Volunteers against jihadism in Burkina faso: fighters-essential or death squads?

Volontaires contre le jihadisme au Burkina: combattants indispensables ou escadrons de la mort?

Ouagadougou | “Fighters brave” in order to tackle the jihadists, or “death squads” responsible for the massacres: the Volunteers in Defence of the Homeland (VDP), created in early 2020, is controversial in Burkina Faso, undermined by the violence jihadists.

Near-daily attacks, sometimes intermingled to inter-communal conflict, left at least 1100 dead since 2015, and forced nearly a million people to flee their homes in this poor country of the Sahel.

Large swathes of the country have been abandoned by the administration and the defence Forces and security (FDS) do not venture out into little.

In this context, the idea of organizing a structure involving civilian volunteer was launched in November 2019 by president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, after the massacre of a convoy of mining (38 dead). The VDP also had to counter those who help and to inform them of the jihadists locally.

On the 21st of January last, in the wake of a new large-scale attack, the Parliament passed the act creating the VDP.

These students receive a military training 14 days prior to exercise of the missions of surveillance and protection. They are equipped with small arms and light weapons as well as means of communication and observation. Their number is not known.

Since these announcements, the government made low-profile and does not communicate on the actions of the WTP, a kind of omerta seems to surround the subject.


“We are fighting alongside the FDS,” says proudly the AFP one of these VDP, nicknamed “Rambo”.

“We were tired of being killed like chickens,” explains the farmer, 32 years of Kongoussi (North). “We prefer to fight, hoping to at least save our families, our villages,” rather than “watching death come”.

The volunteers pay the price in blood for this commitment. According to Rambo, “over 100” volunteers have been killed in combat in 2020.

Others have been murdered in their villages by the jihadists because of their collaboration with the FDS.

Another VDP in the Centre-North, 28-year-old says his side have contributed to “dismantling terrorist bases”, while saying he did not understand the controversy about them.

In Burkina, the FDS are accused of severe burrs and executions of civilians, including the fulani, in their fight against jihadists. But the self-defense groups and the VDP have the reputation of being more expeditious.

“These are death squads which do not sow desolation and dismay under the guise of fight against terrorism,” says Moctar Diao, a teacher at the Observatory of human dignity.

“Volunteers Namsiguia (North) were identified as the perpetrators of the death of nine people to Boulsi-Baogo. At the beginning of June, two students have been intercepted and coolly executed by the VDP to Tanwalbougou. One of them is dead on the spot. The second who died later has had time to tell,” he says, sanding other abuses.

“When they operate with the army, it’s going to, but when they are alone, they dictate their laws in the neglected areas. They rançonnent the shops and the people. They turn out the cattle without being able to complain”, he adds.

Tracking of the Fulanis

According to the Observatory for democracy and the rights of Man, “recruitment of volunteers sounds like an admission of the inability of FDS to ensure only the security of the territory”.

“The law seems to endorse that which exists discreetly already: the armament, the equipment and the financing of the self-defense groups”, accusing the NGOS of burkina faso.

For the expert in geopolitics Drissa Traoré, the authorities ‘hesitating between institutionalization and dissolution of the groups” have “found a compromise”.

Since 2015, the self-defense groups have taken an unprecedented scale.

The “koglweogos” (guardians of the bush, in mooré), training customary, have emerged in several regions in the fight against banditry. These groups, justice is often swift, are accused of torture and extortion, but remain very popular. Groups antijihadistes have also surfaced.

Ill-equipped, under-trained, decimated by the losses, the army no longer hesitate to use these auxiliaries were motivated.

Lieutenant-colonel Mohamed Emmanuel Zoungrana, commander of a sector in the North, wants to be pragmatic.

“If the army allowed them to be everywhere to respond to this type of war, there would be no need to appeal to the VDP,” admits the officer.

“Information (…) watchers, the indicators (…) We have seen their courage and their fighting spirit on the field,” he says.

These volunteers are more familiar with the terrain than the soldiers and were more motivated to defend their regions, according to a security source.

Question wage: “No volunteer can only say that it is paid. Each group receives 200 000 FCFA (300 euros) per month for the operating costs – fuel and communications. People also come to help,” says a volunteer of Kongoussi. In addition, merchants or travelers pay their escorts.

The mode of recruitment is also debate.

“Groups are formed and take home with the army for training. Many are already active,” said Drissa Traoré, alerting them to the creation of “community-based groups accused of hunting down Peul”.

The islamist armed groups recruited widely among the Peul and the amalgam “Fulani=jihadists” is widespread.

In regions, the Peul are excluded from the VDP, so that they can be an asset, points out Newton Ahmed Barry, a journalist and president of the national electoral commission.

The colonel Zoungrana is optimistic: “If a lot of geographical areas are covered by the VDP, well-recruited and supervised, and the FDS, the corridors of maneuver of the enemy will be reduced and the certainty of victory”.

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