Posts Tagged 'Burkina Faso'

Africa snapshot: Burkina Faso

Tucked between Mali and Niger in the Sahel region of western Africa, Burkina Faso is perhaps one of Africa’s least known countries. It also one of the poorest nations in the world.

Burkina Faso has the region’s largest elephant population, and vast game preserves home to lions, hippos and antelope. The culture dates back to at least the 13th century. Despite the rich history and culture, tourism remains undeveloped – the main industries are agriculture and gold mining.

Burkina Faso is host to this week’s Pandemic Response Tabletop Exercise.

Population: 16.3 million. Nearly 65 percent of the population is younger than age 25.

Capital city: Ouagadougou (Wah-guh-doo-goo). Want to sound like a local? Just call it “Ouaga.”

Religion: Predominantly Muslim, but most residents also adhere to traditional African beliefs.

Language: French is the official language, but the indigenous Moore language is more widely spoken.

Education: The literacy rate is just 15 percent for females and 30 percent for males. Ouagadougou University, the country’s first institute of higher learning, opened in 1974.

National motto: “Unity, Progress, Liberty.” The words “Burkina Faso” loosely translate to  “Land of Honest of Men” or “Land of Upright People.”

U.S. partnerships: Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Training and Assistance program, which focuses on military training for multinational peacekeeping missions, as well as the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which aims to enhance counterterrorism capabilities. In fiscal year 2011, the U.S. government provided $22.5 million in assistance to Burkina Faso.

“Lonely Planet” says: “Standing at the geographical heart of West Africa, Burkina Faso (formerly Haute or Upper Volta, or just Burkina to the locals) is the sort of place that captures the imagination – how many of your friends back home even know that Burkina Faso exists?”

Sources: CIA FactBook Burkina Faso, U.S. Department of State Background Note – Burkina Faso, Oxfam Cool Planet Guidebook Burkina Faso, Lonely Planet Travel Guide

This is the latest in our “Africa Snapshot” series, which takes a brief look at the countries in the AFRICOM area of operations. Click here for previous posts.


Dispatch from Africa: Driving in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso

MC1 Steve Owsley, a journalist with U.S. Africa Command, is covering the Burkina Faso Pandemic Disaster Response Tabletop Exercise. The exercise, which runs May 14-18, 2012, brings together representatives from African nations, international aid organizations, and AFRICOM to practice preparation and planning in the event of a pandemic disaster, such as an influenza pandemic. MC1 Owsley sent us this dispatch as a glimpse into everyday life in Burkina Faso. Look for his stories on the tabletop exercise coming soon to our website. Read a short intro to the event here.

15 May 2012
MC1 Steve Owsley
U.S. Africa Command

The flight deck of the an aircraft carrier has been described as a chaotic and dangerous ballet: hundreds of moving parts and people, but everyone knows where they are supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing. I’ve never seen anything like it — until I saw how people drive in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.

The roads were pretty good. They aren’t nearly as complicated as roads in the United States or Europe. Typically, they consist of a broken center line to separate two lanes of traffic and solid white lines on the left and right edges to show where the road ends.

While the roads sound simple, navigating them is not.

I was lucky to be with a group with professional hired drivers. Typically, these drivers were young men who had been driving for years. They were friendly, professional and absolutely essential to getting around in Bobo-Dioulasso.

The traffic is a mixture of cars, motorcycles, motor scooters, bicycles and carts pulled by both people and small burros.

Somehow, everyone seems to co-exist peacefully. There’s a sort of unspoken cooperation that keeps traffic moving with nearly no confrontation. Our professional drivers would lightly tap the horn to let a scooter driver know we were approaching. Without hand gestures or yelling, both SUV drivers and bicyclists took and yielded the right of way.

In the apparent chaos of the traffic, you see a pattern emerge: Everyone seems to know where they belong.

That being said, I wouldn’t want to inject myself into the traffic tangle. It made me appreciate our driver, who calmly eased our vehicle among the bicyclist, motorcycles, scooters and carts. If it sounds chaotic, it’s nothing compared to what it looks like if you’re seeing it for the first time.

Ouagadougou by Bus

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By Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs

Each day during much of FLINTLOCK 10, those of us assigned to the Multinational Coordination Center would travel by bus from our hotels in Ouagadougou through the outskirts of the city to Camp Baangre near the village of Kamboinse. Morning and evening, dozens of exercise participants from more than a dozen different countries would make that 45 minute drive and for many it was a priceless glimpse into daily Burkina daily life.

Ouagadougou is a city of more than a million inhabitants and has traffic typical of any modern capital. Fortunately we would travel opposite the normal flow of Burkinabe commuters. So each morning and evening we would pass long lines of cars and trucks that would give way to carts of wood, stones, sand, vegetables or other goods drawn by jaded donkeys or pushed by weary young men as we moved away from the city. Often our progress would be slowed by a donkey or goat loose in the road or a group of men trying to move an exceptionally heavy cart. There were also the buses full of people with boxes, bundles, suit cases, chicken cages bikes, piled high, defying gravity, on top.

