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Burkina Faso: Uncovering the lies and drugs being fed to vulnerable teenagers 0

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) – A journey into the heart of the drug problem in the schools in Ouagadougou, where drug dealers not only target students, but are students themselves. Published in Le Pays, a media partner of Afronline, this investigative piece sheds light on the growing problem of drug use and addiction amongst the teenagers of Burkina Faso.

The first appointment is scheduled on a weekend at 6:00 p.m. in the gang’s neighborhood in Ouagadougou. As the clock strikes 6.00, we are at the place but we see neither the intermediary nor the three members of the gang who are supposed to meet with us. After a long wait, our phone rings. It’s our fixer, calling to assure us that the “friends” are on their way. It is finally at 9:45 p.m. that our phone rings again. They are here, but not all the people we talked about. One is missing. The meeting place is poorly lit. After the usual greetings and customary teasing, the conversation can begin.

The first words of our two young fixers convince us that this is about business. “We are ready to help you come up with a good article.” This provided we agree to pay the price, of course. We propose to give them gas money. To give us an example, they point to the case of “chicks” that often come to their “HQ” (headquarter) located near the wall of property owned by Catholic nuns. “When some ‘chicks’ come in to our HQ, they pay for us to drink, smoke and eat”, they tell us. “Each can spend 10,000 CFA Francs [€15,24] to get our HQ going for an evening.” With this example, we understand what our fixers for the night are asking of us. In any case, the rate is set. We are still touched by their “kindness” and “serenity”, because in our imagination we expected real “bad boys”.

How can young people like them afford to use drugs? “Many things come into play here” is their first answer. The explanations soon follow. “It often begins within families, where teens are experiencing problems, and feel misunderstood by their parents. These parents do not use the right method to support their children as they reach adolescence. They are often violent, threatening, and nervous. In some of the families of those coming to our HQ, parents are in conflict. In fact the poor relationship between mom and dad ends up making life a living hell for all members of the family. In these situations, the children often feel lost. They seek refuge in something”, they tell us. One of the young people is an orphan who has lost his father. When dad (a high ranking civil servant) passed away, life turned into a nightmare.

Mom is unemployed and still has to feed the entire family. This is not so easy. In her struggle to feed her children, the mother eventually became a “case”. She spends her time in the maquis and bars where she often fights for “boys” with the “girls”. Sometimes, she gets cursed out, and beaten up in a bar. And sometimes, she takes her lovers home. Faced with this life of debauchery, both sons have lost it. They both became addicted to cigarettes and one of them has, in addition, gotten into drugs. He is very quiet and not at all talkative. He keeps to himself about everything he goes through. If he does talk, it is only to his comrades at the HQ.

School, a recruiting ground of future drug addicts

According to our two interviewees, the first motivation for teenagers to take drugs comes from the family and the neighborhood, where some of the folks they hang out with get them in the circuit. Schools also constitute good recruitment grounds for future drug users. “When they, (drug dealing gangs) want to get you hooked, they lead you to believe that it is less harmful to take drugs than to smoke cigarettes”, two teenagers tell us. Another powerful argument is that taking drugs puts you in a complete state of serenity, and tranquility. Drugs allow you, they say, to elevate yourself above all types of problems. So what drugs are the teenagers using, and how are they procuring them? Our “friends” tell us that in general they smoke marijuana.

The smell of this drug can alert people though, which is a problem. Therefore, they get into the odorless types of drugs, which also cost less. With 25 or 100 CFA francs, teens have enough to satisfy their needs. Some cost 3,000 CFA Francs but “it is for those who can afford them,” they say. One kilogram of this drug is traded for between 70,000 and 80,000 CFA Francs. Check out what this teen, a senior in a school in Ouagadougou has to say: “The ‘compress’ (sold by the kilo) is cut and packaged in small pads. It’s fresh marijuana, compressed into blocks. It must be kept cool to retain all its flavor. Often, a strong substance, such as rum, is added. The smoke is very light yet strong. Since it is strong, it provokes coughing. The more one coughs, the more one can measure its ‘good’ (good quality) as they say in slang. In addition to the ‘compresses’, there is the sheat (shite). It’s just marijuana resin. It costs more and looks like chocolate. It is smoked with marijuana or mixed with a cigarette. It generally comes from Morocco, or other Arab countries. In the list, one also finds the ‘rolling papers’. They are sold in front of the Ouagadougou hotels by cigarette sellers. These are 33 sheets that can be purchased for 500 CFA francs. Then, there are the ‘bad boys’. This is essentially tracing paper (commonly known as limestone and used for drawings). These papers are rolled in two or three with marijuana. They cost 25 CFA Francs. And then comes the ‘caillou’ or ‘cail’ or ‘caillasse’. It is used by those we call junkies (true drug addicts). One gram of ‘caillou’ trades for 30,000 CFA Francs. Those dealing it are protected by so-called “gurus”. It is essentially a mixture of heroin and sodium sulfate, and is sold in a pack of tablets. The smallest unit costs 3,000 CFA francs.”

Although the costs are often inaccessible, they do not deter students and teenage consumers. In such an environment, those who have the means (salesmen) make sure that others benefit; these dealers are responsible for spreading drugs in the neighborhoods and the schools where they recruit their clients. In schools, dealers disguise themselves as students. Even amongst students, there are dealers. In addition to the “small time” dealer, there are the “bikers” (our interviewees point to “those who own a motorcycle”). The latter roam the neighborhoods and schools to sell drugs to teenagers. These are generally people who are otherwise “respectable” (they have a family and sell drugs as a mere income generating activity). Among the dealers, there are young people, often dressed in suits, often with “yoyos”, and who are always on foot. Only the initiated can recognize them, and they only accept to sell drugs to people they know.

Teens and the harmful effects of drugs

Children who use drugs are fully aware of the adverse effects of the product on their bodies and lives. “Those of us who take drugs and are not eating enough have health issues”, recounts a member of the HQ later. He added that “drugs removed the desire to go to school, and to learn altogether, and that it also led to a deteriorating memory”. Another one pops in, adding: “You learn your lessons at night; you recite easily but the next day, you have forgotten everything. This is a consequence of drugs.” But don’t think that teenagers on drugs (boys and girls) don’t have dreams and ambitions. As addicted as they are to their drug, like all young people their age they want to succeed in school, and have jobs, amongst other things. Are their dreams and ambitions compatible with their drug consumption habit? To this question, they observe a long silence, eyes cast elsewhere, and come back to us not knowing what to say. In the cold night, our conversation is going well.

Time passes. At 11:00 p.m., we’re still here. Some members of the HQ, not seeing their comrades get worried and end up calling. “Do not worry, we’re just taking care of some business”, says one of the guys. At 1:13 a.m., we finish talking and can finally take leave. An appointment is made for the following night, when we’ll be introduced to all the members of the HQ during a drunken night of cigarettes, drugs, and skewers. Actually, it turned out to be quite the strange evening party, between members of the HQ and their host, the journalist.

By Michel Nana – Le Pays (Burkina Faso)

 Translated by Manel Fall, edited by Kimberley Evans.

© Le Pays, VITA and Afronline

This article was published within the framework of an editorial project coordinated by VITA/Afronline and co-financed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MAECI) that associates 25 African independent media.

Click here to read the original version published in Le Pays.

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