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Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

– Domani Spero

 

One of our readers pointed us to this MamaCongo blogpost (thanks A!).  We’ve requested and was granted permission by the author to excerpt it here. She is the country representative of the Mennonite Central Committee,  a nongovernment organization operating in Burkina Faso, and a marvelous storyteller. In the post below, she tells us a slice of life amidst a crisis in a foreign land. Reminds us of Four Globetrotters’ blogpost about what an FSO and her colleagues went through during the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis in 2012 (see Attack here).

The following post from MamaCongo is a first person account of an American expat during the recent  revolution in Burkina Faso, a land-locked country in the center of West Africa with one of the highest poverty rates in the world.  According to Diplomatic Security’s Crime and Safety Report, Burkina Faso was also rocked by several months of protests, civil unrest, and lawlessness in 2011. In the event of lawlessness or protests by armed groups, including such incidents perpetrated by soldiers and police, the official advice is to seek a safe location, remain indoors, and shelter in place.  The shelter in place advice, of course, that does not work, if the house you’re in is a target for burning, and looting,, as was the case here.

 

There is a shoutout in the blogpost for Kristin, an FSO at our embassy in Ouagadougou.  For all the consular officers and duty officers out there who seldom get a mention for their work, this one’s for you. And those French, by heavens, they remain cool and collected with smokes and drinks even in a crisis?

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Burkina Faso’s Revolution. Or the day mama jumped in the pool fully clothed.

by Sarah Sensamaust
excerpted
from MamaCongo

It’s taken us a bit of time to process Burkina Faso’s recent uprising, or revolution, or coup, or junta, or whatever you want to call it. Granted we’re not Burkinabé nor were we anywhere near the front lines, but our expat lives were a bit shaken up. I mean, we’re not in Congo anymore so life should be easy peasy for goodness sake.

In short, Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s longtime president of 27 years, decided he wanted to change the constitution to extend term limits. But folks had another idea. As in, on the day of the vote thousands of people mobilized to stop it.

On that morning, we planned to introduce the director of our organization (who was visiting from the States – perfect timing) to participants we work with at the prison. No big deal, Adam would take him in the morning before the vote results were announced. I’d stay back in the office and hold down the fort. Of course no one else was dumb enough to come to work that day. So there I sat alone while they headed off to the prison.

About the time they arrived at the prison, the city exploded. Tens of thousands of people protested and then attacked the parliament building setting it on fire. There was gunfire, then helicopters dropped tear gas. I spent the morning pacing up and down the office hallway. Convincing myself my eyes were burning from really intense dust and not tear gas. I also sent messages to Jill because how can this be happening and I have no one to talk to?!

I won’t mention how many paces it took me to remember my children playing outside a few blocks away. But I did eventually call Anastasie and ask her to take the girls inside and close the windows. Clearly she had already done this. Because tear gas.

Meanwhile at the prison, a mob had gathered outside and began banging on the doors, so needless to say, Adam and our director were stuck inside. I’ll keep this exciting part about Adam short due to his issue with reading long posts and all: Prison guards quickly change into military uniforms. Everyone running. Adam stuck inside. Me thinking it’s slightly funny he’s got himself and our director trapped in a prison during a coup. Me waiting a long time, not thinking it’s so funny anymore. Crowds getting bigger. Me making lots of phone calls and driving back and forth through protestors to attempt to free them from prison. They eventually escape with zero help from me. 30 minutes later factory across from the prison is looted and burned. Revolt later that day in the prison and 3 people killed. Us breathing sigh of relief.

The stuck in prison situation is the kind of experience I’m happy to have had when it’s over. It was equal parts tense and exciting and it makes for a good story. All’s well that ends well. We are safe and sound at home. Boy was that crazy! So glad this whole revolution thing is over. I put up a semi-clever post on Facebook with a synopsis of the day. We’re proud of ourselves for distracting our children from the gunfire. They didn’t even notice! We’re so cool. Goodnight.

Compaoré resigned the next morning and left the country in a heavily armored motorcade. A general in the military was then named interim leader. Turns out this guy was not so popular and the city erupted once again. Oh wait, this revolution thing isn’t over yet?

A tactic that proved quite effective the day before was the burning and looting of former Compaoré government official’s houses along with those of his relatives and friends. A house a few blocks in front of our’s was burned as well as another house behind us. We got word that our next door neighbor’s house, with whom we share a wall, was next on the loot and burn list. A mob was on its way. Our neighbor on the other side yelled for us to quick get out of our house.

