Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just a Wee Bit of Excitement

“It was crazy! Stores and boutiques had been smashed and looted, and people were running all over the place trying to get away from the downtown area! I had a hard time getting out of there myself!” Waving his arms and hands to indicate how he had turned this way and that to find a way through, passing dozens of slower vehicles as he was able, our Services Manager described to me the scene he had encountered in downtown Ouaga when he had attempted to get a vehicle of one of our members serviced.

While we’ve not been going through some of the major upheavals that some of the North African countries have been experiencing over the past while, we have had our own bit of excitement recently. The past several weeks have seen student demonstrations throughout the country as a result of a fellow student’s death at the hands of police following several severe beatings. It didn’t help that the local authorities tried to say he had died of meningitis while his medical record indicated that he recently been vaccinated.

Protest marches organized by the students all over the country have often been characterized by tires burning in the streets, the torching of public buildings, and clashes between students and law enforcement personnel. Of course there are always bad elements that tend to attach themselves to these kinds of events and take advantage of them to go on a destructive rampage. As a result, the government has closed all public schools in the country, including the universities, something that has resulted in significant hardship for students (especially those from foreign countries) who have no place to go.

But the experience of our Services Manager was related to something different. It had begun on Tuesday evening near midnight when soldiers at two military camps in Ouaga started shooting off their weapons and demonstrating to express their displeasure at the sentencing of several of their comrades as a result of an incident between military personnel and civilians some time back. They took to the streets and began smashing stores and boutiques, gaining access to alcoholic beverages and making the situation even more unstable.

This morning, the International School of Ouagadougou and St. Exupery (the French school) both closed their doors and told their students and staff to stay home. The American, Canadian, and even French embassies issued security alerts, advising their personnel and citizens in Burkina to stay put, avoid unnecessary travel (especially in Ouaga), and take security precautions. The American embassy issued a dusk to dawn curfew for all its personnel. Around noon, rumours began to fly around that a curfew was going into effect immediately. We did some quick checking with the authorities and discovered that these were indeed just rumours. No curfew was being ordered. Nevertheless, numerous businesses and organizations closed their doors for the day and sent their personnel home. Things seemed to be calm at our end of the city, so we carried on with business as usual. Things are still calm this evening.

The President is out of the country at the moment, but we’re praying that those in authority will once more take charge and resolve the issues at hand so that peace and order will soon be restored. I’ll keep you posted.

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