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Burkina Faso: 10th Anniversary of journalist Norbert Zongo's Murder

Ten years ago, on the 13th of December 1998, the bullet-ridden bodies of journalist Norbert Zongo and three friends were found in a burned-out car on the road to Sapouy, about 100km from the capital. Norbert Zongo, editor of the weekly L'Indépendant and one of the best known journalists in Burkina Faso, was assassinated while investigating the biggest story at the time: a murder at the presidential palace and criminal allegations against the President's brother.


Picture of a remembrance march for Norbert Zongo on the 14th of April 2007 during the International Festival for the Freedom of Speech and of the Press (FILEP), from the organizers website.

Mohammed Keita wrote in the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalists:

Zongo was just one of 24 journalists killed in the line of duty in 1998. He is among the 70 percent of journalists and media workers around the world who die not in crossfire but because they are deliberately targeted for what they have written or aired.

[…] Murder is the ultimate form of censorship: The killing of a prominent journalist like Zongo casts an invisible chill on the media's ability to probe issues of public interest. Worse, an unsolved journalist's murder sends the message that the enemies of the press enjoy total impunity. CPJ research has found that in nations worldwide where journalists are murdered, there is justice in less than 15 percent of the cases.

Although the 10th anniversary of Zongo's unsolved assassination passed with his killers still at large (a judge dismissed charges in 2006 against the half a dozen suspect in the case) Zongo's widow, colleagues, and human rights activists are using the occasion to demand justice. A website called Norbert Zongo: 10 ans d'impunité (Norbert Zongo: 10 years of impunity) was set up to campaign for the remembrance of Norbert Zongo, and a a petition has been launched to collect signatures and force the Burkinabé government to reopen the case:

For 10 years, the media as well as hundreds of thousands of peoples have mobilised to have light shed on the assassination of this great journalist. Let us refuse impunity through the cancelling of the case. Join us to carry on the struggle in order to discover the murderers and their silent partners. Sign the petition for the reopening of the case. Get involved in the strong desire of the Burkinabe to find out truth and render justice properly.

Several burkinabé bloggers, such as Ramata Sore [Fr], have urged their readers to sign this petition for the reopening of the case.

Among the many recent musical hommages to Norbert Zongo, Augustin Scalbert in a press roundup about the anniversary at the news portal Rue89 [Fr] chose a song by ivorian reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly, who considers Zongo one of the “martyrs” of the continent. The lyrics say:

Ils ont oublié Norbert Zongo… oublié

[…] Mais le sorcier oublie toujours, les parents de la victime n'oublient jamais c'est pourquoi c'est pourquoi nous pouvons pardonner mais jamais oublier nous allons pardonner mais jamais oublier.

They forgot Norbert Zongo… forgot

[…] But the sorcerer always forgets, the parents of the victims never forget, that's why, that's why
we cannot forgive but we can never forget, we are going to forgive but never forget.

The 10th anniversary blog also gives an overview [Fr] of the unconclusive investigation of Norbert Zongo's murder that was closed in July 2006. L'Observateur Paalga [Fr] also wonders about what happened to the initial half a dozen suspects of the murders. In a different article at L'Observateur Paalga [Fr] Boureima Diallo writes:

Norbert, sans conteste, devrait être fier qu’à cause de lui, ou grâce à lui d’importantes réformes institutionnelles aient été opérées au sein du paysage politico-administratif burkinabè.

[…] Rarement un meurtre aura été autant médiatisé au Burkina. Et pourtant, il était loin d’être le premier assassinat qualifié de « politique » dans notre pays. Mais à ce jour, soit 10 ans après ce quadruple meurtre, ce dossier n’en finit pas de piétiner en faisant du surplace.

Norbert should unquestionably be proud since because of him, or thanks to him, a few important constitutional reforms have taken place in the political and economic landscape of Burkina Faso.

[…] Seldom a murder has been so widely covered in the media in Burkina. And yet it was far from being the first assassination qualified as “political” in our country. But today, 10 years after the quadruple murder, this case is still on a standstill.

Mohammed Keita of the blog of the Committee to Protect Journalistswrites about the silence surrounding the case:

The Zongo case remains a sensitive topic for probing journalists and taboo in government circles. Infomercials advocating for the reopening of the case have been running on two private television channels, Canal 3 and Sport-Music TV, but not the government-controlled national broadcaster RTB […]. No government representative was expected to take part in the activities, according to local journalists.

Last year, on the 9th anniversary of the murders the blog Africa Flak wondered:

How many years can people commemorate the same death? How many years can calls for justice go out regarding the same murders?

[Fr] Today, the streets of downtown Ouagadougou will be once again full of people with their signs and cries for justice. It’s the ninth time they’ve done this. But silence is the only response they will get.

Nabi Youssfou [Fr] gives a possible answer:

La justice est fatiguée de chercher mais les Burkinabè ne sont toujours pas fatigués de rappeler qu’il y a eu quadruple assassinat le 13 décembre 1998. Ils le feront encore le 13 décembre 2008. Ils le font parce que ce crime est d’une « historicité jamais égalée ». De par sa cruauté. Il a eu lieu sous le régime de Blaise Compaoré. Juste un peu d’histoire. On ne racontera pas l’histoire du Burkina et de ce régime en occultant ces crimes.

Justice is tired of searching but the Burkinabé are still not tired of reminding that there was a quadruple murder on the 13th of December 1998. They will do it again on the 13th of December 2008. They are doing it because the historical relevance of this crime is unequalled. Because of its cruelty. It happened under Blaise Compaoré's regime. Just a little history. We will not tell the history of Burkina and of this regime by hiding its crimes.

3 comments

  • dites au president compaore qu’il peut regner pendant des années mais il y aura justice pour Norbert Zongo.
    Que quelque soit sa volonté il ne peut et ne pourra jamais empecher le soleil de briller.Que quelque soit la distance d’un pays il ya un autre devant.Que la mort ne connait ni le riche ni le pauvre,ni le president ni l’employé,qu’un mort est un mort et tout les crimes ont droit à une justice et chaque criminel doit etre jugé.

  • […] The online article tells us about the death of Norbert Zongo, a popular journalist in this country, ten years ago. Zongo was shot, when he investigated about a murder at the presidential palace and criminal allegations against the President’s brother. The murder remains unpunished, the killers are still at large. […]

  • […] only one problem: François is connected to an enormous political scandal: the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo in 1998. Zongo investigated the murder of a former driver of François Compaoré who died after […]

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