A few more pictures from the east

This post is basically some more pictures from the last field trip. I’ve been pretty busy since, first with a field trip with ERIKS to Kombissiri and another partner of theirs, and then a weekend trip to Koudougou. More about that later.

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This is what typical Burkinabe rural housing looks like, at least in the regions I’ve visited so far. The houses are usually built from artisanal bricks, wood and hay. This is not a village, nor a single family’s house. There are several families belonging to the same extended family that share the inner court between the houses.


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The market of Fada N’Gourma


Between the actual field visits we stayed overnight in capital of the eastern region, Fada N’Gourma. We had some time to kill, so I went for a pickup promenade with our driver, and later for a stroll in the market area. A nice thing about Fada is the large number of very big trees you see in the background in the picture above. I asked Bargo what they are, and he said som long and hard to recall name that sounded like latin. He told me they were planted along main streets in most cities in then Upper Volta and have remained since. One reason you don’t see them as much in Ouaga is that they’ve been cut down to liberate space for enlargement of streets.


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Along the shore of the dam, these vultures where devouring the remainder of a pig carcass.
As we got closer with the pickup they all took off into the air and flew around the car.
Vultures are an endangered and hence protected species in Burkina Faso. You’ll typically see a lone vulture circling above the fields, but I hadn’t seen this many in one place before.



Gold and the Faso

The industry of Burkina Faso is dominated by two goods. Cotton and gold. Cotton used to be the dominating export, but gold overtook it a few years back and made the country the fourth biggest exporter of gold in Africa. Most of the gold is extracted by international enterprises and almost 100% of the Burkinabe gold is exported to Switzerland. The gold industry is an important political issue. Historically, The Burkinabe state has been quite bad at getting good deals with the companies that extract gold. The industry has caused a lot of environmental and social problems to communities while the state hasn’t collected taxes to the extent it could have and hasn’t been able to control the amounts of gold produced. There’s a story I’ve heard a few times here about how the French used to smuggle the gold they had produced here back to France. When a certain amount of fairly concentrated gold ore had been extracted, the machine treating it would break down, with the gold inside it. Because these machines were very high-tech, they supposedly had to be brought back to France to be repaired. There was no way to control the amount of gold inside when the machine was broken down, but somehow it always came back nearly empty. The undeclared gold stayed in Europe. I have no idea about the degree of truth to that story. However, it’s a rather accurate analogy for how the mining companies have taken the gold out of the ground and left very little for the people of Burkina Faso.

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An artisanal gold mining site in eastern Burkina Faso

There isn’t only the industrial mining sector in Burkina. There’s also the artisanal part of it.Having studied political science,  I am very interested in institutional issues such as whether multinationals pay taxes or not, but the artisanal gold sector is more closely related to what I am doing in Burkina. It is estimated that as much as a million people are employed in the artisanal and semi-mechanized gold mines. Artisanal mines are pretty much what they sound like. You dig a hole. You go down the hole. You try to find gold. You sell the gold and get money. We visited one in Matiacoali last time we went.


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The miners work in teams of 3-4 on each shaft. The one who’s down in the hole can pull a rope that makes a can filled with pebbles sound if he wants to communicate something to his surface colleagues.


As I have mentioned before, it is not uncommon to find children crawling on the narrow tunnels of the mines. They come for several reasons. Some are sent by their parents who can’t supply for them, others take a shot at earning a quick buck. The majority of people working the artisanal mines are adults. Needless to say, work is hard and dangerous, and you get paid when the gold shows up. If it does indeed show up. One young man we spoke to said it’s been three months and no gold. It was starting to feel hopeless to him.
Safety is a major problem. Each hole is operated more or less independently of the surrounding ones. Once a certain level is reached, shafts are dug horizontally. After a while, there’s a widespread system of tunnels, and collapse becomes all the more likely. This happens on a regular basis. With very limited possibilities of being rescued, many of them will die beneath the crumbled masses of soil.



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The rope is connected to a winch that’s used to hoist both the extracted soil and the person who’s down there. The tube to the left is a ventilation device. Without it, there isn’t enough fresh air for the miners to work.


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Women were in minority on the mining site. The ones we met were either cooking or, as seen here, jigging to separate the soil that may contain gold from what doesn’t.


I was interested in how labour is organized. Bargo explained that usually, there’s someone who invests the money that’s needed. That person buys the rather limited materials needed and puts his employees on a food and accommodation “payroll”. The employees dig until they find gold. The gold is usually found in very small grains, so it needs to be jigged (washed out of) the soil that surrounds it. When enough gold has been found to go to the market, it is sold, and profits are shared according to the agreement between the miners and the employer. I may draw a rather negative picture here, but a lot of miners can make a good salary from the mines. That is not to belittle in a country where a well payed job, or even a job, is not gonna fall out of the clear blue sky. Especially not if you live in the countryside of the poor east. Nevertheless it is problematic that children are drawn to the mines instead of going to school. Although my colleagues have actively targeted the mines in the municipality, we did meet some youngsters who shouldn’t be there. My colleague Daniel told me there used to be lots more. Just like the internationals will probably have to pay more taxes soon, hopefully fewer children will opt for the mines as education proves to be a better way towards a decent life. It’s not going to be fast. But it’s happening.

