Motorbikes and Ouagadougou’s women: a journey to freedom

Flag of Burkina Faso

When I was growing up, I was fascinated by images on the television, of women on their motorcycles cruising through the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. Seeing women on motorcycles was always a wonder. It was so refreshing, and seemed like such a simple act, yet a mark of independence. These are not women riding Harleys or fast bikes, but simple women wearing wrappers or boubou (The Boubou: A Traditional African Garment) or Faso dan Fani, everyday women taking their children to school, going to work, etc. Even more amazing is that many of these women are Muslim. It is no secret that women in Ouagadougou love their motorcycles. This means of transportation which particularly boomed in the late 1980s is synonymous with independence, freedom, courage, and near infinite possibilities for the women. After all, for anybody who has ridden on a motorcycle, it feels so freeing to have the wind bashing all over oneself while zipping through the city. Today, the country has trained hundreds of women mechanics.


When Thomas Sankara, the president of the Faso, came in power in 1983, he led a series of changes that emancipated women, bringing them closer to equal rights in the society. It is no wonder that Nigerian filmmaker Kagho Idhebor felt the same way as I did, and was so intrigued by these women on their motorcycles, that he made the documentary”Burkina Babes” which was featured at this year’s FESPACO. Excerpts below are from AfricaNews. Enjoy!


‘Burkina Babes’ by Kagho Idhebor

In Burkina Faso’s capital, many ride their motorcycles every day to commute, go to school or move around the city.

In 2020, nearly one Burkinabe in seven owned a motorcycle.

the vehicle is also a tool of emancipation, For women like Valérie Dambré

This defines the Burkinabe woman, the courage of women. In fact, riding a motorcycle demands courage,” the motorist.

When Nigerian filmmaker Kagho Idhebor first came to Ouagadougou he was blown away by how many women whizzed about on motorcycles. So much so that he directed “Burkina Babes“, a documentary on that. It even ran at Africa’s largest film the FESPACO, the pan-African cinema and TV festival of Ouagadougou.

I have been to couple of parts of the world and even in Nigeria you see a lot of motorcycles, guys driving motorcycles but I have not seen women in the last country driving motorcycles with so much attitude and very independent and that captivated me, like I was blown away!,” the man in his thirties exlaims.

Since 1977, the Women’s School for Skills Initiation and Training is based in Ouagadougou. It has trained over 700 women to be mechanics and bodywork repairers.

…. During his four years in power in the 1980s, which ended traumatically with his assassination, Sankara “played an emancipating role, breaking down traditional mindsets and thrusting women into the public space, outside the home,” she said. “Young women today were brought up on his ideas.”

FESPACO 2023: Tunisian Film ‘Ashkal’ Wins the Golden Stallion of Yennenga, and Women Filmmakers are Recognized

FESPACO 2023 theme ‘African Cinema and Culture of Peace’

The biennial African film festival, FESPACO, took place this year from 25 February to March 4. On March 4, the winner was announced, and Tunisian Youssef Chebbi won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga (Etalon d’or de Yennenga) for his film ‘Ashkal‘ which centres on the investigation into the killing of a caretaker on a construction site at Carthage on the outskirts of his hometown. He won the first prize over Burkinabe filmwriter Apolline Traore, who picked up the Silver Stallion of Yennenga for the film ‘Sira‘, while the Bronze Stallion was awarded to Kenya’s Angela Wamai for ‘Shimoni‘.


The Festival Panafricain du cinema et de la television de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) is the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, which happens to be the largest African film festival. It is held biennially in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. First established in 1969, and boasting some of Africa’s greatest writers and filmmakers (like Ousmane Sembene), the FESPACO offers a chance for African filmmakers and professionals to showcase their work, exchange ideas, and meet other filmmakers, and sponsors.

Golden Stallion of Yennenga
The Golden Stallion of Yennenga

There were a total of 170 entries selected for the FESPACO festival in the capital Ouagadougou, including 15 fiction feature films in contention for the Yennenga Golden Stallion award and a prize of around $30,000. A big win for women filmmakers, with the second and third prizes won by Apolline Traore and Angela Wamai respectively. Burkinabe filmmaker Apolline Traore won the Silver Stallion for Siraabout a woman kidnapped by Jihadists, and Kenyan director Angela Wamai took home the Bronze Stallion for Shimoni, about a schoolteacher rebuilding his life in his remote village after a harsh stint in jail. In 2019, Burkinabe director Apolline Traore had said that any award had to be earned, not considered a token gesture; we are glad for the recognition her work and that of others is getting recognized.

