Spreading religious tolerance in Burkina Faso

April 9, 2018

Burkino Faso in West Africa is well known for its religious and cultural tolerance. But several large-scale extremist attacks in the region are putting this to the test. One man is using theater to fight back.

In early March, for a third time, the capital Ouagadougou was the scene of a large-scale attack — this time against the army’s headquarters and the French embassy. At first it wasn’t immediately clear who was behind it, until the Malian militant group, Jama Nusrat Ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM), sent out a message claiming it carried out the attack.

As religion once again took center stage of the public debate surrounding terrorism, this got storyteller Francois Moise Bamba thinking about religious tolerance in the region.

Bamba grew up listening to the stories his father told him. Their home was in Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkino Faso and a place which is known for its tolerance. The name reflects two of the major ethnic groups found in the population: the Bobo and the Dioula.

When Bamba was young, it was normal for children to visit each others’ place of worship. On religious festive days, Catholic children would visit the local mosque and Muslim children would go to church. This inspired the title of his latest theater production: No One has a Monopoly on God.

“It’s a title which provokes questions,” Bamba told DW, “Because there are those who monopolize God, and those who want to impose their view as if it were the only truth. Here in Burkina Faso, we still have the intelligence to allow different religious groups to co-exist. You can find people of different faiths in the same family, for instance.”

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