The short one to Bilanga

This week we went on two separate field trips. One over the day to Bilanga and a regular one to Matiacoali. Internet has been behaving very badly the last few weeks, so I’ve been struggling to put photos up. I tried to instagram a clip three days ago. It’s still charging. Finally the gods of the www have shown some sympathy.
I thought I would honor them with these pictures. This is from the first, one-day trip to a village called Tendane in the Bilanga Municipality.

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An unexpected advantage of my child rights internship is all the things I learn about agriculture and plants. Onions (the main part of the field above) want dry, sandy soil and not too much water. In two to three months the onions will be ready for harvest. If the rainy season feels like an early start, they may all rot in the field. Let’s not kill any spiders before June. On the sides, there’s corn and if I remember correctly, what you can see in the foreground is okra used to make the gombo sauce in Burkina’s national dish tôt.


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”Oh, a green tomato, haven’t really tasted them before”. Turns out it was a kind of squash.


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We attended the village gathering after visiting the fields. My colleagues are sitting on my left, giving information and asking questions about how things are going. One challenge that was raised was the access to markets for vegetables. Some years there are several buyers coming along, wanting to buy large quantities. Other years there, no one comes to the village. There is no good way of preserve fresh vegetables, which means a good part of them will perish in lack of access to a suitable market.



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We came to Tendane to examine the possibility for a new potential project of ODE’s. Agriculture here as shown in the pictures is not supported by us through any project as of now. Although we do give support to the school canteen through PAPPDE BM II, which is the project I am on. In short it works like this. If the school offers children a decent meal, parents are much more likely to send them there. The kids are also much more likely to focus and learn what they are supposed to. ODE gives money to build a storage room and buy grains, such as sorghum or millet. The grains are bought just after harvest, when prices are low and sold at the end of the dry season, when prices reach their annual maximum. The surplus is sufficient to run the canteen for a full school year.





FESPACO continued!

In this year’s edition of the FESPACO, there were two movies with a connection to Sweden. This is surprizing as there aren’t a lot of connections between these two countries overall. I’ve never met a Burkinabe in Sweden and as far I have understood, the Burkinabe diaspora is tiny. Regardless, in this tiny diaspora there happens to be two directors of cinema. Of course wanting to promote this connection, the Swedish embassy borrowed the lovely garden of the Goethe Institute and held an open air movie night for each of the movies. Because the number of Swedes present in Burkina is very small, I’ve heard around 30 people, all the Swedes willing to participate plus a good number of Burkinabe guests could easily be fitted into the garden.

The first movie is called Medan vi lever (while we’re alive) and is made by Dani Koyaté. He is Burkinabe but lives in Sweden since 2007. The movie is set in Sweden and in Ghana. It tells the story of the up-and-coming rapper Ibbe (played by actual Swedish rapper Adam Kanyama) who is struggling with his relationship to his mother and with his intercultural identity as well as his rapping ambitions. I liked it a lot. Is somehow feels as a very Swedish movie although it doesn’t tell a the kind of story you’d often see in one. Plus there’s a lot of humor in it relating to the clash between culture and age of it’s personalities.

The second movie is called Ouaga Girls, directed by Therese Dahlberg Traore. She has a parent from each country and grew up both in Ouagadougou and on the island of Öland in Sweden. She also went to the International School of Ouagadougou, where I play floorball on Wednesday evenings, a few blocks from where I live. Ouaga Girls is a documentary about a group of girls studying to become garage mechanics. The roles of men and women remain fairly traditional I Burkina, and these girls are likely to be part of the first dozens of women mechanics in the country. We get to follow the girls during a few years in school, at home and when they hang out outside of school. The movie does not have an obvious message, there are many themes that are up for discussion. I brought my friend Yaya and we met both the director and two of the girls who were in the movie. If you know Swedish you can read more about the movie here.
Ouaga girls was shown last Monday, actually two days after the Fespaco ended. That brings me to the story of how the Fespaco ended for me. Both Thursday and Friday night I went to the Fespaco HQ festical area to meet up with some friends, have dinner and listen to live music. On Thursday I met my Ghanaian friend Innocent. We had Attiéké, an Ivorian dish based on cassava, in the big food court of the area. After enjoying a beer and watching a Reggae band, we ended up walking a good part of the way home through the festivity-spirited city.

Friday night was similar, hanging out in one of the festival area restaurants.
We had some brochette and fries, but afterwards I got this weird sensation. It wasn’t really stomach related, more like a weird ache in the muscles. It slowly got worse, so I asked Yaya to drive me home. I went straight to bed but woke up feeling very nauseous and probably woke the other person staying in the house up by very unpleasant sounds. The muscle and joint ache had gotten worse and together with fever made it very hard to get any sleep. I slumbered through the night and woke up not feeling any better. This was Saturday, the closing day of the Fespaco. I overheard parts of the distribution of prizes and closing ceremony from the TV outside my room. It was bitter, but all in all I am really glad I was here for the Fespaco.


