News from Burkina Faso has been steady during the last few months.
Violent attacks of villages. Kidnappings of western foreigners. demonstrations against the police. An entire government resigning in face of mounting problems.
At one time this was one of the most quiet and peaceful countries in Africa, And today it seems to become another chapter in the spread of violent extremism in Africa.
Granted I lived in Burkina Faso more than ten years ago, but today’s reports seems to come out of a different country. This type of violence and instability was unheard of. I would generally shrug off these items as looking bad through a single lens. But I’ve recently heard stories of people quietly leaving or deciding not to return. It may be coincidence. Or, it may be the tell-tale signs of people voting with their feet.
This got me thinking about the dire straits Burkina Faso is always supposed to be facing. Could the years of dire predictions be coming true?
Burkina Faso has always been a poor country. Landlocked in the Sahel, the scrubby area between the Sahara Desert and the Atlantic coast. The country has only a few natural water sources, and the land can be pretty infertile. Burkina Faso is home to one of the highest population rates in the world, spread among at least 60 ethnic groups.
This recipe of threats, on top of increasing desertification thrown in, was supposed to spread instability through countries like Burkina Faso. And for years the warnings didn’t ring true. Even as political tensions were ripped open during the slow demise and then rapid downfall of a president in office for three decades.
Places like Burkina always look worse from the outside than they do from the ground. Looking at macro issues — climate change, unchecked urbanization, food security, health and education indicators — the country would appear on the bottom of many indexes. But through this, people continued. The country’s greatest resource was its people, who often had to leave to find work. For those who stayed, though, they survived and sometimes they even thrived.
If Burkina Faso were a person it may have been the likable, plucky kid who grew up in a bad neighborhood. Oftentimes the external forces drag these kids down. Sometimes these kids succeed.
What would success in this case look like? In a time when countries are viewed as having balance sheets where its macro advantages and disadvantages are visible to all, where does a country like Burkina place? In a time where we pit one country against the next, how does Burkina Faso stack up?
For those who rank these countries, the dark clouds from this country were always apparent. Those who lived there, and those who knew the place, knew that its intangibles, its ineffable goodness, would allow it to continue.
That may be true. But these could be tough times to test that faith.