December 1998-December 2012: 14 years after Burkina Faso investigative journalist Norbert Zongo was mysteriously killed – for doing his job – the international media fraternity still wonders why the sword of media impunity continues to hang on newsrooms.
Ouagadougou-based Zongo was a journalist and editor of the weekly newspaper The Independent. In 1998 he was found in Sapouy in a car burnt beyond recognition alongside his three relatives, while investigating the mysterious death of David Ouedraogo, the driver of Francois Compaoré, the brother of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré.
Zongo’s death triggered a radical, violent response nationwide from the masses, especially in his birthplace Koudougou (west of Ouagadougou), in a sign of frustration and unhappiness with the regime, which was seen – and is being seen – as corrupt, bloodthirsty, reckless and power-thirsty.
Fourteen years later, despite countless efforts by fellow journalists, media rights organisations, artists, and other free voices around the world, nobody has been ‘truly’ punished for his senseless and horrible killing. Horrible because of the way he died. Senseless because the way he was killed did not fit the ‘crime’ he committed. His ‘crime’? To uncover the truth.
Hat off to Reporters Sans Frontières for its militancy in the dossier Zongo. Ivory Coast reggae singer Alpha Blondy also got in the heat of the Zongo kitchen by singing Journalistes en Danger, praising Zongo for refusing to silence his pen in Burkina Faso. And Zongo is burned to death by fire, may true justice be done for God’s sake, sings the reggaeman. But that true justice remains elusive until today. What can one do? The strong man’s democracy is always the best, sings Blondy.
Burkina Faso rappers also got very emotional about Zongo’s death, with Smockey, Samsklejah, Faso Kombat, Slam, Obskur Jaffar and Sana Bob joining forces with Ivorian reggae singer Tiken Jah Fakoly and Niger’s Safia to launch the album Norbert Zongo: case closed? (Abazon Studios). Fakoly also mentions Zongo in Les Martyres alongside some assassinated prominent political figures, including Thomas Sankara and Diallo Telli.
After Zongo, the media killings continue unabated, and the killers – free and untouchable – still lurk in the dark in Africa and in every part of the world, looking for other victims to suck their blood. They are the modern Draculas of this world. And if the Draculas are roaming free, who is protecting them and who is funding and sending them? The reply is simple: the politicians, including heads of state, ministers, army generals, powerful businessmen and other individuals, who have something to hide.
The writing was – and still is – on the wall…
“Impunity is the oxygen for attacks against the press and the engine of those who seek to silence the media,” Javier Garza is quoted as saying in the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Getting Away With Murder 2012 Impunity Index. Garza is the editor of the Mexican daily newspaper El Siglo de Torreón, whose Coahuila offices were attacked twice in the past four years without anyone being arrested.
“These attacks made it clear to us that we can’t trust the authorities for protection,” Garza said. Now, the one-million dollar question is: should journalists wear bulletproof vests and hire armed undercover guards when working on a very sensitive story?
Zongo was a true hero and a martyr, not for only for outspoken African journalists, but also for all citizens of the free society at large who strongly believe that media must be left alone to do its job of holding the powerful and the rich accountable for abuse of power.
*PIC: Plaque marking the place of assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo in Sapouy in Burkina Faso (© Cheriff Sy)