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The Urban Resource Center of Burkina Faso invites you to share with other scholars and researchers the movies you've watched, and books or articles you have read. It intends to foster discussions on topical issues on urbanization in Africa and beyond. Together let's make the Urban Resource Center of Burkina a space and place for quality dialogue and constructive knowledge sharing.
Zan Boko or the Criticism of Modernity, Citizenship and the Right to the City. By Michel Tinguiri
Zan Boko is a movie by Gaston Kaboré, a well-known Burkinabè filmmaker who produced several feature films including Wend Kuuni (1982), Buud Yam (1997), and the winner of FESPACO’s first prize (Etalon du Yennega in 1997 with Buud Yam) to quote but a few.
What makes Zan Boko relevant to the discourse articulated in the Urban Resource Center of Burkina Faso is its constructive criticism of urban expansion and the dispossession of the poor, the complicity of policy-makers and the ruling class with the whims of the urban bourgeoisie, a muzzled media, the courage to speak truth to power, and the value and significance of remaining true to oneself in the face of adversity. Though produced in the 1980s, Zan Boko is and will certainly be referenced as one of the first Burkinabè movie taking a critical stance against accumulation by dispossession. It is a call for social justice, and the construction of a "just city", a city that tolerates difference: a call for building a city for the poor, the not so-poor and the rich, and the not so-rich.
In Zan Boko (a place where the placenta is buried), Gaston Kaboré (1988) denounces the impact of urbanization and modernity on the rural communities. As Ouagadougou expands, it includes neighboring villages, dispossessing villagers from their ancestral lands, and therefore their sense of place and communal identity. Zan Boko is a criticism of modernity, corruption and dispossession of the poor by the urban bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie in search for space for hobbies and pastime embodied in the swimming pool built by the wealthy man in the movie. Most importantly, Zan Boko is a criticism against a puppet media at the beck and call of a corrupt government which ends up firing an honest and pro-social justice journalist, Yabre. It reveals how the media can be destructive, especially when it engages in disseminating pre-chewed information for the benefit of the ruling class. In the movie, local and national governments come together to create spectacles to praise the positive impact of urban development. However this almost got out of control from the ruling class who quickly realized that the stubborn journalist (Yabre) committed to social justice turned the scripted television interview (show) into a scathing criticism of injustice and inequalities caused by modernization. It raises critical questions such as: who has the right to the city? And who should speak about urban policies? Yabre, the journalist was initially suspended for failing to respect the government’s public relation code of conduct. Failing to learn his lesson from his suspension by rather sticking to the official script, his new program (a forum to discuss urban policies and to test whether he actually learned his lesson or not) is interrupted by the order of the President who instructed the Minister of information and communication to do so. Yabre is left confused, and trying to understand the sudden interruption of his program and the threats of the Minister of information and communication.This reveals how the media is used to foreclose discourse from any counter-identificatory subject (Pêcheux 1975). He is condemned for being an irresponsible, unintelligent and immature journalist. Thus, what was initially framed, packaged as an intellectual, transparent and honest debate on the impacts of urbanization and government’s accountability was nothing but a spectacle meant to misguide the public.
Also, Tenga, the peasant who happens to be the neighbor of the wealthy man resists eviction by refusing to sell his house for building the swimming pool. The rich neighbor and his wife complain about the stinky smell from his compound, the noise of his pigs, sheep and goats. He is first approached by his neighbor’s watchman who failed to persuade him to sell his house. The latter even took Tenga to the periphery of the city to show him a newly built compound. This episode in the movie is symbolic of the process of peripherilization of the urban poor who is endlessly pushed out of the city to the margins, further into the slums. The complaint about “bad smell” from his neighbor is also symbolic of Tenga and his family being out of place, and symbolizing pollution: an ugly spectacle to be displaced by all means necessary. His refusal to bow down to the urban bourgeoisie’s desire is not only interpreted as arrogance, but also as an expression of his short-sightedness and backwardness in understanding "progress". The encroachment of urban expansion on rural communities is abundantly clear in Zan Boko. It is important to note that though there is a stark contrast between the rich and the poor physical appearance in the movie, in terms of collaboration, the poor work for the rich to dispossess the poor, and the middle class embodied by the journalist join the poor to fight the rich. In this respect, when asked about the binarism of modernity versus tradition in the movie, Gaston Gaboré rather responds as follows:
“I don't think modernity is totally incompatible with humaneness, but in I ask the question of the possibility of an improvement of our living conditions together with a preserved human dimension.
The message in is not so much to condemn the bourgeois who resorts to reprehensible means to dispossess farmer Tenga of his land. It is rather to denounce the tragic mistake of purely and simply denying the rural world's legitimacy to participate in the definition of a social project at the heart of which is the human. The rural word's economic insignificance does not mean that it is morally and philosophically insignificant. There are riches that cannot be bought. You do not have to be against modernity, but you absolutely must avoid reducing yourself simply to the material, and ultimately derisory, manifestations of this modernity, which is in itself waiting to acquire the status of tradition.”
Clearly, tradition and modernity are gradually becoming the same thing. And I wonder here if Gaston Kaboré is trying to situate African cinema in a rather post-modern framework in addressing the dichotomy of tradition versus modernity. In any case, Zan Boko is still relevant today and it may help us understand urban projects such as “projet ZACA” which evicted residents from the urban center and pushed some of them to the periphery in Ouaga 2000 C. While Zan Boko emphasizes the eviction of the urban poor for the construction of swimming pools (symbols of the urban bourgeoisie), project ZACA is rooted in a developmentalist discourse of redeveloping a new urban center to boost the local economy and the image of the city of Ouagadougou. But at what costs and who bears the brunt of such policy decisions? That’s the question!
Barlet,Olivier .2004. . Accessed at <http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=3363> May 14, 2010.
http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=7953>, May 14, 2010.
Fespaco. 2010. Lauréats. Accessed at http://www.fespaco.bf/Laureats.html, May 14, 2010.
Pêcheux, Michel. 1975. The Subject-form of Discourse in the Subjective Appropriation of Scientific Know ledges and Political Practice. In Language, Semantics and Ideology. (Trans. Harbans Nagpal). Pp. 155-170. New York City: St. Martins Press.
Zan Boko.1988. DVD/94 min. Produced by Bras de Fer. Directed by Kaboré, Gaston. Performers: Joseph Nikiema, Colette Kaboré, Celestin N. Zongo.
 Fespaco (2010). Lauréats. Accessed at http://www.fespaco.bf/Laureats.html, May 14, 2010.
 Barlet, Olivier (2004). . Accessed at <http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=3363> May 14, 2010.
 http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=7953>, May 14, 2010.