It’s safe to say this was not my calmest moment in motherhood. I went into full panic mode and ushered my children next door – to the safe neighbor’s house. We’ve been down this leave-the-house-and-all-of-your-belongings road before in Congo, so I grabbed their growth chart off the wall, the baby quilt and the princess dresses. Because I can hide from our children the fact that our house has been burned to the ground, but they’re definitely going to notice if their princess dresses are missing.

We took shelter next door. And again the pacing sets in. At this point we crossed a line we had never crossed before. Our children were scared and crying and asking what was going on. Guards were gathered in the road. And everyone was just waiting for the inevitable to happen. It didn’t ease our minds that a document had been looted from the president’s brother’s house, photocopied in mass and distributed throughout the city listing the addresses of houses that the president had bought for his friends. Our neighbor’s house number was #2 on the list.

I kind of just wanted the looters and burners to show up so it could just happen and be over. Someone suggested I call the embassy. After 6 years in Congo, I have their emergency number on speed dial. I don’t know how many times in Kinshasa I had to call an annoyed 18-year-old Marine and explain how we got our car booted in the middle of the road again.

Here in Ouagadougou it’s a kind woman named Kristin, who bless her heart, must have been a 911 operator or worked at a suicide prevention hotline in a previous life. She was so sweet and encouraging and for the first time since this whole ordeal began, I was talking with someone to whom I didn’t need to show a brave face. I started to tear up, so I took myself into my neighbor’s garage and had a good cry with dear, sweet Kristin. (Kristin, I hope you never read this. I would like to remain the anonymous, unstable expat caller.)

For whatever reason the mob had yet to come and it’s clear that pacing at our neighbor’s house all day was not a good plan for anyone. So we scurried across the street to distract our children and let them swim at the pool of our neighborhood French compound.

And folks, I kid you not. Those Frenchies were smoking and drinking and having a grand old time behind their wall, not 20 feet away from our panic attack across the street.

Our girls soon forgot their trauma and swam and joined in the carefree French time. Meanwhile, Adam and I were poolside sending emails and making hurried phone calls to our organization’s headquarters in the States, all the while keeping an ear out for approaching angry mobs.

At this point, as if our world had not stopped already, I glanced in the pool and Ani was bobbing and gasping for air in the deep end. So naturally, I jump in the pool, in front of all those relaxed French folk – fully clothed, leather clogs and all – to pull that poor girl out.

I swear to you, at this moment another military plane buzzed overhead and after the near-burning of our house and the near-drowning of my child, I took a moment to tread water and have a mini breakdown right there in the pool. I’ll never forget Adam and our director looking down at me, offering hands to help me out. But I just stayed. And treaded water. And cried.

And then my loving husband said, “That was crazy. It was kind of embarrassing that you had to jump in the pool like that to save her, but none of these French people even noticed. No one turned their heads. How are they so cool about everything?!”

I spent the rest of the day sitting by the pool. Sopping wet. You know, because of no spare clothes due to being evacuated from my house and all. Then after the curfew set in (which is announced in the curious way of police going through the streets and shooting in the air) our house was still standing and it was deemed safe to go home.

Our neighbors in question had rallied their burliest male relatives to set up camp outside their house to protect it. We managed to fall asleep that night, but it’s practically impossible to distinguish between the noises of a mob of men guarding a house and a mob of men attacking a house.

We debriefed with the girls and asked them how they felt when we had to leave our house and run next door. Because afterall, they were upset and scared and I don’t want that coming back at us in adolescence.

They didn’t really seem to remember it, so we didn’t press it. They were too distracted and confused about why mama jumped and cried in the pool. “No really, why were you crying in the pool?” they asked, “And why didn’t you put on your bathing suit first?” A full month later, they are still talking about this. “Hey! Remember that time mama jumped in the pool with her clothes on?!”

Thank the lord they’re not asking, “Remember that time we ran screaming from our house because we thought it was going to burn down?”

There’s more.  Read the entire blogpost here via MamaCongo.

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State Dept Issues Burkina Faso Travel Alert (Expires on January 29, 2015)

– Domani Spero

 

We’ve previously blogged about Burkina Faso here (see Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still OnUS Embassy Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso Now on Martial Law; Embassy Staff Shelters in Place; Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos).

Yesterday, after three days of chaos, the State Department issued a Travel Alert informing U.S. citizens of the risks of traveling to Burkina Faso following the fall of the government of  President Compaore:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to or residing in Burkina Faso and recommends U.S. citizens defer all non-essential travel.  This Travel Alert will expire on January 29, 2015.

