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Social unrest in Burkina Faso


Farm workers load a truck with the cotton harvest in more peaceable times in this 2007 file photo.

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August 19, 2011
-Anne Garber Kompaore

Anne Garber Kompaore wrote the following update in her July newsletter.

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — Recently, I went next door to the internet café to send off some rather heavy emails (my home connection is just too weak).

As I was working, I heard a rising rabble of voices out on the side of the boulevard. At one point the shouting reached a crescendo making me wonder whether violence was going to follow. What was happening I wondered? I decided it was time to get out of there! 

As I stepped out the door I paused for a few minutes to observe the situation and pray for a calming spirit. And to my surprise the quarrel started calming down. I asked the more discrete bystanders what was going on. They explained that two motorcyclists had run into each other. They must not be very injured, I surmised, to have the energy to carry on such an argument!

Afterwards, I reflected on my own reactions to the incident and contrasted them with my idealistic desire to contribute to peacemaking! I have to admit my first reflex was not to step into the fray, but just to get as far away as possible from potential violence!  In North America, probably the first reflex would be to call the police. But what would you have done if you had been in my situation?

In Burkina Faso, the military mutiny is over (we hope!). Several hundred soldiers lost their jobs, and some are in prison, I am told, and unfortunately some lost their lives. Some civilians also lost their lives from stray bullets, some women were raped, businesses lost millions of dollars, and the tourists are staying away. Once the military were finished their rampage and the students' and teachers' demands were satisfied, workers of other institutions decided it was their turn to demand their rights – so at different times we were not able to make phone calls, not able to buy bread, and even not able to pay our taxes!

I thought our crises were mainly limited to cities. Was I wrong! A couple of weeks ago, I went to visit Mennonite Brethren colleagues, the Bergens and the Warners, in the small town of N'dorola. Upon arrival, I saw some men in military uniform lounging under a tree with their guns propped up beside them. It turns out that some farmers who decided to boycott cotton growing this year were destroying the fields of the non-boycotters, and in some cases, their livestock, too. This kind of violence has spread to other provinces in Burkina, and the local news reported that over 1,000 hectares of cotton plants have been destroyed, and one death has been reported.

Yes, social unrest continues here. But government leaders are waking up to the fact that justice is part of the equation for peace. There are also factors beyond their control: prices keep going up, but salaries (and cotton revenue) are not keeping pace. At any rate, it is deeply engrained in all of us now that we cannot take peace for granted.

We thank God for each day of peace, we pray for economic stability and well-being for all.

Anne Garber Kompaore has been an international ministry worker in Burkina Faso since 1982. She recently completed her assignment with Mennonite Church Canada, but continues freelance Bible translation and teaching work with the inter-denominational mission agency, Commission to Every Nation. Anne lives in the capital city, Ouagadougou, with her husband Daniel.