Connect with us


Burkina’s anti-jihad volunteers stir praise and controversy » Capital News




Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Jul 18 – To some, they are doughty fighters who with meagre resources put their lives on the line.

To others, they are an undisciplined band — a “death squad,” according to one — that has carried out summary justice and inflamed ethnic tensions.

The force at the heart of this controversy is the newly-created Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP, to use their French initials), a militia fighting jihadist raiders who have sown terror in rural Burkina.

President Roch Marc Christian Kabore unveiled the idea of the VDP last November as the shocked Sahel nation mourned the massacre of dozens of people in an ambush in Semafo.

They were the latest victims of a jihadist insurgency that began in neighbouring Mali and now casts a shadow over states to the south.

In Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world, more than 1,100 lives have been lost and nearly a million people forced from their homes.

On January 21, after another bloody attack, parliament approved a law creating the VDP.

Under it, citizens who join the VDP undergo 14 days of military training, are equipped with light arms, communication and observation equipment, and carry out surveillance and protection missions.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

They are unpaid, although each local unit receives 200,000 CFA francs ($350, 300 euros) a month to pay for petrol and other operating expenses, according to VDP members.

Volunteers often also get help from local people and monetary tips from traders or others they escort.

“We were fed up getting slaughtered like chickens,” says “Rambo,” a 32-year-old farmer who joined the VDP in Kongoussi, in northern Burkina Faso.

“We had the choice of sitting back and watch death come to us or to confront it head on, hoping that we could at least save our families, our villages. We prefer to fight.”

– Weak army –

Commentators say the VDP is both a symbol of the weakness of the armed forces and de-facto recognition of unofficial militia that existed before.

“Recruiting volunteers sounds like an admission of the inability of the FDS (defence and security forces) to ensure the defence of the country by themselves,” a local grassroots group, the Observatory for Democracy and Human Rights (ODDH), said.

Drissa Traore, a specialist in Burkina Faso, said the authorities “found a compromise between institutionalising (armed) groups and dissolving them.”

Self-defence groups proliferated in rural Burkina Faso after 2015.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

These “koglweogos” — Guardians of the Bush in the Moore language — sprang up in several regions, notably to fight criminal gangs.

They have often been accused of torture, extortion and summary justice, but were also popular.

Government reports about jihadist attacks persistently report the presence of the VDP at these incidents — a clear sign that the battered, under-equipped and poorly-trained armed forces are making extensive use of the group.


Map of Burkina Faso © AFP / AFP

Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Emmanuel Zoungrana, a commander in a northern sector, said, “If we had enough numbers… we wouldn’t have to call on the VDP.”

“The army has been unable to recruit 10,000 or 5,000 people each year. This initiative helps us to compensate for that.”

The VDP are most useful in providing information and in their knowledge of local terrain, said Zoungrana.

“They can’t be expected to be super-fighters. That said, we have seen their courage and fighting spirit on the ground, and the results have been satisfactory.”

The death toll among the volunteers is high.

More than 100 have been killed so far this year, according to “Rambo,” and others have been murdered in their villages by jihadists for perceived collaboration with the army.

A retail worker who is a VDP member in central-northern Burkina said the auxiliaries in his area were mainly used as escorts for senior officials or convoys, but had also “helped dismantle terrorist bases.”

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“Before we launch any operation, we inform the army and ask their opinion,” he said.

– Rights accusations –

The fight against jihadists has led to mounting accusations against the armed forces — and now the VDP — of summary executions of civilians, especially of the Fulani, also called Peul, ethnic group.

Moctar Diao of another rights monitor, the Observatory for Human Dignity, says there are cases when the VDP have acted as “death squads, sowing desolation and fear under the cover of fighting terrorism.”

Among the incidents, “volunteers from Namsiguia (in northern Burkina) were identified as the killers of nine people who died in Boulsi-Baogo.

Belem Boureima, a 74-year-old farmer, and his family are among the hundreds of thousands of people who have been displaced by jihadist violence in Burkina Faso © AFP / ISSOUF SANOGO

“In early June, two school students were picked up and executed in cold blood by the VDP Tanwalbougou.”

He added: “When they (the VDP) operate alongside the army, it’s OK, but when they are left to themselves, they rule the roost in areas which have been abandoned (by the government).

“They extort businesses and the public, they rustle cattle, and people are unable to complain.”

Newton Ahmed Barry, a journalist who is president of the country’s National Electoral Commission, said that in some regions, Fulani people were excluded from volunteering from the VDP, when their contribution could be a trump card.

Zoungrana said the army was taking “every measure” to avert abuses and saw the VDP as playing a crucial role.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

“If the VDP, with good recruits and supervision, and the FDS covered lots of terrain and closed down the corridors where the enemy move around, victory would be assured.”

Continue Reading


Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard




Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.


However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Continue Reading


Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard




President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

Continue Reading


Drastic life changes affecting mental health




Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

Get breaking news on your Mobile as-it-happens. SMS ‘NEWS’ to 20153

With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.


Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

Continue Reading