Friday, February 29, 2008

The day after: Strawberries, 750 FCFA a kilo!

I went back to my city and the destruction was gone.

I finally made it downtown late this morning. Other than the presence of a bit – but not too much – more police and military than expected, the city looked pretty much the same. In fact, my guest claimed how cleaned it looked, especially compared to Accra. The women who clean this town at night must have been out in full force.

Traffic seemed a bit heavier and shops busier as people were either 1) taking care of things they couldn’t do yesterday; or, 2) know something I don’t know about what will happen during the next few days.

Of course, I didn’t go out to any of the outlying neighborhoods where the destruction was even worse. I’ll say that while the city takes care of downtown, it can often let the other neighborhoods languish as a sort of punishment meted out against the hooligans from the area most likely responsible for the destruction.

Rumour Ville
A couple rumors to catch up on. There was a death yesterday, the result of two competing groups of thugs fighting over some turf. One group had been hired by a local mayor to provide security and the other group had been doing some rampaging around the neighborhood. Words were exchanged, it seems, and things devolved from there. Anyway, just a rumor – but the idea that a mayor must outsource security may say something about the worth of elected officials in the eyes of the government, who had stationed police and military around the city in front of important business (like gas stations) and other public offices.

Someone told me that if word gets out that the police abused some of the 200 people who had been arrested; they will start protesting against them. This is in opposition against the minister of security’s speech last night commending the work of the police. The front page of one newspaper showed a soldier grabbing a young protester; a second picture showed another being pushed down in the back of a truck by a bunch of riot police. Let’s just say he has a look of fear on his face. It’s hard to tell if there is another person already lying in the bed of the truck.

One group that may think of striking: Students. A majority of the demonstrators appeared to be young, and they may have been the targets of police brutality. Even if not, the students are much better organized than most other groups. And, at 16,17, 18, who didn’t mind a day off from school?

I talked to some street toughs who wash windows at a busy corner. After evading the question of what they did yesterday, it seems they had their fair share of destruction. They said demonstrators, in fact, did come to this part of town (I think they were talking about themselves), but I did not see any massive destruction. I promised them lunch for more answers. (Don’t tell my journalists union back home that I pay for information.)

It seems that retaliations ran high against businesses that did remain open in defiance against “dead ville” orders. One cellular kiosk was literally picked up and thrown into a busy street and then set on fire.

Naive statement of the day comes from the Associated Press: "It's very sad, because I did not expect destruction and vandalism," said Thibault Nana, the head of a small political party, the Popular Call for Democracy, which organized the demonstration to protest the high cost of living. "But as I always say, it doesn't take much to make a hungry man crazy." (Note to AP: The city Bobo-Dioulasso contains two hyphenated words. Think Czecho-Slovakia.)

For some reason, it should be said that Nana supported Blaise Compaore during the 2005 elections. It should also be noted he was on the radio yesterday exhorting people to come out and demonstrate against high prices. Well aware of the damage caused around the country by last week’s riots, Nana defended those actions by stating hungry people can do crazy things while being mocked by others driving by in gleaming vehicles.

As the country’s political parties met yesterday to hash out an agreement to bring down prices, Ouagadougou’s Mayor Simon Compoare was manning the barricades. A photo in the local paper showed the city’s diminutive mayor with a cell phone in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, surrounded by security police and presumably barking out orders. When a pair of local reporters approached him for a quote, he barked: It will have to be later, I don’t have the time.

It provided an interesting contrast between a somewhat distressed Compaore out on the streets and a meeting that look like it could have taken place at some Disney World hotel.

The governmental meeting – and the photo of Simon – showed to me the divide between those in power (including those standing next to men with guns) and those without power seemed about as insurmountable as could be in its present iteration. For all the bluster from the opposition about how the government had done nothing but watch prices rise these past few months, where were other parties and their ideas even two weeks ago. Even after last week’s riots, ideas were scarce. Like administrators, they only jumped during a time of crisis. Is that what we would call exhibiting good leadership?

No comments: