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Africa

People will hold the new government to account, whatever the result, says apolitical Ouagadougou street artist

media Marto's work in Francois Compaore's looted house. During the failed coup attempt there were fears fighting could break out between the presidential guard and army. Daniel Finnan

Franco-Burkinabe illustrator and artist Marto has been wryly watching from the sidelines over the past year as Burkina Faso was rocked by a popular uprising, failed coup attempt and landmark elections. His street art has provided Ouagadougou residents with a humorous commentary on historic developments and on the eve of election results he wants to send a simple message.

“I don’t want to be with a political party,” Marto told RFI during a visit to his workshop in the Kologh Naaba district of Ouagadougou. “I prefer to give a message of peace,” he says.

One of Marto’s most striking pieces of street art in Ouagadougou adorns the walls of the pillaged house of Francois Compaore, the younger brother of former strongman Blaise who ruled the country for 27 years. It features a soldier making traditional Burkinabe food with the caption, ‘Make maize balls, not war’.

Marto has been living in Ouagadougou for the past six years and has been particularly influenced by recent events in Burkina. A series of his illustrations depict General Diendere, head of the presidential guard (RSP) and leader of the failed coup in September. In one sarcastic drawing Diendere is featured in a baby’s cot holding a number of weapons, the caption reads, ‘The RSP refuses to disarm,’ with a speech bubble saying, ‘They’re mine!’

His recent work has featured several themes related to events in Burkina, but he also turns his attention to world events and apt observations of everyday modern life.

“So it’s a fish watching a guy in a fishbowl,” Marto says, describing a painting on a wall near his workshop. “With this painting I want to inverse the sense of watching. I like when the people looking at my pictures smile, it’s important for me.”

Street art and graffiti are present in Burkina’s capital, but are certainly not prevalent. Marto says there are probably five or six other people he would describe as street or graffiti artists. However, there is tradition in Ouagadougou of using simple illustrations or paintings to decorate shops and sell services in a style that is not far removed from Marto’s, minus the mocking commentary.

Despite describing himself as not interested in politics, Marto has been caught up in the changes Burkina has undergone since the ousting of Compaore in street protests last October. “I think the people in Burkina are really proud of their actions. They’re together, united,” he says.

When asked about his hopes for the future following elections, he says, “if the president makes mistakes the people will go out in the street.”

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