Norbert Zongo

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Norbert Zongo
Born July 31, 1949
Koudougou, Boulkiemdé, French Upper Volta
Died December 13, 1998
Alongside a road near Sapouy, Ziro, Burkina Faso
Cause of death Shot and burned
Resting place

Ouagadougou, Kadiogo, Burkina Faso
Latitude:N 12° 22' 17.1408"

Longitude:W 1° 31' 10.776"
Nationality Burkinabé
Other names Henri Sebgo or H.S.
Education University of Abidjan
University of Benin
University of Yaoundé
Occupation Newspaper founder, publisher, editor and investigative journalist
Employer L'Independent
Notable work Le parachutage (1988) & Rougebeinga
Spouse(s) Genevieve Zongo

Constant Zongo (Son)

Benjamin Zongo (Son)
Parent(s) Augustine Zongo (Mother)
Relatives Ernest Zongo (Brother)
Awards Integrity Award

Norbert Zongo, also known under the pen name of Henri Segbo or H.S.,[1] (July 31, 1949[1] – December 13, 1998), a Burkinabé founder, publisher, editor of the newspaper L'Indépendant in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Africa. Under Zongo's supervision, L'Indépendant exposed extortion and impunity within the government of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaoré. He was assassinated after his newspaper began investigating the murder of a driver who had worked for the brother of Burkinabé President Blaise Compaoré.[2][3][4][5]

Personal history[edit]

Norbert Zongo was born in Koudougou, Boulkiemdé Province in French Upper Volta to Augustine Zongo, his mother, in July 1949. While in secondary school, Norbert would listen to international radio stations and used the information to inform students on current events through a newspaper he created called La Voix du Cours Normal (The Voice of the High School). Zongo's early attempt was shut down when the political content caught the attention of the authorities.[6] After high school, Zongo pursued legal studies at University of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire and journalism at the University of Benin in Togo. The latter university expelled him and he was imprisoned in Burkina Faso after Zongo published his political novel Le Parachutage. He was able to finish his education in journalism at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon.[6]

Zongo was a supporter of human rights and also helped found the Movement for Human and Peoples' Rights, an organization in Burkina Faso.[6]

Norbert Zongo's remains are buried in Gounghin Military Cemetery located just east of Ouagadougou.[7]


Norbert Zongo began his career as a teacher after high school in Ouagadougou, Kadiogo Province, in 1971 while pursuing his university education.

Zongo was also a writer. His first novel Le Parachutage was a thinly disguised political critique of Togo's President Gnassingbé Eyadema set in the post-colonial era. In the preface of the novel in 1988, Zongo mentions being arrested and beaten for writing it. He followed this novel with the colonial setting for Rougebeinga two years later, which was also political satire of leadership.[1]

Norbert Zongo began his newspaper career at Sidwaya and at Carrefour Africain. His byline also appeared in newspapers such as L' Observateur and Le Journal du Jeudi (or J.J.). As a journalist, his articles were critical of the government and so he was moved from the capital to discourage his work along these lines.[6] In 1991, Norbert Zongo founded La Clef with Saturnin Ki. It was the first newspaper in Burkina Faso to openly criticize the government, with Zongo contributing under the pseudonym Henri Sebgo. The newspaper La Clef collapsed in 1993. Then Zongo founded his own weekly newspaper L'Indépendant in 1993.[1][3][4][8]

As a journalist Zongo applied his skills as an investigative journalist to auditing government and focusing on corruption. In 1996, he began looking into a series of fraud and graft cases involving several mining and manufacturing companies with ties to top political officials and President Blaise Compaoré's family, all of which severely embarrassed the government. The following year, Zongo directly criticized the Burkinabé parliament's decision to amend the constitution to allow Compaoré to seek a third term.[6]


Ouagadougou is located in Burkina Faso.
Ouagadougou is the largest city and the capital of Burkina Faso.

