With Corona, life is doubly difficult
Interview with Didier Kiendrébéogo on the situation of Covid-19 and the struggles of the people in Burkina Faso.
by Franza Drechsel
Didier Kiendrébéogo, how are you?
Personally I am in good health but I can’t say that we are doing well in Burkina.
Why not? How would you describe your life in this situation of the pandemic?
It is a doubly difficult life. Before the pandemic, it was already hard. Now the authorities have imposed drastic measures without accompanying measures.
Life is hard – how was it characterized before the pandemic?
There was already widespread insecurity associated with attacks by armed groups and targeted assassinations linked to death squads, which are certainly at the service of the current government and its allies. But we also had increased difficulties due to the lack of water, electricity, health care, employment, etc., and the lack of access to health care.
So how did life change with the measures against the expansion of the coronavirus?
The overwhelming majority of the population of Burkina Faso lives from day to day. Measures such as market closures, curfews or quarantine of cities have made life untenable. Then the government took advantage of the pandemic to prevent union demonstrations and suspend the salaries of nearly 750 civil servants illegally. The support measures later announced by the head of state did not really benefit the poor and instead revealed the corrupt nature of power.
The government used the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) to enforce the curfew, which was enforced between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. The curfew was enforced between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m. and from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. What are the consequences?
We have witnessed massive human rights violations, perpetrated by elements of the FDS. Many people were beaten, mistreated, humiliated, and filmed and images posted on social networks by FDS. Others have been joined at home by FDS and tortured when they did not violate curfews. In several localities such as the North, East, Sahel, and North-Central regions, where terrorist attacks are recurrent, accusations of extrajudicial killings, mass executions, and stigmatization were regularly raised by national and international civil society organizations (CSOs) or by relatives of victims. Thus, instead of the increased presence of the security forces being a source of calm, it is a source of concern, fear and mistrust.
Then, what space remains for resistance to current government policies?
Apart from violations on the FDS side, the government is doing everything possible to criminalize the 2014 insurgency when the Burkinabe people ousted the long-time president, Blaise Compaoré, and is increasing its repressive actions. But the spirit of the insurgency remains alive. The people resist, developing initiatives even to mitigate the failure of the state on various issues, such as insecurity, lack of water, dilapidated roads etc.. Populations in cities as well as in the countryside are fighting in spite of the misery imposed on them to defend their rights and for a change that can benefit them.
What are civil society demands regarding government responses to the coronavirus?
Organizations of women, young people, merchants and trade unions demand the reopening of places where they used to live, adequate care for the sick and confined, transparency in the management of aid granted by the goodwill, the consequent equipping of health centers, the lifting of taxes on small and medium enterprises, the lowering of the prices of basic necessities (oil, soap, cereals, hydrocarbons etc.). There are also demands for an end to the repression of workers who fight against unjust taxes imposed on their income, as well as for the opening of investigations into abuses and other extrajudicial executions.
In addition to these demands, which are conjunctural, structural demands remain. These include an end to the plundering of the country’s resources, access to quality education for all the country’s children, and the prosecution of blood and economic crimes.
I imagine that the means of claiming have changed because of the measures in place?
Yes, the organizations are denouncing more through the written press or through the radios. Social networks are also used a lot. But street demonstrations and street barricades as well as marches are also organized despite the context, because people can’t take it anymore.
What is the ODJ doing right now?
At the moment, all DOJ structures across the country are conducting a campaign, sometimes in coalition with other civil society organizations. It aims to raise awareness about the disease, protection and prevention of its spread. Our activists also organize women to teach them how to make soap locally, as this is an important subject, but not accessible to everyone. In this campaign, we also denounce the chaotic way the government manages things and we invite people to organize to defend their rights.
In the current situation, is it possible to mobilize people?
It is absolutely an opportunity to raise awareness. People are attentive when you try to explain things to them, such as the failure of the health system, the neo-colonial nature of our country and our army. So you have to mobilize people and support them to organize themselves to better resist this dramatic situation.
To what extent can we use the current situation to change the structures of the state, the economy, social policies?
This is a big question that is at the heart of all the debates in our country. For real and lasting change, we believe that there is only one way: revolution. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis will certainly have a heavy additional liability. Our imperialist masters in difficulty will certainly seek new forms of exploitation of our peoples. But when we observe the awareness of the youth and their desire to emancipate themselves, we are full of hope.
What do you wish for northern societies in general?
We call for internationalist solidarity. The pandemic has reminded us that when you put people’s health in the hands of big capitalist firms, they do what they want with it. We have seen measures in Europe and the United States that sound like a shameful recognition of the failure of the capitalist system. So revolutionaries, sincere democrats and progressives must stand in solidarity around the world. Today, we see once again that one source of our woes in Africa is the policy of neo-colonial domination led by imperialist governments.