Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo – Putting the pen in the wound and caring for others
In Burkina Faso, “Land of the Honest Men”, Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo, 34, follows in the footsteps of the famous investigative journalist Norbert Zongo. Uncompromising on the truth and the rights of citizens, the editor of the newspaper L'Evénement also likes to offer solutions.
Profiled by Emmanuel de Solère Stintzy.
Could Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo have a misleading name?
“Gaston gives a first impression of being withdrawn, but he is very sociable, committed to the truth and to changing Burkinabé society”, saya Arnaud Ouédraogo, coordinator at the Norbert Zongo unit for investigative journalism in West Africa (Cenozo). At 34, the current editor-in-chief of the investigative newspaper L'Événement, a believer in the quote from Albert Londres (“Our job is to put the pen in the wound”), confirms: “I write to raise ethical standards in public life and demand that human rights be respected. Gaston Bonheur is my pen name because in my investigations, I am also interested in covering the solutions needed.”
Gaston Sawadogo was always hard-working, even as a child: “My father kept telling me that without a love for work, you can't succeed. “ From primary school, young Gaston understood and applied the lesson. “In Year 5, he represented our school in the Excellence Awards. And when were out hunting, if we did not catch a hare, or even a gecko, Gaston encouraged us to go that little bit further to succeed...”, recalls Constantin Sawadogo, friend and cousin.
Studious and determined, Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo was already making notes about something other than his lessons in his little school exercise books: “I used to read and recopy the articles of Norbert Zongo (journalist assassinated in 1998, Editor's note) without necessarily understanding them. Like him, I wanted to speak out against injustice.” Gaston was therefore already carrying out investigations for La Torche, the newspaper of his provincial high school in Kongoussi (Centre-Nord region of Burkina Faso). One of his articles dealt with the embezzlement of money from pupils' textbooks...
“Making the figures speak”
At the University of Ouagadougou, Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo then obtained a master's degree (journalism option) and a master's degree (information and communication sciences). Always passionate about investigation, he did his first internship in 2013 at L'Evénement newspaper.
In 2018, he became the general secretary of the editorial staff there, then editor-in-chief a year later. “He tells me off a lot, but I’ve really learned a lot from him. He tells me to always do everything with the aim of being better and to defend my ideas, even when I am in the minority at the start”, says Mariam Sagnon, a journalist from L'Evénement, gratefully.
But the editor-in-chief is not one to rest on his laurels. “He thrives a lot on innovations in the profession. He does not like someone bringing to the editorial staff something he is ignorant of ”, observes Raphaël Aspavati, general secretary of the editorial staff of the same newspaper. Eric Le Braz, journalist coach for CFI, is also impressed: “When I think of the 'Land of the Honest Men', I think of Gaston because he is reliable, tenacious and a meticulous investigator. And, as a coach in areas as technical as data journalism, he is patient and never raises his voice.”
The same thirst for learning seems to motivate the little schoolboy turned coach. “Thanks to CFI, I discovered data journalism in 2015. It is wonderful to make the figures speak to elucidate, illustrate and tell a story. As part of the Faso Médias project, CFI also consolidated my skills in editorial management and investigation. Finally, I learned a solution-based journalism, which makes it possible to duplicate good practice and give people hope”, summarises Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo.
A journalist coach who is visibly happy to share his knowledge, as part of CFI’s Pagof (Support Project for Francophone Open Governments) and CFI Vérifox projects, for example: “I learn from other people’s experience and working methods, including new information verification tools to get citizens involved.”
In 10 years...
Will Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo be flourishing in another profession in ten years’ time?
“I have already suggested he join me in the administration profession but he would feel like he was betraying his vocation! In the future, I see him rather creating media specialising in the processing of financial data or the environment”, predicts Justin Sawadogo, an executive in public administration and friend of Gaston since Year 7.
Eric Le Braz, journalist coach for CFI, adds: “He will be the publisher of a media service or a group of extremely modern investigative media services, because Gaston takes on board all new journalistic genres.” Hardly anyone envisages him staying at L'Evénement indefinitely. The interested party confirms: “I love this newspaper, but I would like to create a press group of my own to provide jobs for people. I will always be involved with investigation and defence of citizens' rights, but in areas rarely covered until now, such as health, education or the environment.” Happy to share his knowledge, Gaston Bonheur Sawadogo would like his media service to also be a training body.