Friday, December 14, 2007

Can external pressure force Burkina Faso's hand in Zongo case?

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have renewed their call for a "thorough and impartial" investigation into the murder of journalist Norbert Zongo of Burkina Faso, who was killed nine years ago...

"We are seriously concerned that, after nine years, the failure to bring Mr Zongo’s murderers to justice only increases the appearance of political influence in the judicial process and adds to suspicions that the killers have, in effect, been granted impunity," said a letter from WAN and WEF to Blaise Compaore, President of Burkina Faso, and to the European Union Commissioner of External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The EU funds numerous development projects in the country.

With nine years and counting since the Zongo killings, I am of two conflicting opinions about the steps international organizations and governments can take. My first instinct says it’s too late for outsiders to influence the Burkina government on this issue. That being said, I don’t know how many conversations regarding the Zongo affair have taken place in upper levels between, say, the European Union and Burkina Faso. If the subject has indeed been broached, these discussions have so far proved fruitless – the investigation into the killings has been allowed to wither and die a slow, painful death. It should be said that in the world of diplomacy few things are more sacred than national sovereignty, and the Zongo killings represents the mother of all domestic issue.

It’s a completely cynical point, but in a world where development funds earn countries benefits in many different arenas, it would be wholly unlike donor governments to even threaten to cut off funding over the death of a journalist and three other people. (Backing out on a few development projects may mean the EU couldn’t twist Burkina Faso’s arm to send more troops to Darfur.) Take the example of Togo, where a couple dozen people had to be massacred by the military before the EU contemplated cutting aid.

On the other hand, Burkina is no longer considered such an economic and political backwater. The economy is relatively strong, and politically the country is modernizing and joining other mainstream governments throughout West Africa. The threat of stalling this movement may provide a good opportunity for someone to play the bad cop.

In the end, though, the timeline of the Zongo case plays against the efficacy of external pressure. If the government still hasn’t been forced to repent for whatever role it had in assassinating a journalist nine years ago, it most likely will never happen.

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