On the 12th anniversary of newspaper editor Norbert Zongo’s murder, Reporters Without Borders urges Burkina Faso’s authorities to stop stalling and relaunch the investigation into his death. African countries must actively combat impunity in cases of violence against journalists, taking their lead from Mozambique’s response to journalist Carlos Cardoso’s murder in November 2000.
“How is it possible that the investigation into Zongo’s death is still paralyzed,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard asked. “The years are passing but the wound left by this murder is still open and there has been no let-up in the public’s demands for the case to be solved. The newly-reelected President Blaise Compaoré owes his people the truth.”
Julliard added: “Mozambique’s handling of the Cardoso murder should be taken as a model by the authorities in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and other African countries. Thanks to an effective investigation, the perpetrators and instigators of Cardoso’s murder were identified and punished. Impunity is not inevitable in Africa. Combating it is just a question of political will.”
A stone commemorating Cardoso, an investigative reporter and editor of the business daily Metical, was unveiled on 22 November on Mártires de Machava Avenue in the centre of Maputo at the very spot where two gunmen blocked his car and fatally shot him in the head exactly 10 years before.
Prior to his death, he had been probing the country’s biggest financial scandal since independence – the embezzlement of 14 million euros from the privatization of Mozambique’s Banco Commercial. He had named three very influential businessmen in his reports: the Satar brothers and Vicente Ramaya.
In contrast to Cardoso’s death, the murders of many other African journalists remain unpunished. No one has ever been convicted for the murder of Gambian newspaper editor Deyda Hydara, who was shot dead in Banjul on 16 December 2004. Impunity reigns in Somalia, Africa’s deadliest country for the media, where murders of journalists are never investigated properly.
Impunity also reigns in Democratic Republic of Congo, where the murders of Franck Ngyke and Bapuwa Mwamba in Kinshasa in 2005 and 2006 and the murder of Patrick Kikuku in Goma, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, in 2007 have never been solved.
Zongo was an investigative journalist and editor of the weekly L’Indépendant. His charred body was found in a car along with the charred bodies of three companions in the southern town of Sapouy on 13 December 1998. At the time of his death he had been looking into how David Ouédraogo, the chauffeur of President Blaise Compaoré’s brother François, died at the hands of presidential guard members after being arrested on suspicion of stealing from his employer.
Following street protests, President Compaoré created an Independent Commission of Enquiry (CEI) to look into the multiple murder of Zongo and his companions. A few months later, the commission named “six leading suspects.”
Three presidential guard members were convicted in August 2000 of kidnapping Ouédraogo and torturing him to death. In February 2001, the public prosecutor went on to charge one of them, Sgt. Marcel Kafando, with murder and arson in connection with Zongo’s death. But despite the gravity of the charges, Kafando was allowed to continue living at his home in Ouagadougou.
An investigating judge, Wenceslas Ilboudo, finally ruled on 19 July 2006 that the investigation against “Marcel Kafando and any other unidentified person” for the murder of Zongo should be abandoned on the grounds that a prosecution witness had withdrawn a statement he had made eight years before. The ruling was confirmed on appeal.
At that stage, the investigation could only be reopened if “new evidence” was produced. This is what Reporters Without Borders did on 20 October 2006, when it gave the Burkina Faso state prosecutor a copy of the original draft of the CEI’s report, before it was toned down on the insistence of two of the commission’s members, who represented the government.
Passages about the contradictions in François Compaoré’s statement and attempts by businessman Oumarou Kanazoé to silence Zongo prior to his murder were completely eliminated from the final version of the report. The conclusions of the original report were also much more positive and detailed, and much more specific when identifying the “six leading suspects,” all members of the presidential guard.
Despite the new evidence, none of the suspects was arrested and Kafando died in December 2009.