The Journal of Modern African Studies

‘Enough is Enough’: an ethnography of the struggle against impunity in Burkina Faso

Sten  Hagberg  a1 1
a1 Department of Cultural Anthropology & Ethnology, Uppsala University.


This article analyses the ways in which socio-political opposition is expressed by looking into the morally loaded discourse of political legitimacy in Burkina Faso that emerged after the assassination of the journalist Norbert Zongo in December 1998. Through the analysis of different political statements, newspapers and various comments from the ‘street’, it locates the struggle against impunity in a social and political undercurrent in Burkinabe society. In this context, notions of the public space are central, because the public space defines both the boundaries of public debate and the behaviour of key political actors. Two recurrent themes in Burkinabe political discourse, namely ideas of truth and courage, and the legitimacy of White people, illustrate the various ways in which socio-political opposition seeks to define the public space within which politics is to be practised and the behaviour to be observed by those acting there. But the struggle against impunity also takes place on a symbolic level at which key symbols are appropriated, interpreted and incorporated into political discourse.


1 Fieldwork has been carried out mainly in western and central Burkina for a total of five years; of particular importance to this article is the fieldwork between October 1998 and April 1999. An earlier version of the article was presented for the panel ‘A socio-anthropology of corruption: comparative perspectives’ organised by Thomas Bierschenk and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan at the 42nd Meeting of the African Studies Association in Philadelphia 8–11 November 1999. The article has also benefited from the critical reading of many colleagues, notably the members of the Living Beyond Conflict Seminar at Uppsala University ( I am particularly grateful for Jan Ovesen's critical reading and inspiring comments. Thanks also for comments provided by Mats Hårsmar, Murray Last, Christopher Clapham and the anonymous referees of the Journal of Modern African Studies.