An analysis of the socio-political position of traditional chiefs in Burkina Faso, RED HAT, WHERE ARE YOU GOING? examines at the role of Mossi chiefs in this West African nation. Using interviews with chiefs and their critics, and archival footage, the film looks at how the chiefs have navigated political change, and at how they interact with both the government and people today.
Since the French Colonial period the chieftaincy's power in Burkina Faso has fluctuated with shifts in the governing regime. In 1956, when French colonies began to form parliaments as a precursor to independence, tensions built between the chiefs and an emerging civil society. In 1958 one of the four great Mossi chiefs attempted to install himself as a constitutional monarch. Historian Magliore Somé describes the failed coup d'état, and the years of mistrust between the new government and the chiefs that followed.
During popular revolutionary Captain Thomas Sankara's regime (1983 - 1987) the traditional powers of the chieftaincy were curtailed further. But after Sankara was overthrown, a new constitution has tacitly recognized the chieftaincy, and some claim, customary law.
And although their power is not what it once was, chiefs can still dominate rural life. But in the capital Ouagadougou, where people have access to a free press and television, criticism of the chieftaincy can be sharp.
Larlé Naaba Tigré is typical of contemporary chiefs. Formerly a banker, he is now a well-off farmer, rancher, and member of the National Assembly. Tigré believes his people live in two civilizations, modern and traditional, and that they need the traditional chiefs to preserve culture in the face of modernization.
Today, the chiefs are trying to reclaim a more prominent place in society. But these efforts make the new elite nervous - they remember the coup attempt 40 years ago. Naaba Sigri, in summing up the dilemma facing the chiefs, explains, "If there is trouble, people expect us to come forward and make our opinions known. But no one wants to grant us legal status."
The chieftaincy of Burkina Faso has survived colonialism, revolution, and democracy by forming alliances with the various regimes, but is now confronted with the growing political consciousness of the people. Sidelined in the process of decentralization and modernization, the chiefs were often left out of the equation. But now, fed up with marginalized status, many chiefs feel the time has come to make a stand.
"Tackles the tenuous and delicate matter of tradition versus modernity through an analysis of the state of chieftaincy in Burkina Faso. Fair in its treatment of the younger perspectives of the traditional institutions. This and the voices of both urban and rural elders heard throughout the documentary provide the viewer with an assortment of lenses to deconstruct the true political and social values of chiefs in Burkina Faso. A wake-up call that modernization may not always tradition."—International Journal of African Historical Studies
2002 African Literature Association Conference Film Festival
2001 African Studies Association Conference Film Festival
"RED HAT captures the tenuous but persistent position of chiefs in a modern African democracy... A fine film which transcends mere politics and moves sensitively into the realm of culture."—Chris Youé, President, Canadian Association of African Studies
"[RED HAT] undertakes a multi-faceted look at the social, political and cultural analysis of... traditional chieftaincy institutions in former Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso (the land of the Honest Man), in West Africa. [The film] captures this complex history and the political tensions that are spawned today by the legacy of colonialism. RED HAT provides food for thought for African scholars and proponents of African rebirth. For the skeptics of Africa's potentialities, particularly, those Africans educated in Western manners who still remain blind to the corrosive effect of foreign values and the ever-present colonialism of their countries under globalization, the film provides a better understanding of Africa and its force."—West Africa Review