Don’t you know bad boys move in silence and violence? -The Notorious B.I.G.
There’s been a crime wave in Ouaga over the last month. The epicenter is in the Patte d’Oie neighborhood, a few kilometers north of my house. It all started in the aftermath of the coup d’état of September 16th: in an attempt to control street protests (or to give themselves a pretext to shoot unarmed people), the military imposed a strict curfew at 19h every night. The military government was deposed after a week, but the curfew remained in place. At first people accepted the deadline without a problem. Boredom is a price that people are willing to pay for stability, and everyone knew that after 19h, in the cover of darkness, the police were cleaning up traces of the RSP in Ouaga. Heavy trucks rolled through the night carrying munitions, RSP prisoners, coup leaders…no one knew what was in the trucks, and no one wanted to know.
But now it’s more than a month after the violence, and the curfew is still in place. The deadline to be home rolled back progressively, from 19h to 23h, and now the deadline is set at one in the morning. I haven’t heard about plans to lift the curfew anytime soon. People can still go out on the weekends, but all the bars and clubs close earlier, and last call is shortly after midnight.
Somewhere in the snarled backroads of La Patte d’Oie, an extremely clever gang of thieves is taking full advantage of the situation. Many of my friends who live in the neighborhood have told me of preposterously bold crimes and breakins carried out during the witching hours while the military patrols the main avenues. A police officer’s house was broken into, and he awoke the next morning to find his motorcycle gone, his service weapon missing, and his phone had been taken from his bedside table. The cop had to take a taxi to the commissariat to explain that he was late because thieves stole his moto, and also he would need to be issued another sidearm. Another night an entire family woke to find their house cleaned out like Whoville on Christmas Eve. Phones and computers disappeared, cash that had been squirrelled away was pulled out, and their refrigerator had been unplugged and carried down to the courtyard before the bandits apparently decided it was too much trouble and abandoned it. My friend Mamadou got hit as well, and woke one morning to find that the thieves had taken a motorcycle and a fully-grown sheep from his courtyard.
Pause for a moment and think about what it would take to climb a six foot wall into a courtyard in the dead of night, fully aware that the entire family was in the house, and make off with a sheep and a moto. Thieves who are caught in the act in Burkina Faso rarely make it to the police station. If a thief has the astounding gall to walk into a policeman’s bedroom at night, by the time he gets back into the street with his booty he’s basically home free. The police patrol the main roads but don’t go into the narrow unpaved backstreets, and so a group of hoodlums can easily move around the neighborhood after curfew without anyone asking where they might me taking a sheep and a TV.
I’ve heard a lot of theories of how they pull off these master crimes. One friend is sure that they have canisters of soporific gas that they spray into bedrooms to allow them to move about undetected. Another possibility is witchcraft: if they have the right amulets and strong magic, there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Another possibility is that they are very very quiet.
This crime wave will continue until the curfew is lifted. Whatever method they’re using, it’s working really well. Community surveillance is what keeps the streets safe during the day, and if everyone is forced to stay inside at night…then it’s time to start padlocking your sheep.