"The image of Burkina Faso in the media is wrong"

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At gebana, we often talk about the risks that come with investing or doing business in Burkina Faso. From our corporate perspective in distant Europe, questions revolve around poor infrastructure, a lack of security and terrorism. But how do the people living in the country see it? We asked gebana employee Ousseni Porgo.

The Streets of Bobo-Dioulasso

The Streets of Bobo-Dioulasso.

Ousseni, you are Burkinabè, you live and work in Burkina Faso. How dangerous is life in your country?

Ousseni Porgo: My biggest concern is health in general. Especially malaria, but also other diseases. Our health system is inadequate. There are now more hospitals and healthcare centres, but not enough. Private clinics are now stepping in too, but treatments are expensive there. There is no health insurance, we have to pay for the treatments ourselves. Except for accidents at work, which are insured through gebana, and the State offers health insurance to children up to five years of age as well as pregnant women.

When we read about Burkina Faso in the media, it is about security, terrorist attacks and the resulting influx of refugees within the country. How does this affect you?

Yes, I have first-hand experience with these issues. I am originally from the north of the country, from a village near the Malian border. There were terrorist attacks around 60 kilometres from my home village and the residents fled their village and came to ours. They live there with the bare minimum. Although they were housed in a camp, NGOs and the State are trying to help. But this situation is difficult, especially for those who have fled, of course. In the meantime, the situation has somewhat improved compared to a year ago. Two months ago, I visited my village, and people have adjusted and the refugees are slowly returning home. Basically, terrorism is difficult to fight, even rich countries have their problems. As with Covid, you come up with certain measures, but you also have to live with them.

What is the situation like in Bobo-Dioulasso, in the south-west of the country where gebana is active?

You don’t feel much of the situation here. The people who fled because of terrorism don't make it this far. The danger here is more likely to come from bandits, that is to say normal criminals. For example, it is harvest time right now and they are blocking roads because they know that buyers and dealers are traveling with money and goods. A more recent trend is money kiosk robberies. More and more, people here are using their cell phones to transfer money because they don’t have a bank account. When you receive a transferred sum, you can pick it up at a kiosk. This payment system has led to fewer attacks on individuals, but the money kiosks are now the target of more and more robberies. The police are aware of this and are working on solutions.

That’s a good point. What is the role of the police in fighting crime and terrorism?

About a month ago, there was a raid on a police station in the area. It has not yet been announced whether it was organised by terrorists or criminals. The villages here are widely spread out, so it is difficult for the State to ensure their safety. You can’t call the police very quickly during a robbery. That’s why the residents in the villages, but also in urban districts, have now formed militias* to defend themselves. In many places, this scares off the bandits and protects people, especially from theft. That’s good and people appreciate it. But there is also a matter of uncertainty: the militias are armed. What happens when they can no longer earn money with security services? What will they do with their weapons? It’s a parallel system. They have no proper training; they aren’t integrated into State structures or monitoring. One day, they could use their weapons against the State.

What is the State doing in regard to security?

The state is doing a lot, but it is fighting on too many different fronts. It doesn’t have the resources. For example, it doesn’t have enough planes and drones to control the vast, sparsely populated areas. Nor can it be present in every village. Terrorism is a new phenomenon, so new methods are needed. In some cases, the State is asking the USA or France for help. Above all, however, it is important to cooperate with neighbouring countries. The terrorists come from the surrounding countries; they don’t stop at the borders. That’s why we must fight them alongside neighbouring countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger and Togo.

That sounds demoralising. What is your outlook on the future?

I’m in good spirits. The State does what it can. Of course, it will never be able to get everything under control. Even so, there is no criminal or terrorist revolution going on in Burkina Faso! Yes, we have our problems. But the image conveyed by the media, which gives the impression that it is very dangerous here, is wrong. It’s a shame because people are no longer coming here and we are losing foreign investments. We live here, and people from Europe live here as well. We sometimes need to be careful, but we lead a normal life!

Ousseni Porgo is Head of Agronomy and Purchasing at gebana Burkina Faso. He is 40 years old and has three children.

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