Burkina Faso: “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon”

The one thing I love about proverbs is that they challenge one’s thinking faculty and intellectual level, by prompting one to think deeply. Furthermore, in Africa, and I believe, in many other societies, as well, proverbs are used to test one’s degree of maturity, as you are expected, not only to grasp the latent meaning of proverbs, but to, equally, use them to understand your environment, its realities and tackle them wisely. Hence it is not uncommon to hear that when a proverb is used and equally explained to the listener, the proverb loses its usefulness.

I once asked my father the meaning of the proverb: “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” A true African to the core, who would often respond to questions with another question, he, instead of giving me a simple, clear answer, responded idiomatically: “when you have trained a lion to eat meat or blood, if it did not see any other food to eat, it will you.” More confused, I tried to persuade my father for an easier explanation. Without looking at me, he responded with finality: “Use your head.” I knew trying to coax him further would only lead to a situation I never wanted: to follow a “proverb lesson” every night in his room after the dining. Your guess is as good as mine, who would be the teacher. At the same time, I knew exposing my limited idiomatic skill next time would be my nemesis. That would dangle the sword of proverb lesson in the air. I had no choice than to learn in a hard way, by trying as much as I could to avoid the topic in the presence of my father – at least by prevent. any unwanted, nocturnal forced lesson. Yes, avoid him as much as I could; not because he was a bad person. No. Definitely not. My parents meant the best for me and the rest of their children. But again, there were certain moments or topics you did try to avoid with your parents. For me, that was one of them.

Well, let’s leave my father to rest in peace, wherever he may be and please follow me to Burkina Faso. My unwanted proverb lesson was, after all, not all that a waste, was it? Looking at what has been going on in Burkina Faso of late, the same proverb my father once wanted me as a child to “use my head” to understand, quickly came to my mind. Hum, what goes up comes down. Imagine, after more than 50 years of my night tutorial, the relationship of the proverb cannot be more applicable to the present day reality in Burkina Faso. “He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” The same proverb can be found in Proverbs 23:6-8 KJV “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.” For the sake of clarity, the proverb means that if you are in contact or a relationship with the Devil (bad/evil people) or dangerous adversaries, you should be very careful because you might one day be their victim. So, you could say that eating with a ‘long spoon’ means keeping as far away as possible while dealing with the Devil / evil people. Reason? Because coming closer to the Devil has its danger and other negative consequences. Aha! That explains the idiom clearly: “when you have trained a lion to eat meat or blood, and it did not see any other meat to eat, it will you.” Generally, it is believed that the devil harm or eat people; so it may, in fact, decide to eat you as well, if it sees nothing else to eat.

Back to Burkina Faso. Can anything else explain the present situation in that country better than the two proverbs above? Recently, the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, Paul Kaba Thieba, surprisingly resigned from the office together with his entire cabinet. Although no official reason was given for the resignation, it was believed to be not unconnected with the recent wave of terrorism and other dangerous insurgencies, which have claimed innocent lives, including bombing and the recent kidnapping and death of 34-year-old Canadian woman, Edith Blais, and a 30-year old Italian man, Luca Tacchetto. The foreigners had been declared missing in Burkina Faso since mid-December. You might as well ask what the death or disappearance of these foreigners has to do with the above proverbs. Very much indeed.

Once upon a time, Burkina Faso, a small country in the Western part of Africa, though poor, was an oasis of peace. The peace was murdered together with the country’s visionary leader Thomas Sankara. The charismatic Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara was assassinated at the ripe age of 38 years, by his bosom friend and confidant Blaise Compaoré, who forcefully took over the mantle of leadership. To consolidate his power, former President Blaise Compaoré ruled with an iron fist, suppressed opponents and organised kangaroo elections, all to keep him in power. But those were not his main nemesis. To prolong his autocratic rule, Compaoré chose to dine with the Devil. But he decided, sadly, not to use a long spoon. For a leader who had acted as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the West African politics, former President Blaise Compaore had shown himself to be overconfident – or if you like, naïve, depending on your view. He entered into an unholy political marriage with the likes of Gaddafi and convicted Charles Taylor of Liberia, ignited political violence and war in the neighbouring Ivory Coast and Guinea. That was not all. He allowed the infamous Boko Haram to use his territory as a base to carry out their outrageous attacks in Nigeria, despite fruitless appeals by the Nigerian government to close the base. That irresponsible marriage to the terror group has given birth to the present murder, insurgencies, and terror in Burkina Faso.

Was Blaise Compaore eating with a long or short spoon while munching Babenda and Ragout d’ Igname delicacies, washed down with Gapalo with the Devil? With a short spoon, of course. Blaise Compaoré strongly believed in his invincibility. The former Burkinabé strong man might be part of the history, following the heavy protests that greeted his attempt to manipulate the constitution to prolong his 27-year-old iron-hand rule. But what about the mess he left behind? His unholy alliance with the terrorist groups has turned the country into an insurgency haven. The present insecurity and political tension in Burkina Faso are inseparable from the Compaoré’s dirty diner with the terrorists. The former President had trained and fed the terrorists with blood, now that there is no more blood to drink, the terrorists are after innocent blood. But that is not all. The Islamists are now boldly challenging the government of Burkina Faso, which was once their godfather. For sure, Burkina Faso has been turned into a haven for kidnappings and jihadist attacks of recent. The militants act with boldness and impunity, and the government of President Kabore seemed incapable of eradicating the deadly activities of the Islamists. From the deadly attacks on a cafe and the French embassy in the country’s capital, Ouagadougou, to recent kidnapping and murder of innocent foreigners, the once a quiet and peaceful country Burkina Faso is bleeding. Yes, bleeding, simply because Blaise Compaoré decided to eat with the Devil with a short spoon. More than that, he trained tigers he can no longer control. Nor could Blaise Compaoré ‘s successor, Paul Kaba Thieba. The disturbing security challenges have become so terribly uncontrollable that several northern provinces in its border regions have been under a state of emergency.

What do you expect when dealing with a malicious, heartless or unscrupulous person or people? Nothing than to be prepared for the worse in terms of calamities, exploitation, murder and all forms of terror. This is what happens when you sup with the devil without a long spoon.

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