What if they called a war in Burkina Faso, and no soldiers died?

General Gilbert Diendéré’s coup attempt that started September 16 and ended with his presidential guard unit disbanded and himself in jail has produced some head-scratching. What happened was the regular armed forces after several days finally decided not to support the coup. The presidential guard was given an ultimatum. Their camp behind the presidential palace (Kosyam) was surrounded. Shots and loud explosions were heard on September 29. Then it was all over. General Diendéré escaped (?) to the Vatican “embassy” and surrendered on October 1.

The army announced that no one had been killed in the “assault” on the RSP camp. Nobody in the army or government has given an account of what happened to the 1200 or so members of the presidential guard. Where are they? Nobody is saying. Burkina Faso has a lively press, but few publishers willing to support serious investigative journalists. So probably we will never know what actually happened. Maybe General Diendéré actually only had 50 followers in his unit? How embarrassing that he was able to launch the coup in the first place.

I’m sure eventually we will start getting some insider accounts from military sources. But their reliability is always hard to judge. Maybe General Diendéré’s trial will actually make sense, unlike the ridiculous trial organized in 2004 after the last so-called coup attempt against ex Pres. Compaoré (nicely summarized in Vincent Ouattara’s book «Procès des putschistes à Ouagadougou»).

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Not the best audio quality… Trembling Bells is definitely on my list of “Bands so much like Incredible String Band it is uncanny”

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Levitt is a really good storyteller… I want him at my campfire! (start at the 5 min mark)

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Blattman protests too much, I fear

I think Chris Blattman recent post on “fear” which got a lot of reposts, represents sort of exactly why some people are dubious of the micro-evaluation randomista approach.  The way any normal person reads Chris’s post, is that he is suggesting that poor and marginalized people have a lot of fear and this keeps them down. The production of this fear is all rendered in the passive voice.  Something out there (a fog? really?) produces the conditions for which fear is the correct reaction, debilitating as it may be.  So randomistas need to search for the psychological mechanisms at work and design programs that will empower people and reduce fear… and hence spur development.

Reading Joshua Oppenheimer’s timely oped about the mass killing of Indonesian leftists in 1965, you can easily see what is left out.  Oppenheimer writes (Source: Suharto’s Purge, Indonesia’s Silence – The New York Times):

The purpose of such intimidation is to create a climate of fear in which corruption and plunder go unchallenged.

Chris in his blog post asserts, “The tragedy is that modern social science has very little to say about any of this.”  I think modern social science (and even more broadly, the humanities, including people like Oppenheimer) actually has a lot to say about this.   I know that when I went to Chile, the only destination on my list was the museum established by Michele Bachelet’s government to remember and understand the violence and fear created by Pinochet.  The museum, in my hazy memory, was largely informed by modern social science and humanities.  Yes, there is no randomized control trial telling us whether such museums change the nature of fear for a given sub-group of some population.  But if Chris really does mean “modern social science” = “experimental method with regression analysis” even this comparative neglect by economics can hardly be labelled a tragedy.  He doth protest too much!

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Geoff Ryman’s Was (a novel)

Geoff Ryman’s Was (a novel) is something that I saw mentioned or eventually linked to from a tweet by Susan Stinson.  From the blurb I knew this was my kind of novel, and it did not disappoint.  A complex overlapping set of stories that veers from the very, very mundane and depressing to the fantastical, the novel follows several characters with ties and obsessions to the Wizard of Oz, including an “original” Dorothy Gael in Kansas, a young Judy Garland, and an actor dying of AIDS in the late 1980s.  The book is poignant, scary, hopeful, revealing and tremendously well-written.  Several themes mix in complex ways: how childhood sticks to us all into adulthood (think Rosebud); how marginalized identities (especially being gay, being orphaned, being a woman, being physically disabled) take up the entire canvas of life for many people; how we search, hide, create, manipulate a past to construct our present; how we select, and lie, as we define our place in the world; and ultimately how we have (or there exists, which is what we want to believe) power, deep within, and by listening and caring for others, we can create and recreate our own reality.  The scenes of Dorothy, living in the psychiatric state nursing home for 60 years, and interacting with Bill, someone who for the first time actually cares enough to listen, are very powerful.  Profoundly pessimistic and hopeful at the same time.  If that is your tone, read this gem.

Icing on the cake: Reading more about Ryman, I discovered he was the author of Have Not Have (eventually published as Air) which was absolutely one of the very best short novellas in realist anthropological sci-fi I have read in the past two years.

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Excellent political commentary on the coup attempt in Burkina Faso by Derbié Terence Somé

En attendant, il est évident que ce coup d’Etat mort-né a rendu un grand service aux autorités de la transition. Il faut le redire, elles se sont refait une virginité politique alors que visiblement leur popularité était mise à mal par des dossiers pas très bien gérés. On citera volontiers les revendications syndicales, le continuum éducatif, la reforme du statut du personnel de l’armée, la mise en œuvre des pôles de croissance, etc. Finies ou plutôt oubliées les critiques sur la fausse austérité budgétaire, les émoluments indus de tout ou partie des députés du CNT, les fraudes aux concours de la fonction publique, l’affaire des fausses cartes d’électeurs… Michel Kafando peut boire son petit lait de président réinvesti qui sans « fausse modestie », proclame, urbi et orbi, que la transition burkinabè est un exemple pour l’Afrique et le monde. Il se voit en archange saint Michel en croisade contre « les forces du mal » et pas un président rassembleur, au dessus de la mêlée.

Source: Coup d’Etat du Général Gilbert Diendéré : Les conséquences politiques directes (…) – leFaso.net, l’actualité au Burkina Faso

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New word inspired from Burkina Faso? “to burkinate” – defend freedoms fiercely

Chers amis, la liste du vocabulaire s’allonge de jour en jour. Un de mes amis américain a ajouté “to burkinate”= défendre farouchement ses droits fondamentaux. Bravo à tout le peuple burkinabè qui s’est levé contre les “forces du mal, ces usurpateurs…. et j’en passe!!!!!!!!

On a Facebook page….

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