Danger in a visitor’s homeland

Kambire recounts strife in Burkina Faso

Elodie Reed

By Elodie Reed

Staff Writer

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — The recent military coup d’état in Ouagadougou, the capital of western African country Burkina Faso, seems incredibly far away from northern Vermont. But for Jonas Kambire, it hits very close — just a two-hour drive from his home village.

Kambire, 20, is staying with host Kate Larose in St. Albans for his second summer. The two met over a decade ago when, from 2002 and 2004, Larose was a Peace Corps volunteer in Tioyo, Burkina Faso.

When Kambire got to visit Larose in 2014, he explored major U.S. cities, read many books, watched movies, played soccer, learned more English and studied for his Baccalaureate exam.

He then returned to Burkina Faso for his final year of school, and in October 2014, the government of his country’s president of 27 years, Blaise Compaoré, was toppled. A street-movement removed Compaoré, who was planning to change the country’s constitution so that he could stay in office.

Following last fall’s coup, interim leader Michel Kafando, a former foreign minister and United Nations’s ambassador, replaced Compaoré’s government, and a temporary kind of parliament called the National Transition Council was installed. New elections were planned for Oct. 11.

“When the president of transition came, I think every[one] tried to be better than when the last president was there,” said Kambire on Thursday.

In the meantime, Kambire returned to the U.S. this past summer to visit Larose a second time, to apply to Canadian colleges, and – after he visited to get a sense of Western universities – St. Michael’s College. As he has continued working on his English skills, playing soccer with FC International adult soccer team in Essex and waiting for acceptance letters, Kambire received some news last Wednesday: a military coup took place in Ouagadougou, Kafando and his interim prime minister were abducted, and the coup leader, General Gilbert Diendéré – a close ally of Compaoré – took power.

“I call[ed] my family – everybody is [OK],” said Kambire. He has four sisters, one brother, parents, cousins, uncles and aunts back in Burkina Faso. While some of his family is in the more rural village of Tioyo, others are in the country’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, and one cousin is in Ouagadougou.

Kambire is following the latest developments online through Facebook, Google News, television channel France 26 and his favorite home country’s newspaper, Le Pays Selwaya. He’s also tried to be in touch by cell phone with members of his family, though as of Thursday afternoon, he hadn’t spoken with his brother or his father.

News travels differently around Burkina Faso, said Kambire. He called his older sister living in Bobo-Dioulasso (called Bobo for short) and told her to turn on the news. “Something’s happened in the capital,” he told her.

Kambire said he told his sister, as well as a cousin living in the city, to try and leave. “Bobo is now dangerous – the military will encourage the population to follow [them],” said Kambire.

His sister, at least, stayed, and Kambire learned that she didn’t go to work Thursday, and that buses stopped running in and out of the city. “Everything stopped,” he said.

In Kambire’s opinion, his family is most safe in Tioyo. He and his family living there are ethnically Lobi, a people originally from Lake Chad who moved south through Ghana, Burkina Faso, and the Ivory Coast. They historically hunted elephants for meat and other products such as ivory, but since the 1950s, after colonization and ivory hunting wiped out the local population, Lobi people now farm.

And in that more rural area, danger from the military coup is less likely to reach people – Kambire said Tioyo is a two-hour drive away from the country’s capital.

“I think in the village is the best place … when something happens,” he said. “If my sister goes to the village, I think that will be a good thing for her, but now, she can’t.”

One cousin that Kambire spoke to, who is an airport policeman, said Ouagadougou is shut down. Though the airport – and all the surrounding businesses – are closed, Kambire said his cousin had to stay there.

“He has to stay to protect the airport,” said Kambire. His cousin told him how he was struggling to find any food to eat with everything shut down. A national curfew was imposed by the military between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. each night beginning Thursday.

“Everything is closed,” said Kambire. “People are afraid to be killed, [my cousin] said.”

According to the latest news reports from Reuters and BBC, 10 people have been killed thus far as a result of pro- and anti-coup protests.

In the meantime, a regionally drafted deal to peacefully roll back the coup was proposed Sunday by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It included a ban on members of former president Compaoré’s party standing in elections rescheduled for Nov. 22, releasing transitional president Michel Kafando and his prime minister, and reinstating that transition government until the November elections.

General Gilbert Diendéré, who said he wants to stay in power until Nov. 22, rejected the deal. The deal is expected to be further discussed this week.

In Kambire’s opinion, allowing Diendéré to stay in power will lead back to what Compaoré installed for a government – an autocracy.

“The last president [did] the same thing and said, I did a coup and will give [the government] to the population later,” and then didn’t follow through on that promise, said Kambire. “I think this is not a good [approach].”

And Kambire, like the people of the street-led coup last year, would like to see democracy in Burkina Faso. For now, Kambire said he and his family would wait, and that he would try to receive a college education in social justice, and eventually, go to law school.

“I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I hope everything will be OK. That is my hope and my wish,” said Kambire. “Tomorrow is another day.”

  • Siobhan Perkins

    Burkina Faso is in West Africa not East Africa.