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.

FESPACO 2023

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!

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‘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‘.

FESPACO 2023

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.