In December 1997, a suspicious disappearance and possible murder of David Ouedraogo, who happened to be the driver of Francis Campaoré who was President Blaise Campaoré's brother, prompted Zongo to investigate. Ouedrago was tortured and killed for allegedly stealing large sums of money.[6][9] Zongo reported the case and wrote small excerpts every week for his newspaper. He began getting death threats and the government ignored them.[6][10] His wife, Genevieve Zongo, confirmed that he was receiving death threats from 1997 to his death in 1998. She was told that Norbert would often be followed by a car while on his motorbike. Zongo was also approached to convince him to drop his investigation, but he continued until his death.[6]

On December 13, 1998, four bodies were found shot and burned in a Toyota Land cruiser on the side of the road in Sapouy, Ziro Province.[11] The remains were identified as Norbert Zongo; Zongo's brother Yembi Ernest Zongo; Blaise Ilboudo, a colleague; and Abdouleye Ablassé Nikiema, who was Zongo's driver.[1][10][12] Zongo's death triggered a national crisis and violent protests within Burkina Faso.[2][13]

In January 1999, Francois Compaoré, President Blaise Compaoré's brother, was charged with murder and harboring the body of the victim in connection with the death of David Ouedraogo, his chauffeur, who had died as a result of torture in January 1998. The charges were later dropped by a military tribunal after Francois Compaoré appealed against them.

Six presidential body guards were identified as suspects in the murder.[10][14][15] In August 2000, five members of the presidential security were charged for the murder of Ouedraogo. Marcel Kafando, Edmond Koama and Ousseini Yaro, who are also suspects in the Norbert Zongo case, were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Edmond Koama died on January 4, 2001. Marcel Kafando was the only one who was charged for the crime, but the charges were later dropped on July 19, 2006. Marcel Kafando was later the transitional president of Burkina Faso.[16] The judgment was called "scandalous" by Reporters Without Borders.

In 2013, the case was appealed for the family to have justice for their loss under a court system that was not under control of Burkina Faso. It was believed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights that Burkina Faso's government covered up the case and violated the revised treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which allows freedom of expression and journalism.[4][10][17] The ACHPR determined that the case should be reopened in order for the victim's families to be compensated for their losses.[3]



His memorial in Sapouy.

During his funeral, about 20,000 people walked 10 kilometers from the mortuary to the cemetery to pay tribute to him and solidarity with his cause.[6][11] In 2006, Zongo's case was determined closed with no one found guilty, which enraged civil rights defenders and citizens of Burkino Faso.[14][19]

Norbert Zongo's widowed wife, Genevieve continued to keep his newspaper, the L'Indépendant, alive after his death. She remains the primary publisher and editor in memory of her late husband.[8][17]

In 2014, it was determined that Norbert Zongo's case was unfairly excused due to a bias in government.[3]


The Committee to Protect Journalists' Africa program coordinator, Sue Valentine, stated "We praise Burkinabe authorities for taking this step (arresting three presidential soldiers involved in Zongo's murder) and call on them to ensure that the mastermind of this murder is identified and prosecuted. After 17 long years, the family, friends, and colleagues of Norbert Zongo deserve a thorough and transparent investigation leading to full justice."[12]

Reporters Without Borders' head of its Africa desk, Cléa Kahn-Sriber, said, "This ruling constitutes a major turning-point in the Zongo case, which has suffered appallingly from the impunity tolerated for all these years by Burkina Faso's justice system."[3]

Reporters Without Borders, who avidly campaigned for Zongo's case, stated, "This has always been a highly political case. Zongo was killed by members of the presidential guard. François Compaoré, the brother of President Blaise Compaoré, is implicated. The authorities never stopped protecting the killers. The president has got what he always wanted – injustice."[20]

The Independent Commission of Inquiry released the following statement: "Norbert Zongo was assassinated for purely political motives because he practiced investigative journalism. He defended a democratic ideal and had chosen to become involved, with his newspaper, in the struggle for the respect of human rights and justice, and against the poor management of the public sector and impunity."[15]

President Chrysogone Zougmoré of the Mouvement burkinabè des droits de l'homme et des peuples (MBDHP) said, "The assassination of Norbert Zongo remains a dark point in our recent political history, and the State, for not having rapidly considered such a symbolic case, is responsible for the denial of justice suffered by victims' families. The African Court has just reminded the authorities of this failure. This is a first victory for human rights defenders in Burkina, who have been demanding truth and justice for Norbert Zongo and his companion for the past 16 years. This is also a victory for regional justice in the fight against impunity."