I am lucky to be in Ouagadougou during one of its most significant cultural events – the FESPACO. It’s a biannual Pan-African film festival to which directors from all over the continent come with their latest and greatest movie achievements to compete for the golden stallion. For the inhabitants of Ouaga – cineastes or not –  it’s a great festivity with loads of people coming to town and uncountable side events. Last Saturday was the grand inauguration at the Stade du peuple. I went with my colleague Moumouna. Because a lot of people were expected to come, we went well ahead of time. In January 2016 there was a terrorist attack at a hotel and a restaurant in Central Ouagadougou that left about twenty people dead. It has caused a lot of fear for more of the like, and security at public events is rigorous. This was no exception, and this time they wouldn’t even let the people who walk around selling refreshments and snacks in. Usually you’re never more than a few meters from a person who can resupply you in gum, napkins, cell phone recharges, fruit and, for some reason I haven’t figured out yet, washing detergent.

After a good hour of impatient waiting in the sun, the ceremony started. It contained a great mix of performances. Traditional music, acrobatics, dancing and men dressed as warriors riding horses on one hand. Modern music, speeches and a stand up comedian on the other. The Ivory Coast is this year’s special invitee country of the festival. They had a large delegation and one of their ministers made a speech. The Ivory Coast also provided what seemed to be the highlight of the inauguration for many of the visitors, the concert with the reggae artist Alpha Blondy. Judging by how well the Burkinabe knew the lyrics and from what I’ve read about him, he seems to be a living legend in West Africa. Some of his music is political and refers very directly (and critically) to political events such as the assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo. The Zongo event and Thomas Sankara are probably on the Burkinabe popular references toplist, so I will have to get back to them in future posts. However, there was also a short stage appearance of Burkinabe rapper Smockey, who was very active in the insurrection movement that overthrew the ex-president Blaise Compaoré.

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On Sunday I first went to see my friend Yaya who is a volunteer at the Fespaco headquarters and we had lunch with his colleagues. There is no cinema there but a kind of fair with lots of restaurants and handicraft shops. After some fries and some well needed cold drinks I walked over to one of the venues, the Ciné Burkina, located in the most central part of town. I wanted to see a movie called Frontières. It’s one of the Burkinabe movies that’s expected to go far this year. It tells the story of a group of women travelling from Bamako in Mali to Abdijan in Ivory Coast, and what they experience along the way.

Unfortunately, I was far from the only one who had came to see it. In fact, I was so far from being the only one that the cinema got full just before I was going to get in. Although fortunately, most of the movies can be seen on several occasions. Hanging around in the lobby, waiting for the next show, I was invited to share a Brakina (Burkina’s number one beer) by a French guy who was covering the festival for Canal+ Africa. He and his team had gotten in among the last ones to see the movie, but he didn’t feel like standing up for almost two hours, so he left. After another hour the next round of movies were starting and I chose rather randomly to see a movie from Tanzania called Aïsha. A great thing about going to the movies here is that before the movie starts there’s live music in the auditorium, usually traditional Burkinabe music. If I was in a good mood and full of expectations when the movie started, that would soon change. The movie told a dreadful story of a Tanzanian woman getting raped and how she was stigmatized while trying to get her perpetrators judged. The end titles announced that the movie was part of an initiative to sensitize people about rape being a huge problem in many African countries, and that only a few percent of rapes committed ever see a perpetrator facing any punishment.

Monday was my second attempt to see Frontières. This time at the French Institute, which I had no idea was such a huge institution in this city. It has a restaurant, libraries, two movie theaters, a language learning centre and more. When we got there, a good half hour before the movie would start, the line was already making its way half way around the inner yard. After 45 minutes of standing in line, and with only a few people in front of us, a woman from the institute announced that the movie theatre was “full to the point of busting”. Many things are negotiable here. This apparently wasn’t. So we waited for the next show: A Malian movie called Wulu. Having learned from the experience, we only spent a little time at one of the nearby festival areas watching a group of girls playing reggae music, before getting back in line. This time we got in.

Once again, the open air auditorium was full to the point of leaving no chair empty. Wulu tells the story of a Malian man in his twenties working on a long-haul mini bus across the country. When his chances of advancing in the business are eliminated by the son of the boss, he decides to start smuggling drugs for a living. He starts earning a lot of money, helps his sister out of prostitution and buy them a house to live in. And then about one hour into the movie, there’s a power cut. In real life now, not in the movie. No one was surprised, as this happens on a daily basis in Burkina Faso. Everyone was confident the institute had some backup solution, which was confirmed by the lights that were turned on after a few seconds of darkness. A few minutes went by. People started wondering what was going on. After a while the woman from the French institute addressed the crowd. She explained that it wasn’t technically possible to fast forward the movie to where we had stopped watching. Instead they would have to start it over from the beginning. Needless to say, people were less than satisfied by the message. About twenty people went up to the projector to check with the technicians if what she said could actually be true. We stayed another ten minutes to see if somehow it would be resolved. When it wasn’t, we left. As did about 80 percent of the crowd. Some day, I’ll download Wulu and find out what happened to the up and coming drug smuggler.

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