As the 31st African film festival of Verona enters its third day, today, a lot of African artists are ceasing the opportunity to share their visions of the Ancient Continent, as its people seeks a new way of seeing their reality. In this interview, Cleophas, a Burkinabe co-director of “BE YE KA YE”, a documentary on the return of African Diasporas, shares a light on their video.

Can you please tell us what actually pushed you into doing this documentary?

Speaking with my friend, Alessandro, one day, the issue of Burkina Faso came up and we decided that we were going to visit Burkina Faso, to see my people; my family. We didn’t just want to visit Africa like in a holiday. We decided that we were going to return with a documentary. Then something came to my mind; I remembered when I was about to leave Africa ten years earlier and I told my mother that I wanted go away, because there was nothing for me at home. Looking at me, my mother asked me a question: “BE YE KA YE?” translated to mean, what is there that is not in here? Knowing that I still needed to respond to that question, I said to Alessandro; let’s work on this story.

Cleo Diomas al Festival del cinema africano di Verona 2011


What main message do you want to pass on to the public?

The main intention was to tell a story about Burkina Faso, from the point view of a Burkinabe who have been away in Italy for ten years. What has been going in the political angle, what has changed over the years, in the cultural and social circle? The documentary tells a story of the people who have remained at home; the people who never went away from home even when they had the possibility to do so; the people who have remained and fought hard so that things could change for the better. The documentary also talks of the people who have gone away and have returned home. Those people who have migrated to other parts of the world; who have studied, acquired experiences and have returned home to make their own contributions to the local community.

When you went to Burkina Faso after many years, what real changes did you find at home?

See, apart from the political situation which is a little delicate, I found out that the local people are willing to do something, which is also the reality of many other countries in Africa. They don’t want to wait anymore for the politics to change. They are at work even with the little resources in their disposal. For me this was an encouraging development. Above all, I understood that although I never realized it, it was always possible to do something even at the time that I left Burkina Faso.

What were your major challenges in realizing this documentary?

One of our major challenges was knowing exactly what to do. We had a time frame of one month and it was not as if we had a solid structure of the project; as knowing who to talk to. We started going around with a video camera, starting from the friends that I knew. It all happened like that, walking around in the city, talking to one person who would then point to another person to talk to. So the documentary was largely done in meeting different people. There was also the difficulty of money. We did not have enough money for the project; the traveling cost, the accommodation in Burkina Faso and so on.

Our only luck was that all the friends that I knew at home were ready to lend us a helping hand in the various capacities that we needed. Another real problem we had in the documentary was during the montage; the conflict between me and Alessandro on what to cut in or cut out from the documentary. He would say this is what we should show about Burkina Faso and I would say, no; these miseries are not the right things to show. For six months we did not talk, but at the end we came to a conclusion. It was not easy doing the montage.

Considering your experiences of the documentary what do you think is hindering many Africans in diaspora from returning to their home countries in Africa?

I think it has to do with the complex situation of African migration; the difference between illusion and reality. When I was coming to Italy, I thought that I was going to make a lot of money in a short while; that it was going to be possible for me to do many jobs even if it means carrying dead bodies, and returning back to Africa with bags full of money. But the reality is that after ten years, you still haven’t made the money to return home. And because of what the people back home will say, a lot of people are not courageous enough to return home with little or no success.

Another hindrance is that sometimes, it is possible to make the money, organizing maybe a shop or some other physical activity that gives you money. Then you realize that it is a difficult decision to say I want to abandon this activity to start afresh in Africa. It’s not an easy choice to make. In short, immigrants are general in a big dilemma. They are never able to do what they want to do in a way they want to do it.

What do you think is the solution to this problem?

I think we have to learn to tell people the truth. It will be much easier to take the people along if we can tell the people back home to say, look it did not work out the way I have expected. We should not return home with two traveling bags full of new dresses and pretending that everything is ok. The local people do not need these. In any case, we should also know that we have learnt something here and that that thing we have learnt can be taken home to help the local systems.

Then there is also the need to organize ourselves; the African in diaspora needs to be organized. If we need to send a medical doctor to Nigeria or Cameroonians, depending on the country, we should understand that, here, we have a lot of experienced Nigerian and Cameroonians medical doctors; so why should we send an Italian medical doctor? But this can only happen if we are organized, so we can make our own propositions, based on our real interests.

We have a lot of African experts in the western world; those experts must be useful to the African situation. We need Africans to be at the center of the African situation. For example, in this festival we saw Black Gold; that is a Nigerian story from a Nigerian point of view, which is completely different from Blood Diamond, a beautiful film but the point of view of the Americans. We can see the difference. We have to tell our own stories, not allowing other people to tell it for us.

Thank you very much for your time.



Ewanfoh Obehi Peter

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