And everywhere were people, young and old, on bicycles and motorcycles. Women in colorful dresses with a baby strapped to their backs or with a toddler clutching her back. Men in traditional outfits that would billow in the wind or three or four teenagers balanced precariously on a single bike.

Once I expressed my amazement about a young lady who rode by on a bike with a large platter of papayas balanced on her head and a baby on her back and the Nigerian officer sitting next to me snickered and said, “Brother, this is Africa.”

Along the side of the road, there was the constant movement of people walking. We would see the mass of bright African cloths with an occasional glimpse of Bob Marley or Barrack Obama from the back of a t-shirt. We would see groups of children going to school and often one or two would break away from the crowd to run waving after the bus.

What has always amazed American visitors is the ability of many African women to balance almost anything on their heads. Sacks of grain, tubs full of shoes or toys, bundles of wood, trays of fruit, bags of cloths, a broken bench are just a few of the things I saw conveyed on the heads walking or riding past the bus. Or there were the groups of four or five teenage girls standing in a circle gossiping, each with a plateau of mangoes or papayas poised on their braids.
Behind the people we would see the shops and stands selling everything imaginable. It was like driving through a shopping center with themes that would change by the block. There was the block with the furniture stores. Row upon row of couches, love seats or recliners on display on the side of the road and trestle tables piled high with fifteen or twenty twin sized mattresses. Next would be the hardware stores with metal gates, electric fans, bricks and lumber for sale. At the next corner there were people hawking cloths, toys, fruits, vegetables, grain. All the necessities of life seemed available along this single stretch of highway.

Usually our bus driver would put on some sort of entertainment for us. Sometimes it was African music videos. Other times it would be African sitcoms that would leave those who understood French hysteric with laughter and leaving those who don’t understand French wondering what was so funny.

On my last day on the bus I was surrounded my officers from Mali, Senegal, Nigeria, Morocco and Burkina Faso, and the driver put on a Kenny Rogers CD. I thought it as an odd choice until they all energetically began singing “you picked a fine time to leave me Lucille.”

Then I remembered the words of the Nigerian officer, the one who was singing loudest about his four hungry children and his crop in the field.

“Brother, this is Africa,” he said.

(Note: Eric Elliott, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

Finding Common Ground in Africa

On 5/12/2010 5:12:11 PM Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty wrote:

(Note: Sergeant McCarty, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, is blogging from Camp Bangare in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, while supporting Exercise Flintlock, a multi-national military exercise conducted in various Trans-Saharan countries to develop military capacity of African, American and European participants.)

I arrived in Burkina Faso May 10 in support of Exercise Flintlock. Being my first time to the country, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was excited to be part of the union of so many countries in the exercise and to experience different ways of life, but I have to admit a vast change in culture can be a bit un-nerving for me sometimes.

I awoke the morning after my arrival and headed down the restaurant for breakfast, not sure what I’d find. I entered a large room to find a plethora of different patterned uniforms, Americans eating raisin bran flakes next to Malians eating eggs and Frenchmen eating croissants. They sat together like family, talking in French and English, as they enjoyed breakfast. I stood, just observing for a few seconds before I went on. I ate thinking of how a meal can bring people from all walks of life together.

Later that day when lunchtime rolled around, I made my way with a fellow American to check out what African cuisine would be served at the Camp Bangare where the exercise was taking place. The venue was an open tent outside, filled with large round tables seating eight or more people. The dishes were served buffet style and as I made my way through the line I met an African-born U.S. Army lieutenant serving as a translator. He explained to me the different dishes, like yam, and how it is a starchy staple for many. Chicken, rice, potatoes, avocado and pineapple were a few of the other I items dished up. I put a few things to try on my plate and looked for a seat.

I had lost my American colleague, but found an open seat at a table of mainly Africans. We talked and enjoyed the food and each other’s company. I learned a little about each person I spoke with and discovered any concerns I may have had were gone. It seemed again that food was a common denominator for us.

I realized that despite our differences, we all shared at least something – a career devoted to service, the hope and determination for a more stable and secure Africa, and of course, a meal that brought us all together around the table to learn more about each other, make new friends, and eat whatever may be the cuisine du jour.


USAFRICOM-related news stories for May 7, 2010 (From the Beltway/From and About Africa)

Recent Publications on Nigeria, Sahel-Sahara, Tanzania, Kenya, DR Congo, Burkina Faso

Goodluck Jonathan sworn in as Nigeria’s president (Associated Press)

LAGOS, Nigeria – Nigeria’s acting leader Goodluck Jonathan was sworn in Thursday as president of Africa’s most populous country, as the body of his predecessor was flown north for a traditional Muslim burial hours after he died following a lengthy illness.

Sahel: The Flintlock 10 Practical Phase Has Begun (African Bulletin)

The ongoing “Operation Flintlock 2010” is an event that will enable participating countries to demonstrate their commitment in combating terrorism and crime in the Sahel-Sahara region.

Africa’s Generation Gap (Wall Street Journal)

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania—Africa’s founding fathers were national heroes, many of whom risked their lives fighting for independence. Today’s African young people respect, but no longer revere, the heroes of old. They want good governance, education and good jobs in their own countries.

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