I was buying a chicken at the market the other day and got into an argument about Gaddafi. ‘Why did you start bombing him?’ asked a young man sitting near the chicken stall. The ‘you’ took me aback a bit.
‘Gaddafi is not perfect,’ continued the man, ‘but you have no right to attack him like this.’
‘I don’t think he’s very popular in Libya,’ I countered lamely.
‘Nonsense,’ said the young man. ‘He’s like a father to his people. And look at what he’s done for us here in Burkina Faso. It’s impossible to list everything he’s done.’
Hotels, mosques, banks, roads, it’s true that Gaddafi has done a lot for the people of Burkina Faso. Back in 2006 I blogged about one of Gaddafi’s visits to Ouagadougou, on that occasion to open the new ‘Hotel Libya’ in Ouagadougou. I was not far from Charles de Gaulle Avenue when Gaddafi swept along it in a military convoy, standing alongside his long-time friend Blaise Compaore whilst an adoring crowd shouted ‘Io triumphe’ or ‘Gaddafi Gaddafi Gaddafi’ or words to that effect. They did receive free T-shirts and caps for being adoring, I seem to remember.
A year before that, I blogged a rather surreal conversation between a Brazilian visitor and a Burkinabe police lieutenant. When Gaddafi was mentioned, the lieutenant got hot under the collar and made an exit that was almost farcical in its haste. A real ‘walls have ears’ kind of moment.
I talked to a couple people today about the likelihood of Gaddafi seeking refuge in Burkina Faso. Neither of them thought it was at all likely. They both said it would put Burkina in an impossible position. Burkina Faso is dependent on the good will of America and Europe so Compaore has no choice but to say he is ‘not interested’ in hosting Gaddafi. But in reality, both Niger and Burkina would find it very hard to say no to Gaddafi after all he has done for them. If he does come to Burkina, it certainly won’t be reported in the state press.
I am ashamed to say that my conversation with the young man at the chicken stall was not resolved in great style. ‘Perhaps Gaddafi should come and rule Burkina Faso,’ I said, ‘and see how you like that.’
‘I would like that very much,’ he replied, eyes blazing, and I don’t doubt that he was telling the truth.