The CITO - Carrefour International du Théâtre de Ouagadougou [International Crossroads of Theatre of Ouagadougou (CITO)], one of the main cultural organisations in Burkina Faso and a major partner of the SDC’s “Culture Promotion Programme”, produces comedies focusing on social issues several times a year. In 2012, the question of gender equality was in the subject of a play entitled “Sevrage”,on stage for several weeks in Ouagadougou. This play, co-produced by Kuckuk-Production, a long-standing partner of CITO, was then taken on the road to several West African countries (Benin, Niger, the Ivory Coast and Togo) with the backing of the SDC.
Using humour to denounce inequality
An adaptation of “Lysistrata” by Aristophane, “Sevrage” is a theatre production in which the main characters are women. It uses humour to address the question of inequalities pervading the relationships between men and women in African society. The play depicts a group of women tired of seeing their husbands and sons injured or killed in conflicts between clans. To force the men to cease hostilities, they declare a “sex curfew”. The show underscores the determination and pragmatism demonstrated by these women in their efforts to restore peace to their villages.
Central themes of the comedy are the recognition of women’s rights and their role in African society and in economic affairs. Played by actors and actresses from Burkina Faso, the play was a hit with the public. “We played in front of very varied audiences of all denominations, provoking laughter and heated discussion on each occasion. It has helped break taboos and win over new audiences”, says Laure Guire, tour manager in West Africa.
Forging critical awareness
In this country where a high percentage of the population is unable to read or write, culture is an important channel for information and social change. It is a very powerful lever for development challenges as it encourages the creation of critical awareness about issues in the fields of education, health, citizenship, corruption or equality between men and women. The theatre and the cinema are excellent means of bringing up challenging issues and encouraging reflection on social questions. Aside from the purely artistic aspect, this sector is also an important source of jobs, especially for for young people.
Better trained, better paid artists
The programme also aims to promote the training of artists and access of women to other professions related to the theatre, including stage management, production, direction or even sound and lighting. Since the start of the project in 2007, more than 700 artists, including over 40% women, have produced high-quality shows thanks to the training they have received.
Although the number of jobs in the culture sector continues to increase, they remain poorly paid and highly insecure. One of the aims of the SDC's programme is thus to provide jobs and decent wages for artists and performing arts professionals.
Culture at the heart of development
Culture occupies a key place in Switzerland's development cooperation undertakings. It contributes to the reduction of poverty in a variety of ways. At least one percent of the SDC's total budget for its partner countries is devoted to projects in this sector, covering all artistic disciplines.
In Burkina Faso, culture and the arts are particularly rich and dynamic. With the support of highly active associations and a proactive government policy, this country continues to establish itself as a crossroads for international cultural gatherings. There is no lack of initiatives, whether in the medium of theatre, cinema or music. The capital, Ouagadougou, is home to one of the largest African cinema festivals. Every two years, a national culture week showcases the many faces of culture in Burkina Faso.
Developing a true culture industry
Despite its great potential, the culture sector in Burkina Faso is faced with significant challenges in organising and coordinating the people and institutions involved in culture, producing and presenting artistic creations, or even seeking government funding for culture. "With its programme, the SDC aims to promote the emergence of a true culture industry", explains Habibou Koanda, the head of the programme. One aim of the programme is to enhance the capabilities of the key cultural institutions at national level and in regional communities.
In order to develop cultural production outside urban centres, the SDC supports the decentralisation of this sector to bring culture to small and medium-sized towns. The aim is to improve access for rural populations, but not only to the performing arts. Since the start of the project in 2007, more than 100 shows have been created and presented in Burkina Faso and around 300,000 people in cities and in rural communities have been able to enjoy high-quality shows on various topics.