On October 31, Burkina Faso’s President Compaore resigned.  The status of a transitional government remains unclear.  There are incidents of looting throughout the capital city of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and other parts of the country.

The situation is dynamic and closures or openings of border and airports are likely to change and remain unpredictable for some time.  Currently, land and air borders have been closed.  U.S. citizens should stay informed and abreast of local media reports for land border and airport updates.

U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso may find that at times sheltering in place may be the only and best security option.

U.S. citizens residing in Burkina Faso should remain vigilant and utilize appropriate personal security practices.  Avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations; maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment; be alert and remain aware of your surroundings; and stay abreast of the situation through media outlets.

Read in full here.

Meanwhile –

 

 

 

Yesterday, the State Department expressed concern over the transfer of power in Burkina Faso:

The United States is concerned about the unfolding events in Burkina Faso.  We regret the violence and the loss of life in Burkina Faso and call on all parties to avoid further violence.  We reiterate our call for all parties to follow the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power and holding of democratic elections following the resignation of former President Blaise Compaore.  We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process.

According to Vice News, Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida, who assumed power has been a member of the military for more than 20 years, and served as the second in command of the ex-president’s security regiment. This is apparently, the seventh time a military officer has seized power since Burkina Faso won its independence from France more than 50 years ago. If history is any indication, he may still be around in 2022 in the “land of upright people.”

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Burkina Faso Says Bye Bye Blaise: Martial Law Lifted, Nationwide Curfew, Shelter in Place Still On

– Domani Spero

 

The U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in Burkina Faso. The messages are dated but typically do not carry a timestamp:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore announced in a televised address that he will continue dialogue to form a transitional government after which he will transfer power to a democratically elected president.  He reiterated the message that the government is dissolved and announced that the state of martial law is lifted in all of Burkina Faso.

However, there is currently a 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew nationwide.

The city of Ouagadougou currently appears to be calm, however protesters continue to gather at the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, and at the Place Tiefo Amoro (Station Square) in Bobo-Dioulasso. Crowds and spontaneous protests may also form elsewhere.

Embassy staff continues to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same and to make movements for essential purposes only.

At this time we do not know if civilians have access to the Ouagadougou International Airport. We are monitoring the situation but it is unclear whether flights continue to operate.

 

Meanwhile, today, Burkina Faso said bye-bye Blaise:

 

Enter armed forces chief General Honore Traore:

 

The people celebrates:

 

Former-Prez to Ghana?

 

Meet the new boss:

 

Consequences?

 

Except for the Emergency Message from Embassy Ouagadougou, there is no Travel Warning or Alert issued on Burkina Faso as of this writing. The latest State Department statement is dated October 30, and obviously had been overtaken by events.

The United States welcomes President Compaore’s decision to withdraw a National Assembly bill which would have amended the constitution and allowed him to run for an additional term of office. We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor. We look forward to that transition taking place in 2015. We regret the violence and the loss of life today in Burkina Faso, and call on all parties to avoid further violence. We underscore our commitment to peaceful transitions of power through democratic elections and emphasize neither side should attempt to change the situation through extra-constitutional means.

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US Embassy Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso Now on Martial Law; Embassy Staff Shelters in Place

– Domani Spero

 

The US Embassy in Burkina Faso has made several security messages this past week, warning U.S. citizens of a planned day of protest that started out as a “civil disobedience campaign” on Tuesday, October 28 and followed by a demonstration and an  expected sit-down strike the last two days:

On Wednesday, October 29 it is expected that a demonstration (which was originally planned before the referendum announcement) organized by the Coalition Contre la Vie Chère(Coalition Against a High Cost of Living) will be used by the political opposition as an opportunity to hold a march and gathering in downtown Ouagadougou.

On Thursday, October 30 the National Assembly will reportedly vote on the proposed constitutional change.  The opposition has called for a sit-down strike surrounding the National Assembly building to block voting members from casting their vote.

Earlier today, Embassy Ouagadougou sent out an emergency message that at 9:30 am the U.S. Embassy received reports of demonstrators breaking through police barricades at the National Assembly and that warning shots and teargas have been fired.  Embassy staff was instructed to shelter in place until further notice.

via Google

via Google

Later on October 30, the embassy released the following statement on the enactment of martial law in Burkina Faso:

On Thursday, October 30, President Compaore declared that he is dissolving the government, declaring a state of emergency and enacting martial law.  Embassy staff has been instructed to continue to shelter in place until further notice.  We urge U.S. citizens in Ouagadougou to do the same.

There have been widespread reports of looting throughout Ouagadougou and other parts of the country.

