Burkina Faso: The Land of Upright MenBy MACHARIA GAITHO | Wednesday, November 30 2011 at 10:07
In the Land of the Upright Man, one need not care too much about the goings on in the Land of the Crooked Man.
A cursory look through the headlines tells me I’m not really missing very much. @MajorEChirchir seems to have very little new to tweet about.
The Syokimau demolitions have degenerated into the usual political theatre.
I’m just waiting to hear some Parliamentary committee embark on fact-finding tours of London, Shanghai, Paris, Dubai, Bangkok, Johannesburg, Sao Paolo and other shopping capitals of the world that might have experiences to share on dealing with crooked land deals.
Then there is the unending farce revolving around Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and the mad quest for power.
There is enough of interest here in Ouagadougou to spare me the agony of keeping up with news from home.
Just an ordinary conversation with the waitress, taxi driver, hawker, fellow journalist or government official makes for extraordinary contortions.
Monsieur Maximin kicked me out of French class in Form 1 because I could never understand how tables, chairs and other inanimate objects could have masculine and feminine forms.
My French never went beyond ‘Bonjour’, and over the past week or so in Burkinabe I have learnt how it feels to be a dimwit.
The 4th edition of the International Festival of the Freedom of Expression and the Press (IFFEP 2011) under the theme ‘Media, Elections, Democracy and GoodGovernance in Africa’ attracted delegates from all over Africa, but English speakers were a distinct minority.
The conference showed that despite the linguistic, cultural and religious differences, African countries share almost similar challenges during this period, 2011-2012, when pivotal elections are taking place across north, south, east and west.
Simultaneous translation was off course provided during the conference, but outside the auditorium where more engaging human intercourse develops, it was a bit like walking in the dark.
One illiterate in the French tongue quickly learns how frustrating it is being unable to coherently ask for directions, chat up a girl, or make that most basic request for a glass of water.
In the absence of even rudimentary French, one resorts to hand signals and something like pidgin English. The ensuing conversation can be hilarious.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country to the north of Ghana. It is hot and dry and endowed with very little in economic resources.
The name of the country means ‘Land of Upright Men’ and the Burkinabe do stand tall and proud.
For many of us, Burkina Faso is the land of Captain Thomas Sankara, the dashing, charismatic army officer who ruled briefly from 1983 until deposed and assassinated by his revolutionary compatriot Captain Blaise Compaore in 1987.
It was Sankara who changed the name of the country from Upper Volta, and in that his legacy lives on amongst 17 million Burkinabe and millions of admirers across Africa.
But officially, here, Sankara is a non-person. President Compaore—another of the African military strongmen who transform themselves into elected civilian leaders—has tried his utmost to erase the memory of a compatriot who put Burkina Faso on the world map.
When the young leader took power at just the age of 33, he banned government ministers from being chauffeured around in ostentatious Mercedes Benz limousines.
The official ministerial fleet was comprised the cheapest car in the market, the Renault 5 that was ubiquitous in the streets of Ouagadougou. Remember Renault 5? In Kenya it was christened Renault Roho to mark the arrival of independence in 1963.
Under President Campaore, the ministerial Mercs are back, which reminds me that at home many of the Wabenzi have defied the Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta’s edict replacing ministerial Mercedes with VW Passat.
There is another legacy from Sankara that Campaore has been unable to erase: Two-wheeled transport. When first appointed a minister some time before he took power, Sankara delighted the people by riding into a cabinet meeting on a bicycle. He was also a familiar figure zooming around Ouagadougou on a motorbike.
I’m not sure whether that’s why today the streets of the capital teems with scooters and small motorbikes.
It’s like everybody rides to work and school, from students to their parent; from labourers to office workers; civil servants to market mammies. It’s a sight that defies description. Have you ever seen that human migration from Kibera to Industrial Area (in Nairobi)?
Now imagine if instead of walking, all that mass of humanity was on small motorbikes?
That’s Ouagadougou where it seems like everyone of of 1.8 million inhabitants is on at least two wheels.
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