The Chariots of Ouagadougou


— By Alexandrine from Burkina Faso

Ouaga*, it is noon. The sun reigns supreme over the capital of ‘Men of Integrity’*. On Basssawarga Avenue, the traffic jam is at its peak. Apart from the impressive ocher color that dresses this city, it is the ballet of countless motorcycles that attracts attention. Ouagadougou is full of motorcycles. They are everywhere and for all. Small, young, women with babies on their backs, or with a tray of merchandise balanced on their heads, and old people…each has its own two-wheeled craft. You don’t need a driver’s license, you just have to learn how to start it, how to stay stable, and how to sneak. It’s enough! In Ouaga, everyone has his own “chariot”. Asian motorcycle sales companies have felt the deal.

Living without a “chariot” is a misery

Experience with motorcycles when arriving for the first time in Ouagadougou differs from one person to another. When I arrived in the country of Thomas Sankara, father of the Burkinabe revolution, I swore to never venture on this machine that everyone leads through the arteries of the capital without protection (helmets are annoying for the Burkinabé). I quickly changed my mind. Bicycle races, not for fun or exercise, but because I had no choice. Difficulties finding a taxi and a good one (some are only a set of old spare parts that threaten to yield in every movement, worse, most of them are fueled by gas bottles), and the cost of journeys quickly dissuaded me…”Ouaga without a chariot is galley,” said the artist.


The Ouagalais* road code.

After a few apprenticeship sessions that took place without fractures, but not without scratches, I bought my “chariot”. A beautiful black motorcycle. I was proud of it. The hardest obstacle remained to face was traffic, and in Ouagadougou, traffic doesn’t forgive.
“In Ouagadougou, we don’t drive, we avoid each other!” This statement by a colleague illustrates quite well the situation. The Ouagalais have thier own road code, and you must know it to avoid insults, breaks, and serious accidents, which are common things. No one cares about flashers, their importance is unknown. I am hardly exaggerating. To turn left or right, simply swing the arm or foot in the desired direction, or turn the head to check if the road is clear. These gestures are large enough to alert the other drivers that we want to turn.


A multi-functional machine

Motorcycles are used to drive, but not only. Effective to zigzag between cars and avoid clogs, motorcycles also help to load live or dead beasts, whole or skinned, which will serve many barbecue places around the capital. Chariots of Ouagadougou are also “places of discussion”. You can see two or three motorcycles in traffic, their drivers gayly unscrewing while driving. Better than a head to head! Other functions, these two-wheeled vehicles are very useful for dredging. Yes, it is not for nothing that burkinabé refused to wear a helmet. It is not uncommon to see in streets of Ouagadougou very pretty girls in miniskirts and heels, hair in the wind, braving the dust with huge black glasses. Impressive thing! For me, it is already hard enough to handle speed and the foot brake with my ballerina flats, but do it with shoes with heels, girls of Ouagadougou have incredible talents! And the mini-skirts – a friend showed me the trick to drive with these skirts : “You have to raise your leg slightly and climb by the space between the seat and the handlebars, sit and tighten your thighs so as not to reveal between your legs”. 
Me, in good Togolese, accustomed to motorcycles, taxi Lomé, I always go out in jeans and I climb on my bike by making a big gap above the seat…

Let’s go back to the dredge. I was saying that a girl on a motorcycle, a hand on the clutch and the other using a phone, such a beautiful show can’t go unnoticed. The “candidate” has no choice but to follow the beautiful girl with his motorcycle and try to attract her attention. In spite of my helmet, which never leaves me when driving, I paid the price of this mode of seduction.


Motorcycles also play a large role in wedding ceremonies. After most ceremonies, cousins and neighbors of the bride and groom fill the streets of the capital with their processions by honking and making figures with their motorcycles to mark the end of celibacy of the couple of the day.

Finally, no matter what we say, motorcycles of Ouagadougou make the charm and the particularity of that city of West Africa, Ouaga-sweet-taste!

– Ouagadougou or Ouaga is the capital of Burkina Faso. 
– Ouagalais are residents of Ouagadougou.
– ‘Men of Integrity’ is the meaning of Burkina Faso in the mother languages. 
– Burkina = Integrity in Moore ; Faso= Country in Dioula

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