‘Great sadness’ for artists after French venue looted in coup in Burkina

‘Great sadness’ for artists after French venue looted in coup in Burkina


The day after Burkina Faso’s latest coup, protesters attacked the French Institute, destroying not only a symbol of the country’s former colonial power but also a cherished showcase for artists and free speech.

Protesters left charred walls, smashed windows and books scattered on the floor of the cultural center in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital.

Standing in front of a stack of paintings, artist Ali Ouedraogo said it was “a great sadness” to see the institute in such a state.

“We’ve been coming to this place for years – it’s become a second home to us,” he said. It is “a loss for Burkina Faso, especially for artists”.

“This is the work of real monsters,” said William Somda, who organizes cultural events.

“Nothing today justifies the destruction of a place so important to the cultural, academic, professional and artistic world.”

The institute was just one of the French buildings targeted during the riots that began on the evening of September 30.

Protesters also attacked the French embassy in the institute’s capital in Burkina’s second largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso.

They accused Paris, which has a military presence in the West African country, of protecting former junta leader Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who seized power in January before being ousted by younger officers led by a 34-year-old captain was , Ibrahim Traore.

In a statement read on national television, officials said Damiba was suspected of taking refuge at a French military base “to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defense and security forces.”

Damiba denied he was at the base but gave no further details of his whereabouts at the time. It later emerged that he had fled to neighboring Togo after a lengthy standoff.

France bluntly denied hosting him.

At the height of the turmoil, anti-French sentiment was palpable on the streets.

Demonstrators chanted, “France out.” Some waved Russian flags.

The road leading to the institute is still littered with broken glass, smashed computers and burned air conditioners.

There are burnt gates and baggage scanners in the entrance hall.

The police cordoned off the building, AFP said on Wednesday.

“The damage is enormous,” said the center’s director, Thierry Bambara. “We’ll have to wait for a full assessment before we can give a number.”

“All the buildings were ransacked,” he said, from the center’s language department to the performance areas.

In the institute’s library, the floor is a jumble of keyboards, CDs, toppled shelves, and soot-covered books.

Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks 182nd out of 189 nations in the UN Human Development Index. High quality concert halls and libraries are rare.

“The looting…is a hard blow for us,” Burkinabe musician Kantala said. “Our plans are failing – we’re not sure we can find a replacement for what this place has given us.”

The institutes in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso are closed until further notice, according to the French embassy, ??which has also suspended its services.

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