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Burkina Faso: cacophony around the availability of fuel

NOTostalgic are many Burkinabés. Nostalgic for the years when there was a very special atmosphere in these last days of the year with jostling in stores and supermarkets for shopping. Nostalgic because a few hours from the crossing of the year 2023, the spirits, this time, are less festive. Already with a security situation that remains worrying, marked by the persistence of terrorist attacks and a lackluster humanitarian picture, even overshadowed by nearly two million internally displaced persons, to which has, in fact, been added a new anguish for the inhabitants of certain towns in the country: that of not finding fuel for their car or moped. This commodity, vital for transport and beyond for the economy of the country, has become as rare as a white blackbird since the publication, earlier this week, of a press release from the Burkinabe National Hydrocarbons Company (Sonabhy).

In this text, the general management of the company announced “serious disruptions in the distribution of super 91”. The reasons ? “Maintenance operations in certain coastal depots housing [les] stocks. Further on, she explains that “these disruptions occur at a time of internal inventory rebuilding following [à un] moodiness of tank truck drivers”. Not without specifying that “negotiations with external partners did not allow the immediate resumption of loadings, which will not take place until the beginning of January 2023”, the National Hydrocarbons added that “pending the normal resumption of loadings in the countries coastal, Sonabhy will cap the quantities served at 60%”.

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No rupture, according to the government

Enough to spark a rush to service stations. And very quickly a rupture, marked by momentary stoppages of the service. Speaking just the day after the Sonabhy press release, via national television, the Minister in charge of Trade tried to reassure in these terms: “For the question of hydrocarbons, there is no break. We have stocks that are at the level of the coastal countries that are on their way and that will arrive shortly tonight or tomorrow. I assure you: from tomorrow, this rationing will gradually end. What was planned for January, from these two or three days, the situation will return to normal, ”he promised on Tuesday.

At Africa Point, the president of the Union of Truck Drivers of Burkina (UCRB), Brahima Rabo, confirmed on Friday the resumption of shipments outside, refuting in passing the thesis of a shortage following a “movement of mood” of the tank drivers. “We haven’t had a strike, nor are we planning one,” he said. Never mind, since the Sonabhy press release, the days go by and look alike in the gas counters: jostling and invectives or long lines which, in places, extend over several hundred meters.

Friday, the fifth day of what should be called the fuel riots. In a station in Ouagadougou, a truck has just refueled. A huge crowd gets impatient. In the middle, Moumouni Lingri. Weariness wrinkled on his face, this cleaning service controller has been waiting for more than four hours to be served. To make sure that he will leave with the tank of his motorcycle full, he had to line up very early in the morning, after having gone to other stations without much hope. “I started looking for fuel 5 hours ago. And now it’s almost 10 a.m., I’m still waiting, ”he gets annoyed. Just behind him, Henri Ilboudo, a refrigeration and air conditioning technician, has his eyes fixed on the gas station attendants at the oven and at the mill. Mr. Ilboudo does not intend to leave the place anytime soon either. “I’ve been waiting for an hour. I am 28e on a list drawn up to avoid jostling. Even if I have to spend the night here, I will. Because beyond my personal trips, I have errands to do as part of my job,” he says.

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Going to work can wait

For many, going in search of gasoline, which has become a rare commodity, is “a difficult but necessary choice”. “As a cleaning services controller, I have to be at work by 5 a.m. But today, I preferred not to go to work, especially since my essence could not take me there, ”explains Moumouni Lingri. The situation is less easy for people working on their own account. Like Ahmed Sigué, a business manager, who took advantage of a less busy day to refuel his car. For Inoussa Tougma, trader, this scarcity of gasoline leads to losses for his trade. “These losses result from the impossibility of delivering the goods to customers,” he explains.

To avoid queues, many prefer to put the price at speculators who, using cans or jerry cans, have fuel served in quantity at the stations to resell it in detail, after repackaging in bottles. . At these opportunistic resellers, a liter of gasoline is sold for 2,000 CFA francs (3.04 euros), or even more, instead of the regulatory price set at 750 francs. To block the road to this speculation, the Ministry of Commerce recalled the “formal ban” on the sale of fuel in containers such as bottles, cans and drums. To enforce this measure, already in force in the context of the fight against insecurity, police are deployed in certain stations when they are not criss-crossing the streets.

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A real false alarm since the end of November

To rely on an article already published at the end of last October in the specialized daily AfricaIntelligence, a gasoline shortage in Ouagadougou was foreseeable as early as September. But for very different reasons from those mentioned by Sonabhy. “Traders threaten Ouagadougou to cut fuel supply”, headlined the newspaper, with supporting explanations. “At the time of the September 30 coup, Burkina Faso’s budget ministry owed more than 600 million euros to Sonabhy, which manages the country’s hydrocarbon supplies. The public company can no longer pay its bills to traders. A situation that raises the specter of a blockage of deliveries of petroleum products,” the newspaper warned. And to explain that “the State, [qui] theoretically pays subsidies to Sonabhy corresponding to the difference between the purchase price to traders and this regulated tariff […], has fallen far behind in fulfilling its obligations to the national society”. And, further, these details: “Following expensive purchases of petroleum products since last March, the level of subsidies not paid by the Ministry of the Budget to Sonabhy has exploded, climbing to 400 billion CFA francs [610 millions d’euros] end of September. Consequently, the national company would currently have outstanding payments representing some 400 million euros towards traders Vitol, Mocoh and Trafigura. The latter are now threatening to cut off Ouagadougou’s supply of petroleum products if their bills are not paid,” the daily wrote.

During a meeting with the Professional Association of Independent Petroleum Companies of Burkina Faso (GPPI-BF), Sonabhy denied the newspaper’s “allegations”, not without reassuring about “the availability of stocks in quality and quantity both in [ses] depots on national territory than in coastal depots, awaiting transfer to Burkina”. Almost at the same time, the head of government had also given the same assurances as to a “regular supply”.

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A bittersweet New Year

Regardless of the reasons for this shortage, a single wish unites consumers: that the situation return to normal as soon as possible and that it will not repeat itself in the future. But, already, the New Year party has taken on a bitter taste for some Burkinabés. Everyone has their own tips for adapting to the current situation. Usually, the New Year is an opportunity for sharing and conviviality for Burkinabés, who do not deprive themselves of the leisure to visit friends, relatives and relatives to exchange wishes. “If the shortage lasts until the New Year, we will have no choice but to limit travel and spending. Everyone will have to review their party program, ”suggests Inoussa Tougma, met in front of a station. “Those who organize ceremonies will find themselves with few guests,” predicts Ahmed Sigué. “Do like me, we exchange vows on the phone. Instead of the motorcycle or car tank, let everyone fill up with communication credits, ”exclaimed Moumouni Lingri with humor. “Celebrating is not an end in itself. When the situation returns to normal, we can catch up, ”said Pascaline Compaoré, in a tone full of hope.

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