The queue of spectators is getting longer on February 25 in front of the CanalOlympia Yennenga hall in Ouaga 2000, an upscale district of the Burkinabe capital. Bag checks and going through a metal detector slow down the flow of those who will attend the screening of the opening film of the 28th edition of Fespaco, the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, organized every two years. Aline B. (who did not wish to give her last name), a 38-year-old Swiss woman, follows the instructions of the security guards at the entrance.
Here, no one has forgotten the three attacks that hit the city center, in 2016 (in the Taxi Brousse and Cappuccino bars and the Splendid hotel), in 2017 (in the Istanbul café), then against the embassy of France and the general staff of the Burkinabe armies, in 2018. "We are aware that this kind of event is a target of choice", blows this Swiss editor. She made the trip despite warnings from her country, which advises its nationals against traveling to this region of the Sahel because of the terrorist threat and the risk of "political tensions".
As Burkina Faso sinks further into jihadist terror, with attacks becoming almost daily and almost 40% of the territory beyond state control, the authorities have decided to maintain the largest festival on the continent, from February 25 to March 4. An "act of resistance", claim the organizers. But also a snub to political instability after the departure of the French armed forces demanded by the junta in January and when the Western chancelleries color the map of the country in red to dissuade their nationals from accessing it.
Since landing in Ouagadougou, Aline B. regularly sends news to her family, who are worried. In recent months, Western media have covered the violent protests against the French presence. "I don't really feel any hostility, retorts the young woman, it is important to show that we are not deserting and that cultural exchanges between North and South continue. »
Several rows of police control access to the cinema. This year, the security system has been reinforced to accommodate the approximately 10,000 festival-goers expected. A few months before the launch, when a coup d'etat, the second in the space of eight months, overthrew the power in place on September 30, 2022, preparations turned into a "race against time" to organizers. "We wondered if we would get there, we had to speed up and convince the professionals to come", explains Alex Moussa Sawadogo, the general delegate of Fespaco, without giving more details on the number of police forces deployed.
Films on the crisis in the Sahel
Pick-ups filled with soldiers in fatigues, Kalashnikovs in hand, crisscross the streets around the Sports Palace, where the opening ceremony of the festival was held, placed under the theme of peace. Sitting in the stands, Idrissa Nikiema watches the dancers jump on the stage to the rhythms of the warrior tam-tams.
"This country will not die!" “, growls the presenter. Chills run through the audience. "We are here to show that we are standing, to shed some light against the terrorists who want to impose obscurantism on us! “, proclaims this teacher, his eyes shining. Several of his colleagues have had to abandon their class in the north of the country, where the fighting is increasing.
At the exit, the cameras of foreign journalists jostle on the red carpet. Abdou Diallo takes a family photo to immortalize the event. He is "very proud to show the world" another image of his country, bloodied by violence. His two children, aged 14 and 7, are experiencing their "first Fespaco". This technician, from a village in the center-north now emptied of its inhabitants, wanted them to "dream a little", the time of a film.
The echoes of the war, less than a hundred kilometers from the capital, are nevertheless in everyone's mind. For the first time, the selection committee received many films relating to the crisis in the Sahel. "At first we were shocked, confused, but Burkinabe filmmakers are beginning to deal with this theme", welcomes director Apolline Traoré, in the running for the Etalon d'or de Yennenga (the Fespaco grand prize), with Sira, a feature film on the story of a young Fulani survivor of inter-community violence. A project that was inspired by the massacre of Yirgou, in the center-north of Burkina Faso, where, in 2019, more than fifty people were killed.
"Ouaga" breathes. For a week, the hotels, deserted by tourists, fill up again. Although at the Ramada Pearl Hotel, the staff has "half as many reservations" as previous editions. "We have very few Europeans, we have mostly Malians and Senegalese," reports the receptionist. On Kwame-NKrumah Avenue, once the Mecca of the Ouagalais party, the music vibrates in the night. At the Taxi Brousse, the walls of the bar still bear the traces of the impacts of terrorist bullets. We drink and dance to "forget". Customers clink glasses at the cinema, but "especially when peace returns!" »