The Ouagadougou International Airport is closed and all flights in and out have been canceled until further notice.

U.S. citizens are urged to remain vigilant and to utilize appropriate personal security practices.  The U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.  The U.S. Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to maintain situational awareness and exercise good judgment.  Be alert and remain aware of your surroundings.  Stay informed and abreast of local media reports.

The United States established diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso (then called Upper Volta) in 1960, following its independence from France.  Blaise Compaoré has been President of Burkina Faso since 1987. CBS describes President Compaoré as a graduate of Muammar Qaddafi’s World Revolutionary Center (a.k.a. Harvard for tyrants).  His country has an unemployment rate of 77 percent (ranked 197th in the world.) See Some of the World’s ‘Forever’ Rulers Are in Town — Meet Their Fashionable Ladies (Photos).

According to the State Department’s Fact Sheet, U.S. interests in the country are as follows:

U.S. interests in Burkina Faso are to promote continued democratization and greater respect for human rights and to encourage sustainable economic development. Countering terrorism and strengthening border security are of growing importance in Burkina Faso. The United States and Burkina Faso engage in a number of military training and exchange programs, including in counterterrorism and humanitarian assistance. The country is contributing to the support of U.S. efforts in the Sahel. Burkina Faso is a partner in the Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program for peacekeeping and is a member of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

This is a fast moving event that the Consular Bureau’s Travel Alert or Travel Warning is possibly running wildly down the corridors to get cleared so it can get posted online.  We’ll try to keep tabs on that.  The airport is also closed so any evacuation will have that to tackle.   The U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso is Tulinabo Mushingi, a career diplomat with extensive Africa experience.

Some clips via Twitter:

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Officially In: Tulinabo Mushingi, from S/ES to Burkina Faso

On April 11, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Dr. Tulinabo Salama Mushingi as his next Ambassador to Burkina Faso. The WH released the following brief bio:

Dr. Tulinabo Salama Mushingi, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Counselor, is Deputy Executive Secretary and Executive Director of the Executive Office of the Secretary of State.  Previously, from 2009 to 2011, he was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  From 2006 to 2009, he was Counselor for Management Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Other overseas posts include: Management Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Casablanca, Morocco (2001-2003) and General Services Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Maputo, Mozambique (1994-1996).  His Washington assignments include: Supervisory General Services Officer in the Executive Office of the Secretary (2003-2006) and Counseling and Assignment Officer in the Bureau of Human Resources (1999-2001).

He began his career as a language and cultural trainer for the U.S. Peace Corps.  Dr. Mushingi received a B.A. and an M.A. from the Institut Superieur Pedagogique in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of Congo, and received an M.A. from Howard University and a Ph.D. from Georgetown University.

If confirmed, Dr. Mushingi would succeed career diplomat Thomas Dougherty who was sworn in as the 17th U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Faso on August 10, 2010.

– DS

 

 

 

 

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US Embassy Mali Imposes Curfew for Official Mission Personnel

On January 17, 2013, the US Embassy in Bamako, Mali issued the following emergency message to U.S. citizens in country:

The U.S. Embassy in Bamako is issuing this message to inform U.S. citizens of an Embassy imposed curfew for official Embassy personnel.

As of January 17, the U.S. Embassy in Bamako is implementing a curfew on U.S. Embassy official personnel.  The curfew is in place because of increased police checkpoints and heightened tensions in Bamako.  While this Embassy curfew does not extend to private U.S. citizens, the U.S. Embassy encourages U.S. citizens in Bamako to avoid travelling late at night and to be prudent in choosing where to go.

The U.S. Embassy reminds all U.S. citizens of the risk of terrorist activity in Mali, including in Bamako, and advises U.S. citizens to be cautious during this period of increased tension.  Malian security forces have increased their security safeguards, including checkpoints and other controls on movement in Bamako and around the country.  Criminal elements could use the increased security checkpoints to pose as legitimate police officers, so please use caution.  We urge all U.S. citizens in Mali to remain vigilant and prudent when choosing to move about the city.  Also, we suggest you avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering, and exercise prudence if choosing to visit locations frequented by Westerners in and around Bamako.

The escalating conflict is reflected on the emergency messages coming out of US Embassy Bamako.  Note that the recently issued Mali Travel Warning dated January 10, 2013 has now been replaced with a new one dated January 16, 2012

In the meantime, the US Embassies in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Banjul (The Gambia) and Niamey (Niger) have all issued emergency messages warning U.S. citizens “to remain vigilant in light of recent events in neighboring Mali and the potential for retaliatory actions towards Westerners in general within the region.”

 

 

 

 

 

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