The film, ‘Cuba in Africa‘ produced by Negash Abdurahman won the Thomas Sankara Prize. The film talks about the altruism of Cubans who sacrificed their sons and daughters on behalf of Africa; Cuban volunteers gave their lives to help Angola, Namibia, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, and others win independence, and contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa. It is a story all Africans should learn.

The 29th edition of Fespaco will be held from 22 February to 1 March 2025, also in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

International Women’s Day 2023

March 8th marks International Women’s Day (IWD). Every year around the world it is commemorated in a variety of ways: it is a public holiday in over 25 countries, and is observed socially or locally in others to celebrate and promote the achievements of women, and address key issues pertaining such as women’s rights, gender equality, equal pay, reproductive rights, violence against women, and many others. In some countries, women march on that, while in others it is customary for men and women to give their female colleagues and loved ones flowers and gifts and show equality towards the other gender. This year, we are posting this beautiful musical collaboration from Tanzania titled “Superwoman“. It is truly an amazing work of art, which celebrates women of all walks of life in song, and highlights Tanzanian and African cultures as a whole. Enjoy and share by telling the ladies around you how awesome they are, and superwomen!

Kwanyama Poem in Honor of King Mandume

King Mandume ya Ndemufayo, portrait extracted from a photograph of the King with British representatives in South Africa

I found this Kwanyama poem written in honor of King Mandume. It is simple, and rich in culture. It emphasizes the Kwanyama culture: how can one cowardly abandon his king? the only son of his mother? A mother’s only son is everything, so he needs to be protected by those around. It also shows the respect given to the king, as to him were extended leather carpets. From this poem, it is clear that Mandume was a very good rider, a fearless knight, and a fine gunman. The term soba, is the term for king in Kwanyama (Cuanhama in Angola) culture. The reference to the “ragged brother” is based upon the fact that from Kwanyama accounts, Mandume used to “disguise himself in poor clothing and walk about the country to listen to what the people were saying, to see if they were satisfied by his laws” (Loeb, 1962:35), given that he had made significant positive changes to laws; while the Portuguese account on the other hand, state that Mandume used to dress in rags to trick those who would not recognize him as the king, “picking quarrels and exacting cruel vengeance to those who responded to his provocations with crude insults” (Estermann, 1960: 221). When living in the desert, water is crucial to survival; thus, water finds its way into this poem: why would anyone share the little they have with an enemy who has been trying to crush them and force them off their land? Enjoy the poem, translated to English by Dr. Y., To learn more, read “Lyrical Nationalism in Post-Apartheid Namibia” by W. A. Haugh, Lexington Books (2014).


Ovakwanyama ’malai!

Tamuefele Naingo

Adalwa ko ina ewifa,

Semuweda okakambe

N’ outa wosalupenda!

Mandume himupe ombedi,

Himupe nande kanini.

Adalwo ko ina ewifa,

Semuweda okalambe

N’outa wosalupenda.

Ohamba yokayalambadwa

Yokapekwa ya Melulu

Na Ndilokelwa sime.

Oindele hiipe omeva,

Hiipe nande m’omindo,

Yetudipaela ofimu,

Yetudipaela ohamba,

Ohamba yokalambadwa

Yokapekwa ya Melulo

You, Kwanyamas, you are stupid!

You cowardly abandoned the king

Him, his mother’s only son,

The incomparable knight,

With his beautiful gun Mauser !

To Mandume I will not reproach anything,

No matter how little.

To him, his mother’s only son,

The incomparable knight,

With his beautiful gun Mauser !

The soba to whom leather rugs were extended

Melulo’s ragged brother

And Princess Ndilokelwa.

I will not give whites water,

I will not give them any from my little gourd.

They killed our king,

They slaughtered the sovereign!

The soba to whom leather rugs were extended,

Melulo’s ragged brother.