From Africa’s Perspective: Burkina Faso

Could Africa be the next hub of technological innovation? After exploring the concept in our article Silicon Savannah, we decided to investigate further.

With that in mind, we are beginning a series today written by an anonymous guest blogger. Although she was born in Canada, she lives in Africa in a position of importance now, and has for several years.

Her blogs will all have ‘From Africa’s Perspective’ in the title.

Enjoy her unique and informative viewpoint!

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 Burkina Faso

I hear you from here… Burkina what?

Burkina Faso.  Capital Ouagadougou.  Come on, it is not that difficult to pronounce.  OUA-GA-DOU-GOU.  There, you got it.

Burkina Faso, the country of the honest man in Mossi, the local language.

A small country in West Africa.  Totally landlocked.  Surrounded by Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Bénin, Togo and Ghana.  Among the poorest countries on the planet.  Ranked 181 out of 187 countries on the 2014 United Nations Human Development Index.  Population 17 million.  Maybe.  In a country where traditionally mothers did not count their children until they reached the age of 5 given the high mortality rate, that number is at best an approximation.  What is known is that the birth rate is only second to Niger, with 6 children per woman.  Nearly 65% of the population is under the age of 24 years old.

The state of the infrastructure is sad.  Water purification plants are obsolete and almost non-existent outside the two largest cities, Ouaga and Bobo Diolasso.  Mind you, even in town, their state of order does not inspire confidence.  You would never, unless you have a Montezuma’s revenge wish, use that water to brush your teeth.

Ditto for the electrical grid, which is experiencing increasing stress thanks to the urban migration.  Power shortages are so common, be it during the rainy season or the hot season that nearly household has an generator.  If only not too loose the meat in the freezer, or getting the bedroom aircon working so that you have a restful night.  I am still amazed to see people at work, relatively productive, when the night temperature does not go below 30 degrees Celsius,  and you know that they do not have an aircon or fan because they cannot afford it.

Outside the main cities, the roads are not paved.  Mind you, they are not grated either.  There is no road equipment for that sort of work.  During and after the rainy season, which was quite generous this year, the state of the roads are impressive.  Not by their smoothness.  By the holes created by the traffic and the rain… well, ok, it is more like small pools, you are right.  Those who can afford it have 4×4.  Not for status, but for necessity.

Small cars get quickly damaged by the state of the road.  Even our 4×4 got damaged by these bumps and holes.  Believe me or not, we hit the bottom of the car and damaged something, not sure what.  Will finally be repaired this week, thank you very much.  That was quite a nasty bump. And no, we were not speeding.  Well, I don’t think that 20 km an hour is speeding.  Could be wrong -happened once before.

For 8 months on the year, the temperature varies between the low and high 30, even at 3 in the morning.  For two months, it varies between the low and high 40’s, hitting 50 in May.  Seriously.  The Mossi say that it is during the month of May that Burkinabè understand that they have a common border with Hell.

The cold season lasts two months or so, December to February.  Temperature can go down to 17 at 3 in the morning.  This is when people wear their winter coat, their toques and mittens.  Oh yes, it is cold on that motorcycle in the morning.  Because motorcycles and bicycles are the most common mode of transportation for the majority of the population.  There are enough cars to make driving a hell raising experience.  Fighting for your place on the road with decrepit taxis and trucks and a large number of 4×4, with motos and bikes zigzagging among the traffic…yes, you do live the African experience.

I still have not determined if I prefer the hot season, without sand, or the cold season with its Harmattan winds, coming from the Sahel and bringing with it heaps of dirty sand and dust.    In a part of the world where toilets are not common, the desert and the countryside are often the public latrine.  The Harmattan brings its lots of disease.  The most deadly is the meningitis, the second killer in young children, after malaria.

There is literally no garbage management of any sort.  Yes, garbage is being picked up … and dumped somewhere.  Mind you, recycling is heavy.  There is someone going through your garbage to recuperate what can be of use.  Plastic bags are everywhere.   I keep joking about the plastic bags trees as the plastic bags often get caught in tree branches.  Not funny, I know.

Life expectancy at birth is 56.34 years.  Literacy rate is 28%; much lower in women.   School attendance at high school is 26%, mostly boys as girls need to help in the house.  The quality of education is poor.  The average class size is 48.  Larger in the country side.  81.1% of the population life below 2$ a day; 44.6% below 1.24$.

Burkina has been my country of temporary residence for the past three years.  And is spite of these statistics and these facts, and many others, what impresses is the resilience of its people.  Système D as we say in French, Système Débrouille.  Vaguely translated as System Make it Work.  And their use of technology.

I was asked if I would be willing to write a few articles on the state of technology in Burkina Faso.  I thought it could be interesting.  These will be based on my observations, my discussions with friends and people who know the area and are generous enough of their time to help me.  It is by no means a serious analysis on the state of technology in the country and the region.

I don’t understand technology like those of you who will be reading these articles.  But I will do my best to make them interesting and relevant… and they will be even more so if you help me identify subjects of interest…

The first couple of articles will focus on internet and telephone, both land lines and cell phones.  Miracles are being worked here every day with the use of cell phones…

See you soon…

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