Day 216: The Land of Honest Men

04.08.09:

Once dawn had crept up on us unawares, the driver finally took us to our destination. A bus journey to the next town and then – as there were no buses to the border, we hopped on motorbike taxis to the imaginary line that separates Benin from Burkina Faso.

In a stroke of genius rare in the political elite of Africa, the late Thomas Sankara (Tom Sank to his mates) changed the name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso in the mid-eighties. Why? Well because it means The Land of Honest Men.

As any educational psychologist worth their salt will tell you, if you tell someone they are bad over and over again (as my teachers often did to me), they will eventually think – oh well, if everyone says I’m bad, I must be a bad person, so it’s my nature to do bad things. Then they’ll go off and set a cat on fire or make Indiana Jones IV. The converse is also true. Now, knowing the power of Semantics, Tom Sank changed the name of his country so that anybody being corrupt and dishonest is not just a liar and a thief, but is also a traitor, no less. The result is startling. Even people who would quite happily cosh an old lady to death just to get a better view of the football take a dim view of traitors – so in order to not be seen as a traitor, the good people of Burkina are bribe-adverse in a way that their West African brothers could only dream of.

Simply put, you cannot be a dishonest man in the Country of Honest Men. That’s the power of Semantics. For more information, see Great Britain.

As Rocco’s passport was in Cotonou getting his visa, he couldn’t cross the border with me, so I left him and made my merry way towards Niger, which I planned to border-hop. My Burkina Dasho (see what I did there?) was making good time all the way to Fada N’Gourma, the crossroads of the country. I had the good fortune of getting the last place on the bus so I didn’t have to wait for it to fill up.

Unfortunately, the road to Niger (country 102) was not so smooth. Because of recent bandit attacks (looks like somebody didn’t get the message about being honest), the road is closed except at certain times of the day, and I just missed out on the last convoy. So I had to wait until 4pm. Any hopes I had of getting back to Rocco today went straight out the window.

And then when I eventually reached the border – more problemo’s. Not content with ruining my plans yesterday by having an inconveniently timed independence day, today they were having an election. Which meant the border was closed, to everyone, until tomorrow. Bah.

I had a chat with the border guards on the Burkina side and explained what I was doing. They said I was free to go over to the border and step back if I wanted to, but that the Niger border guards are not nearly as much fun and may well shoot me. So I found a grotty little Auberge run by a great guy named Frederick, and I crashed for the night.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Graham

    Max dude, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

    There are many reasons why mineral-rich African countries are so impoverished, but after 50 years of independence it’s churlish and unhelpful dump the blame on ‘people in the west being rich’. All you’re doing there is absolving the nasty thieving dictators that run most African countries (into the ground) of the responsibility of ending the bribery and corruption that shackle their nations to the dark ages.

    Gabon has a small population and massive oil reserves. Fancy explaining the voodoo economics that means the leader, Ali Bongo, is by far the richest man in the region while the majority of the population live on less than a dollar a day? Can you explain why Gabon isn’t as ‘rich’ as Dubai?

    Or can you explain where the $261,000,000,000 that the Nigerian government stole from its own people between 1967 and 2005 went? Cos it sure as hell didn’t go towards infrastructure, education or healthcare.

    Until the governments of these independent nations take responsibility for the welfare of the people they are supposed to represent, we’re not going to see any major changes in Africa in our lifetime. Pedalling the old line “We rich = Africa poor” is not helping, it’s just validating the actions of tyrants.

  2. max otto stirlitz

    Please Graham, the only reason the west is supposedly rich (or not, have you recently checked the US and UK’s debt to GDP ratios?) is because of poor people in Africa and Asia paying with their opportunities and sometimes lives for this high quality of life we lead.

  3. max otto stirlitz

    And where is your “Great” Britain today? Just another failed bankrupt western consumerist society with no industries but the unsustainable mortgage and financial sectors.

    1. Graham

      If you want to read my critique of modern day Britain, read my blog entry “Real England” http://theodysseyexpedition.com/?p=1027, but man, seriously, a failed society??

      Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tajikistan, Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Benin, Niger, Central African Republic, Sudan, Chad, DR Congo, Angola, Zimbabwe, Paraguay, Bolivia, Haiti, Comoros, Sao Tome, Palau, Nauru, Burundi, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Burma…

      Please brother… don’t write from a nice safe rich westernised consumerist society like Canada and talk about unsustainable mortgages. Just thank your lucky lucky stars that you don’t live in a place with no freedom of expression where you have to shit in the streets and have a life expectancy of 40.

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