Mogho Naba is the title of the monarch of the Mossi, one of Burkina Faso’s majority ethnic groups that built one of the oldest and most prestigious kingdoms of West Africa, dating back to the 12th Century. Three years ago, the reigning monarch of the Mossi, Mogho Naba Baongo II, won the 2017 Macky Sall Prize for Dialogue in Africa, which is named after the president of Senegal.
“Mr. Baongo was selected due to his role in resolving serious crises that have rocked Burkina Faso and played a key role in brokering the return of civilian rule to the country after the military coup in 2015,” Geneva-based Centre for Research and Initiatives for Dialogue (CIRID), an international NGO which is behind the award, said in a statement.
Indeed, Baongo II played a major role in helping Burkina Faso avoid a bloodbath after a military takeover in 2015. He has been king since 1982 over a traditional kingdom that does not only date back to the 12th Century but lies at the heart of Burkina Faso’s center of power and capital Ouagadougou.
With his title meaning the “king of the world” in the language of the Mossi community, he has an influence in modern political affairs. As a matter of fact, policymakers, politicians and other personalities who would want to establish themselves in Ouagadougou go to him for his symbolic approval.
Yes, the Mogho Naba has since the 12th Century been very powerful. Regarded as a semi-god by his people, the Mogho Naba of the 1890s and his Mossi warriors fought the French army with spears and poisoned arrows until he had to flee into exile into Ghana in 1897.
The successors of the then Mogho Naba however retained considerable influence over peasants, who made up 90% of the population, while having good relations with the government, according to Reuters.
Then came the government of Thomas Sankara who made attempts to break the powers of elders and chiefs including the Mogho Naba. Reuters reported that Sankara regarded the chiefs and elders as feudal lords keeping the peasants in slavery. Thus, he denied them all consideration and curtailed their powers until his death in October 1987.
After his death, his successors tried to win back these traditional chiefs and that has proved largely successful even though the Mogho Naba is today seen as a symbol of tradition who is sought after for his symbolic approval.
The reigning Mogho Naba regularly receives lawmakers, ministers and ambassadors who respect his institution and his role in promoting stability. And the Mogho Naba is supposed to be politically neutral, especially when playing a huge role as a mediator monarch in times of crisis where there is a breakdown in dialogue between rival political actors.
When former president Blaise Compaoré succeeded Sankara, he ruled Burkina Faso for 27 years before being removed from power in a 2014 uprising following his decision to extend his tenure. Most of the supporters of that uprising later visited Mogho Naba Baongo II to seek wisdom. One of them was the transitional Prime Minister, Lt-Col Isaac Zida, who visited Baongo II in his palace not too long after taking power.
The interim military leader visited the king again when presidential guards stormed a cabinet meeting in 2015 demanding his resignation from the government. Soldiers from the elite presidential guard stormed into that cabinet meeting in September 2015 and abducted interim government leaders including Zida, disrupting a transition period that was due to end with polls in October.
General Gilbert Diendere, a close ally of Compaore, was named junta head the next day. He also visited Baongo II after learning that army units were closing in on Ouagadougou to disarm his soldiers. Following the September 2015 coup, the African Union gave coup leaders until September 22 to restore the transitional government or face sanctions.
By the end of that month, Baongo II had helped broker the return of civilian rule to Burkina Faso. As BBC reported, “the king is said to have played a key role in helping Burkina Faso avoid a bloodbath as negotiations between officers from both side of the military spectrum took place in pursuit of an end to the stand-off following last week’s coup.”
Baongo II to date is praised for leading peace and dialogue efforts in the West African country. If you are to visit him now, he would engage you through his spokesperson, Larle Naba, his minister of communication and custodian of oral tradition and folklore, according to the BBC.
A football lover and a former boxer, the influential traditional ruler is Western-educated and speaks French very well. But during social functions, he only speaks Moore, the language spoken by the Mossi people.
Demographically, the Mossi make up 40 percent of the population in Burkina Faso, while diverse ethnic groups, such as the Gurunsi, Senufo, Lobi, Bobo, and Fulani constitute the other 60 percent of the country’s population. The Mossi live mostly in villages around the Volta River Basin, and are the product of a Mampusi princess and Mande hunter.
Their offspring, named Ouedraogo, is referred to as the father of the Mossi people. This narrative of their culture has been strengthened and carried through oral traditions of storytelling and song.