Burkina Faso et le rôle de la Presse en temps de crise


En Français: Une interview réalisée en juin 2017 à Ouagadougou avec Radio Oméga où nous discutons de la situation dramatique du pays, la violence croissante et des solutions possibles.

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English Translation Below:

Good morning Mr. Kazoias.

Good Morning.

Can you present yourself and tell us why you are in Burkina Faso?

I am invited by the US Embassy as an independent journalist to lead training in investigative journalism. Of course, we can’t do everything that is investigative journalism. The idea was to show the paths to follow to deepen one’s knowledge, to develop investigative journalism in the country.

Why the decision to treat the theme of investigative journalism?

The US Embassy thinks it is a good idea to accompany the journalists to dig deeper into information. As you know, the population has the right to know what their leaders are doing and transparency is the keystone to the good working of a democracy.  I was here last year to work a different theme. I am very happy to be back again this year and I think that we had interesting exchanges and from there the Burkinabes will try to find ways to dig up information.

What are the aspects of investigative journalism you dealt with?

I believe that when leaders, industrialists and news makers shut the door to information, there is always a way to dig up the information. There are ways to get around the closed door to find a window which is open and to uncover the information. Once we have the information in our hands, we can come back to the deciders to oblige them to open.  We looked into this approach a bit and the problems you people face; that is to say a lack of transparency is something that we face too.  Often we have to go to court in our country to get the information which we have a right to. It is certain that those in power, sometimes, have things they don’t want to public to know. The problem is a society cannot function if the public is not sure what those who govern them are doing. It is our role to inform the public on that.  So, you can get the information. Sometimes you have to work hard to get it. But I believe almost all information can be obtained.

How do you appreciated the quality of Burkinabe reporters during this training?

I found them enthusiastic. I know there is a problem of means and I would like our countries in the North to accompany them more to help them develop their means so that they can do their jobs better. Because every citizen has the right to information, no matter his social condition or education. Democracy can only function when each citizen feels they are a citizen in every way. Information is really an essential base to the stability and well-being of society. Information and education are the two pillars of democracy for me.  Burkina Faso impressed me because I think the people I met are aware of this necessity and are determined to do the work which needs to be done.

And how do you find Burkina Faso, the country itself?

I am worried. I saw very poor people; people who did not have the opportunity to go to school; who have no perspective for the future in the present state of things. I think we must do more to give these people a future.  At the same time, these people must feel that society is there to help them if they are in need.   It is obvious, there is a lot of work to be done. It is also obvious that a lot of work has already been done. I have been following Burkina Faso since before the time of Thomas Sankara. I note clearly that it is not the same situation as in the 1980s. So, things have changed which shows promise but there is a lot left to be done.

What do you think is the first task to be done?

For me it is education for the children. It’s essential. If you want to control the demographic explosion, if you want to develop the country, if you want the population to feel engaged, with ideas for the future, you really need to educate the children. In one generation we could control the demographic explosion, control the exodus, develop agriculture in an exponential way. For me, the base of all that is education. Moreover, you have a problem with terrorism like many countries in the region. It is misery that is the base of recruitment for these criminal organizations. We cannot beat them with bombs. We have to defeat them through education, defeat them through development. We have to cut the grass from under their feet so that people have another future.  Many people go to those guys because they are angry. They don’t see a future or because they think of social injustice or, and it must be said, these criminal gangs are very rich and can pay them.  So, I think education is one of the essential means to defeat this plague.

You are here to train Burkinabe reporters in a period of tension following the aggression by the gendarmes of reporters and farmers. What is your analysis, you who were a reporter in the field for RFI, what is the analysis you have of the relationship between journalists and security forces in general?

Burkina Faso is not different from other countries.  There is a misunderstanding. The reporter is not the enemy of security forces and reporters need to understand that security forces are not the enemies of journalists. There is a conflict because we want information and they don’t always know which information they must give and which information they must withhold.  And we must also understand we don’t have the right to all security information. That is clear.

But there has to be transparency all the same. The reporter must remain independent from the security forces so that the public trust him. I think it is important the journalist understands how the police and the army function and it is important that the army and police understand how a journalist works. That could resolve many misunderstandings. As I said, there will always be conflict. We will always want information and the powers-that-be will always want to withhold a lot of information. I believe they have everything to gain by being more transparent, by giving more information, opening more to reporters through press conferences and spokesmen, by showing them what they are doing in the field. Because, of course, a journalist must show where there is a malfunction so that public opinion can put pressure on the government to improve the situation. But there is also the duty to show where things function well. And through a mutual understanding, perhaps through a conference between editors and publishers and the spokesmen for the different ministries and the army and the police, we could arrive at a sort of entente on how each one functions. Nobody is going to be entirely happy with the other. But we can work together once we understand we are not enemies. We are different poles of society. The press is the fourth estate and it has an essential role to play. The police and the army have an essential role to play. I would add that when it comes to security, the police and the army must have a monopoly on violence in the country. In a country of rule-of-law, it is not every Tom, Dick, or Harry, vigilantes or militias etc; who can take law into their hands. The public must know that the government, the police and army are there to protect them, that the rule-of-law is the same for everybody and that they too will benefit.

Were you yourself ever threatened by security forces?

Yes, many times in my life I was threatened by soldiers, by the police and even militias. Once in DRC, I did the stupidest thing of my life. A militiaman with Bemba put a Kalashnikov to my head and asked me for three dollars and I told him in more vulgar words ‘to go jump in the lake.’ That is to say that I was probably there too long and it was time to get out of Dodge. I lost the measure of things. That is to say I was also in difficult situations. I want to insist on this. I am WHITE. I come from a country in the North, rich, so, I am more or less protected. You know well that militiamen, police and the army hesitate to push us around. I know they are much harder with you Africans.

What advice do you give a young journalist faced with this kind of situation with security forces?

I want to say clearly to all journalists listening to us that no story is worth the life of a reporter.  If you know you are in danger, withdraw. I prefer you are here tomorrow to write a story rather than dead today for a story you couldn’t write. You must really measure the risks.  I spoke with students at the university the other day. There were students who wanted to go to the North. I told them don’t do that alone. You are running risks. There is nobody to protect you and there will be nobody there to cry for you when you are dead. The situation is too dangerous. Reporters are targeted by these armed gangs and unfortunately, because of the misunderstandings which I spoke of earlier,  or because of certain countries where the police and army are part of the problem, because there is corruption, the journalists are the first ones targeted.

Thank you.