Attacks on the Press 2002: Burkina Faso

2002 was a particularly tough year for President Blaise Compaoré, as accusations mounted that he is one of West Africa’s most corrupt leaders and supports insurrection in neighboring Ivory Coast. Members of the media covering the corruption have been harassed, while the December 1998 murder of journalist Norbert Zongo remains unsolved.

In February, Denmark decreased aid to Burkina Faso from US$27 million to US$21 million after allegations surfaced that the country had violated a U.N. arms embargo. Citing U.N. evidence, the Danish government said that Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, had become the main transit point for weapons fueling wars in the region. Denmark also cited delays in the probe into the Zongo murder as another reason for the decision.

U.N. officials maintain that Compaoré and his Liberian counterpart, Charles Taylor, regularly contravene international law for personal gain. In October, a report in the French daily Le Monde supported allegations by the Ivoirian government that Compaoré had hosted, armed, and trained a group of discontented officers from the Ivoirian army. On September 19, these Ivoirian officers launched a bloody rebellion from their Burkina Faso base in a bid to topple their country’s government. Compaoré later admitted his part in the coup attempt, to which European media have also tied Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

In October, CPJ confirmed a Le Monde report that in late September, the rebel Ivoirian soldiers kidnapped veteran journalist Christophe Koffi, an Ouagadougou-based reporter for Agence France-Presse, and drove him to a village on the Lareda River, near the border with Ivory Coast. Koffi was released a week later, after rebel chief Ibrahim Coulibaly had accused him of spying for the Ivoirian government. Koffi was not injured during his captivity.

Koffi had earlier been detained on August 7 in connection with a Burkina Faso police inquiry into the August 1 murder of Balla Kéita, a self-exiled former Ivory Coast government minister. After Koffi’s release the next day, police picked up Newton Ahmed Barry, editor-in-chief of the private monthly L’Evénement, and asked him about his contacts with Ivoirian journalists, as well as whether he worked for the Ivoirian government. Barry was held for two days before being released without charge.

As tensions between Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast escalated, nationalistic
hatred surged on both sides, most notably in the Ivory Coast, where more than 3 million Burkinabes work on coffee and cocoa plantations. On August 6, Burkina Faso border police detained and interrogated six Ivoirian reporters who were headed to Ouagadougou to cover Kéita’s death.

After hotly contested legislative elections in May, President Compaoré’s governing Congress for Democracy and Progress party saw its share of seats in Parliament shrink to 57 from 101 out of 111 total seats. Independent journalists and opposition leaders alike welcomed the results, saying they showed the population’s dissatisfaction with Compaoré’s rule.

On the evening of October 14, according to regional news reports, President Compaoré survived an assassination attempt that killed at least one senior Secret Service agent and maimed another. Unidentified attackers hurled an explosive at the presidential limousine as it drove down an Ouagadougou street, the reports said.

September 20

Christophe Koffi, Agence France-Presse

Koffi, a reporter for Agence France-Presse, was kidnapped by Burkina Faso-backed rebel Ivoirian soldiers in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and driven to a village on Lareda River, near the border with Ivory Coast. The journalist, who was released a week later, said that during his captivity, rebel chief Ibrahim Coulibaly repeatedly accused him of being a spy for the Ivoirian government.

The rebel soldiers from Ivory Coast’s Muslim north began fighting government troops on September 19 before agreeing to a cease-fire and peaceful negotiations in mid-October. They claim that southern Christians, who have ruled the country since independence from France in 1960, discriminate against Muslims. Veteran reporter Koffi, who was not injured during his ordeal, is from the south.