. Interestingly, the Vatican never confirmed the presence of Diendere, however it was closed to the public for two days and guarded by several armored vehicles and trucks.
Diendere remained holed up in the Vatican Embassy for two days, negotiating the terms of his surrender. Sources close to the negotiations say he had wanted to be able to leave the country and come back to Burkina to face justice when “the voltage lowers”, but knew that this would never have been accepted by the population at large. On Thursday, October 1, former President of Burkina Faso Jean Baptiste Ouedraogo handed Diendere over to the Burkina authorities. He was driven to the National Gendarmerie in an armored truck, Prime Minister Zida having assured his personal safety as part of the terms of surrender.
The final move in this 2-week drama, took place on Friday evening, when the national army units that had left their regional barracks to converge on the capital of Ouagadougou to restore Democracy, returned to their regional posts. Thousands of Burkinabe filled the streets of the nation on foot, on bicycle, on motos, motorcycles and in cars to welcome the troops home. This is after all, the people’s army. This is the army that stood by the side of the people during the October 30 revolution last year. Now they were returning home after finishing the job. The soldiers from Fada, where we are based, left Ouaga at 1pm. Although it would normally be a 3 hour drive for the convoy, they didn’t arrive to their destination until after 10pm because the streets were so full of joyous, celebrating citizens, proud of their army and grateful to them for their show of force and peaceful resolution.
Many analysts had said the coup was disastrous for Africa as Burkina had become an indicator for the continent as a whole with regard to autocrats and dictators who are clinging on to power and making constitutional amendments to remain in power. All eyes are watching Burkina as it set its own course toward democracy with a transition government that proved to be quite vulnerable. The fact that Burkina Faso so quickly foiled this coup attempt and got its democratic process back on track is proof that the era of the African military coup could very well be giving way to a new era in which power is achieved through the ballot box and popular elections. Burkina is once again providing an example of how true democracy can be achieved in Africa in the 21st Century.
After a few days of life returning to some semblance of normal here in Burkina Faso, the country once again is holding its breath as two factions of the army are set to square off against each other.
At the time of this writing, the National Army, loyal to the Transition Government, has surrounded the barracks of the Presidential Guard (RSP), known as Camp Naaba Koom, and has asked the people of Ouaga to avoid traveling in the area of Ouaga 2000, where the barracks is located. A military operation is said to be underway.
During the past week, in the first cabinet meeting of the reinstated transitional government authorities, RSP was disbanded and ordered to disarm their weapons. RSP soldiers would be re-integrated into the National army. Bank accounts and assets of 14 people including failed coup leader Diendere and former Foreign Minister and top CDP official, General Djibril Bassole, were frozen. Bassole’s home is also currently surrounded by the army and the Transition ordered his arrest. It has just been confirmed that Bassole has been arrested.
However last Friday, the Head of the Army said Diendere brutally compromised the process of disarmament and stated they were at an impasse. Yesterday, the army officials who were carrying out the duty of disarming RSP were taken hostage. Diendere’s reaction to this was “ambiguous”. It is not clear at this point whether he is in control of RSP any longer. Diendere was reported as saying that the Transition government can’t dissolve RSP and that it would be better to resist. In a bizarre twist, it was later reported via Burkina government communique that Diendere and Bassole were involved in asking for foreign support of the coup and calling on jihadists to derail the Transition process in Burkina Faso. These claims remain unconfirmed.
Today, one day after labor leaders decided to suspend the national strike which left the country at a standstill for 8 days, Ouagadougou has shut down once again. The airport is closed and the US Embassy is again warning citizens to shelter in place. Civil society and Balai Citoyen have called for renewed protests and demonstrations. The peaceful mediation process, aided by the Mossi King Mogho Naaba who negotiated a deal between the army and the RSP late last week to avoid bloodshed during a tense stand-off, seems very much in jeopardy.
A soldier of the National Army carries an RPG near the barracks of RSP on Tuesday, September 29. A potential battle between brothers looms over the nation.
Burkina Faso took one step closer to normal today.
The nation breathed a sigh of relief when Michel Kafando was reinstated as President this morning, along with Isaac Zida as Prime Minister.
Presidents from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana and Senegal arrived this morning and were greeted by coup leader General Diendere on a red carpet. Many people couldn’t understand why Diendere was doing the greeting, however as the reinstatement ceremony was underway at the time, Diendere took it upon himseld as one of his final acts of his self-declared 7-day presidency. The diplomatic corps also threatened to boycott the reinstatement ceremony if Diendere showed up.
Once President Kafando was back in power, he issued a statement asking everyone to remain calm and mobilized. He said the transition to democracy had been exemplary and was surprised to see it halted. He added that the reaction on the streets and the condemnation of the international community prove that it was right. He also said that elections may now be delayed.
Later in the day, Diendere met behind closed doors with the heads of states. The subject of that meeting is unknown, however shortly after it, Diendere held a press conference in which he said, “The biggest mistake was carrying out this coup. I regret the lives lost and time wasted”. He also said RSP would disarm in the coming days and perhaps most significantly that he was ready to face justice. He concluded his statement by remarking, ”The coup is over. Let’s stop talking about it.”
ECOWAS said a fund would be created for the victims’ families. The official death toll is 13 with over 100 people injured.