Local Language Stickers in West Africa

I recently digitized some of my most prize possessions from some of my travels in West: stickers.

West African Stickers. Photo: Coleman Donaldson

I don't have any hard data (besides the above picture) but if I had to guess I'd say the top stickers come from the following categories: soccer stars (note Andrés Iniesta), Muslim sheikhs (note Chérif Ousmane Madani Haïdara and Ibrahim Niass) or possibly deposed political leaders (e.g., Muammar Gaddafi, Blaise Compaoré and Thomas Sankara. No picture of Ben Laden here but I've seen him chilling on a few motos over the years).

Thomas Sankara

Religious iconography is also popular (see the popular "Allah is one sticker" with the single upheld finger [oddly popular in Francophone West Africa -- wondering if it might point to a Nigerian connection?]). This particular collection that I've photographed doesn't seem to have any Christian iconography but Jesus and the Virgin Mary are also popular in Burkina Faso.

Another sticker genre that is close to my heart are short regional sayings. Most often, these are written in local languages (Mooré and Jula are present in the stickers above) or an informal register of popular French. In the case of local languages, the orthographic conventions and spelling is normally a little all over the place: word boundaries are not clearly respected; phonemes are under-distinguished; tone is not marked at all etc. When I first encountered these stickers, I often had a hard-time parsing them. Local viewers and owners however seem to have little trouble getting the message though. Here's a few of my choice ones in Manding/Jula:

<Sebe Allaye> (Sé' bɛ́ Ála yé) 'God is capable/powerful'. Photo: Coleman Donaldson


<sinikeneya> (Sǐ' ní kɛ́nɛya') 'Life and health'.


<sabari-kagni> (Sábari' ká ɲì) 'Patience is good'.

<sabari-kagni> (Sábari' ká ɲì) 'Patience is good'.


This one is in French, but it's just too damn good. Unfortunately, the expression is also currently used by a French bathing suit company.

<tais toi jaloux> (Tais-toi jaloux) 'Shush, hater'.