SMB’s guide to surviving a democratic insurrection
Burkina Faso — Uniterra
I started this post right after the events of October 30 – 31, 2014 and put it aside. After three months it seems appropriate to finish and post it before I return to Canada.
Internet – I was so lucky that the internet at my house (which costs a fortune FYI) worked throughout the crisis. Amazingly there were no coupures d’electricité so I was able to keep up with the local news, keep in touch with CECI and friends in Burkina and at home and update my blog regularly.
Company – More by hazard than design I ended up with excellent company throughout the crisis. Helena, a Swedish law student, needed somewhere to stay and when she wasn’t with me Adrian came over. Especially during the periods of high tension it was so better having some one else around. Both Helena and Adrian are great cooks so their presence really upped the meal quality during the extensive periods of confinement to the house. Helena and I met in yoga class so we had a yoga session each night. I had lots of interesting discussions with both Helena and Adrian. Adrian and I had our usual arguments about truly ridiculous things (example: whether the definition of incontinence is broader than urinary incontinence – he was right it is).
Information – The best sources of international news were all french language: France24 Afrique, BBC Afrique and Jeune Afrique. The local sources, Burkina24 and Fasonet, were also good but less technologically sophisticated so harder to access. Adrian did an excellent job of finding the most reliable sources of information on Twitter and we always seemed to know what was going on (and often well before the major news outlets reported).
Etienne – I have a night watchman called Etienne who arrives around 7 pm and stays until 6 am each night. Not only was Etienne extremely conscientious during the troubles he was an invaluable source of information. One of the reasons that the democratic insurrection was so quick, effective and had relatively few casualties was that the population was extremely well informed. The country has been discussing and analyzing the behaviour of Blaise Compaore and his family and entourage for months if not years. Property destruction was targeted with pin point precision and the mob was very disciplined. If Etienne is any indication, the level of knowledge and analysis of the average burkinabè was detailed and considered. It was a privilege to share the pride of Etienne and my other burkinabè acquaintances in the manner in which they finally ended the Blaise Compaore regime and (hopefully) set an example for other African nations.
People looking out for you – During the height of the crisis I heard from my NGO CECI daily. Adrian and I kept in touch by telephone when we were not together. Because they thought I was alone a number of friends and acquaintances here in Ouaga reached out to confirm that I was OK.
Concerned family and friends – One of my worst experiences during the crisis was getting a telephone call from Ariel who had just been watching the news and was freaking out. Knowing that my house was only a kilometer or so from the National Assembly and Hotel Azalai, the television broadcasts of the huge crowds and those properties going up in flames really worried her. I should have done a better job of keeping in touch with her by telephone or Skpe.
Supplies : Food, Money, Gas – Having been raised by parents who lived through WW2 in the UK I always have food in reserve. Money and gas were more of a problem for me. Most transactions require cash in Ouaga (ie no credit cards) and I was afraid that the automatic tellers would fall victim to the troubles. As soon as the curfew was lifted on Friday, October 31 – at about 6 am – Helena and I ventured out to get money from the cash machine and to buy gas for the car. It was an eye opener as the main street in my area of Ouaga, Bld Charles DeGaulle, had been totally trashed. When I found a cash machine working I took out 800 000 FCFA (about CAD1500). I was not able to get gas as all the stations were closed. Luckily I was able to fill up when I went out the next morning. I would have been wiser to get money and gas on the Wednesday before the actual insurrection when it was clear that big trouble was brewing.
Yoga – Since we were pretty much housebound (in my very small house) for 48 hours our impromptu yoga sessions were not only good exercise but a welcome diversion from the endless internet surfing trying to determine what was going on.
Getting out of the house during the lulls – I am one of those people who get cabin fever almost immediately after they are told that they can’t leave somewhere. I probably should not have been out on Wednesday night or Friday morning. In both cases I was lucky. On Wednesday night I witnessed the beginning of the road blocks but made it home before the tire fires were lit. On Friday morning it was too early for any activity. Obviously, in both cases, I avoided the known demonstration areas. I am very glad that I was out on Saturday morning to witness the incredible clean up of Ouaga and see the remains of the National Assembly and Azalai Hotel.
Earl Grey Tea – Even though I left England when I was 11, the calming effect of a cup of tea had already been indelibly imprinted on my brain, a good supply of Earl Grey tea is essential to surviving a democratic insurrection.