Germain Nama, a member of the UNESCO's National Commission and chair of the National Human Rights Organization's arbitration committee, said, "I knew he was severely threatened, but, by the time he took the threats seriously, it was too late. They even went to see him, saying they had been sent to bump him off. As proof, they recounted his schedule in such detail that Norbert was afraid. The plan was to get rid of him and arrange for his body to be found in the bush a few days later. The men said that they had been sent by François Compaoré. He saw them at least twice during October. The man who was to kill him, known as D., belonged to the militaries that murdered the opponent Valentin Kinda in Abidjan, at the time of Thomas Sankara's government."[6]

Legacy and commemoration[edit]

Many Burkinabé journalists accredit Zongo with being the first writer in the country to practice investigative journalism.[6]

  • The singer Alpha Blondy wrote a song, Journalistes en danger, about the assassination of Zongo.
  • In 2012, a memorial was erected at the Highway N6 (Ouagadougou – Léo) near Sapouy, at the site of his murder.


In 2001, three years after his death, Zongo was given the Integrity Award for his work to expose government corruption.[6][21]


  1. ^ a b c d e Wise, Christopher (2001). The Desert Shore: Literatures of the Sahel. 3. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 157–158. ISBN 9780894108679. 
  2. ^ a b "How Burkina Faso's Blaise Compaore sparked his own downfall". BBC News. 
  3. ^ a b c d e LUCAS BARASA (12 June 2015). "Ruling over Zongo case praised". 
  4. ^ a b c "Norbert Zongo". Committee to Protect Journalists. December 13, 1998. 
  5. ^ "Hope of justice for Norbert Zongo at last?". Reporters Without Borders. June 8, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Soré, Ramata (2008). "The Murder of Norbert Zongo". Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism. 
  7. ^ "In Norbert Zongo case, 12 years of impunity – Committee to Protect Journalists". Retrieved 2016-12-06. 
  8. ^ a b "Hope of justice for Norbert Zongo at last?". Reporters Without Borders. 
  9. ^ The Patriotic Vanguard. "Arusha: Public Hearing on the Norbert Zongo and Others Case". The Patriotic Vanguard. 
  10. ^ a b c d "Burkina Faso / Norbert Zongo Case : The African Court recognizes the responsibility of the State of Burkina Faso in the denial of justice for the victims". Worldwide Movement for Human Rights. 
  11. ^ a b "Zongo affair shakes Burkina Faso". 
  12. ^ a b "Glimmer of hope in Norbert Zongo murder case in Burkina Faso". 
  13. ^ "Burkina Faso charges three soldiers with murder of journalist". Yahoo News. 12 December 2015. 
  14. ^ a b Staff (12 December 2015). "Burkina Faso indicts, jails 3 in killing of investigative journalist nearly 2 decades ago". Global News. 
  15. ^ a b "Report on death of journalist Norbert Zongo submitted by Independent Commission of Inquiry". IFEX. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b "The Killing of Norbert Zongo: African Court Stresses State Obligation to Protect Journalists". Open Society Foundations. 
  18. ^ "Norbert Zongo's murder: No justice after 10 years". 
  19. ^ "Burkina Faso coalition campaigns for justice in journalist Zongo’s death, 1998-2001". 
  20. ^ Judge dismisses sole suspect in Zongo's Murder
  21. ^ e.V., Transparency International. "Award winner – Norbert Zongo (Integrity Award)". 

External links[edit]