Burkina Faso: Mama Suzanne is never too old to build a new business—or a house

August 07, 2018
A translation for this article is available in French

The sun is just rising, and Suzanne Ouédraogo is in the middle of a courtyard fixing one of her cart’s tires. Since she started using a “taxi moto” or motorcycle to transport goods, Mrs. Ouédraogo must repeat this task almost every day. Like many “taxi motos” that transport goods in Ouagadougou, the blue motorcycle is worn out.

Every morning, Mrs. Ouédraogo has trouble starting the bike. She curses the former owner, saying, “The trader who sold it to me took advantage of my naivety and sold me a wreck.”

Mrs. Ouédraogo is a 60-year-old grandmother who is well known in the Wayalguim neighbourhood of Ouagadougou, where people call her “Mama Suzanne.” Seated on her motorcycle, she makes her way among her male colleagues almost every day to collect sand, gravel, and stones or laterite in a quarry about six kilometres from the city. Her daughter Florence Sawadogo says her mother often hears inappropriate comments, but she ignores them: “We suffered a lot from people’s malicious gossip. But this didn’t discourage our mother.”

Mrs. Ouédraogo’s courage and determination have forced many men to admire her bravery. Boukaré Sawadogo has known her since she started her motorcycle business. He says: “Mrs. Ouédraogo is a hard-working woman. She is not lazy at all. I can’t say bad things about her. She built her house herself. She is better than many men, and I respect her.”

Delivering sand and gravel is not Mrs. Ouédraogo’s first business venture. When she returned from Côte d’Ivoire more than 20 years ago, she received a loan of 250,000 CFA francs ($445 US) to start a small business. She bought cassava, yams, sweet potatoes, tubers, and grains at markets hundreds of kilometres from Ouagadougou and sold them in the capital city, making an average income of 100,000 CFA francs ($180 US) per month.

She repaid her loan and bought a piece of land where she built herself a house, says Félix, one of her sons. He remembers that the house “was twisted. When it rained, we had to sit down, and we couldn’t sleep for fear that the house would fall on us. Some of us would hold the door and others would hold the rafters until the storm was over.”

As she grew older, Mrs. Ouédraogo didn’t have the strength to climb the trucks that transported the vegetables she bought back to Ouagadougou. But she still wanted to offer her six children a decent house. After nearly dying when a truck she was riding on rolled over, she decided to look for different work.

She switched to collecting and selling sand, stones, and gravel, which fetches just 2,000 CFA francs (about $3.50 US) per day. Unfortunately, this didn’t allow her to fulfill her ambition of building a better house.

So Mrs. Ouédraogo got a bigger loan and bought two carts to transport and deliver the materials she collects from the quarry. She says: “The sand used to sell well, and I was able to take care of the children and save some money. But I succeeded in obtaining another loan of one million CFA francs ($1,780 US) to start a transportation business, and another part of the loan helped me extend my house a little bit.”

Despite the fact that she’s not as young as she used to be, Mama Suzanne continues to ride her old motorcycle. She plans to raise livestock, open a shop, and buy another motorcycle taxi and hire young people to operate it. In the meantime, her relatives and her colleagues consider Mama Suzanne a “heroine and a superwoman.”