Over a hundred journalists from 35 African countries, attending the sixth edition of the Festival of Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom (FILEP), in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, including tens of other professionals from ECOWAS countries, participants in other conferences are at wits end on when they shall be able to exit Burkina Faso, following the coup that toppled the transitional council.
Although the sporadic gun fire that pervaded through most of Thursday, following protests and erection of barricades by angry protesters, have subsided, the streets remain largely deserted with shops and offices under lock while tourists and visitors are restricted to their hotel rooms.
Notwithstanding, occasional gun shots by loyalists of coup leader, now Head of State, General Gilbert Diendere, still thunder in parts of Ouagadougou.
“We had finished our own training on Wednesday and I should have gone back to Senegal on Thursday morning, but now we are stranded because of the coup and closure of the border” Fatou, one of the 34 delegates from 17 countries at an ECOWAS training on food production, preservation and management, lamented.
Such is the experience of many non-Burkinabes stranded in Burkina Faso, as a result of the coup. For participants at the FILEP, it has been anxiety, disappointments and sore boredom as the planned four-day event organised by the Nobert Zongo National Press Centre on the theme, “Media and Political Changes in Africa: What Contribution?” had to be stopped after only the first day on Wednesday.
The event had started with a very robust engagement by representatives of Africa media stakeholders, civil society actors, human rights activists and academics on the role of the media and democratic advocates in political changes, with specific references to the October 2014 Burkina Faso uprising, that forced former President Blaise Compaore, who had tried to change the constitution to extend his 27 years rule, out of power and into exile in Cote d’Ivoire.
Other planned sessions of the now aborted FILEP included discussions on the role the media played in the 2014 insurrection in Burkina Faso, the role of social networks in advocating democratic change, in the media and in electoral processes in Africa, and the role of the media and other citizens-driven efforts in governance and political change in Africa.
A panel of the discussion was also to forecast into the role of the media ahead of the earlier planned Burkina Faso elections of October 2015, as well as an award of the Norbert Zongo Prizes for investigative journalism, among other sessions on strengthening democratic cultures across the African continent.
“Shall I be able to go back tomorrow?” That was the question by a Ghanaian who was spending his second day at the hotel where he had been forced to remain as a result of the situation. He was supposed to have left Thursday morning.
“Ceci est assez décevant”, a Malian participant of FILEP said in the morning of Friday September 18th, frustrated by staying indoors all of Thursday, and of course, doing the same on Friday and perhaps to continue on Saturday, the day after, and the day after. I was to learn later that what he said meant “This is quite disappointing.”
However, with a supposed intervention by ECOWAS chair and Senegalese President, Macky Sall, who is to mediate along with Thomas Boni Yayi of Benin Republic, following the coup leader’s agreement to the “principle of dialogue,” perhaps hope may begin to rise that life and commercial activities in Ouagadougou shall pick up soonest. This intervention is the hope that stranded FILEP and other international conference participants in Burkina Faso are hanging on to, that the borders are soon opened for them to exit Burkina Faso to their respective countries.
With the news of the release of detained Burkina Faso interim President, Michel Kafando, who gained freedom on Friday, the hope is getting higher. However Prime Minister Isaac Zida, who was also detained when the presidential guard stormed a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, remains under house arrest.
When shall I return home to Nigeria? That is the question I am not sure I can answer right now, though my return flight to Nigeria after FILEP was supposed to be on Saturday, September 19, 2015. For now, all hopes are hanging on the intervention by the two visiting West African leaders who are mediating with General Diendere. If that pulls through and the borders are opened for free entry and exit, the hope of stranded foreigners will now rest on the ability of the Burkina airline operators to efficiently and effectively handle the frenzy and rush that will accompany the opening of the air border, both for those stranded coming into Burkina Faso and those of us stranded and wanting to get out!
Falobi is the Programme Associate at the International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos, Nigeria. He is one of the participants at the 6th edition of the Festival of Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom (FILEP), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where this piece was written following the abortion of the event, as a result of the coup.