How a French TV channel aired fake footage of a 'massacre in Burundi'

Screengrab of France 3’s coverage of what they wrongly identified as a massacre in Burundi.
Screengrab of France 3’s coverage of what they wrongly identified as a massacre in Burundi.


On Wednesday evening, the French TV programme "le Grand Soir 3" included coverage of what it reported was a massacre in Burundi. The show, which airs on TV channel France 3, broadcast extremely violent footage that the channel said had been filmed a few days before in Burundi. But the Observers Team discovered that the video is actually older than that… and it might not have even been filmed in Burundi.

A Belgian lawyer, Bernard Maingain, specialising in Rwanda and Burundi gave the footage to France 3.

The France 3 report, titled "Proof of acts of violence in Burundi”, alleges that the footage was filmed “two days ago”, which would have been January 11, 2016. However, the Observers Team found a longer version of the video, which was posted on YouTube on December 22, 2015. That means the footage is at least three weeks old, not a few days.

In the video posted to YouTube on December 22, you can see men picking up one of the victims by his feet and tossing him into a ditch. This same footage was used in the report aired on France 3 (screengrab from YouTube video).

In this shot, two of the victims lie on the ground. This scene appears in both the YouTube video and the footage used by France 3. The people can clearly be identified by their clothing. One victim wears yellow shots while the perpetrator of the violence wears a blue shirt.

The man wearing a blue shirt hits one of the victims. This footage appears in both the YouTube video and the footage used by France 3.

In their coverage of the video, France 3 alleges that the footage was filmed in Karuzi, located northwest of the capital Bujumbura and that the victims are members of the [Burundian] opposition, who “were assassinated before being castrated and having their throats slit by enthusiastic executioners".

The narrator adds that these killings occurred on "land belonging to the party of the Burundian president”.

But our Observers told us that people in the video are not speaking Kirundi, the official language spoken in the majority of Burundi. Instead, FRANCE 24 discovered that the people in the video are speaking Hausa, a language spoken mostly in Nigeria and Niger, countries that are thousands of kilometres from Burundi. That makes it very unlikely that this footage was shot in Karuzi, on "land belonging to the party in power", as the report aired on the French channel says.

Daily violence

When contacted by FRANCE 24, Bernard Maingain explained that he told France 3 that he had received the footage "48 hours earlier" but that he never said that the scene was filmed on January 11. He added:

"My source, who is part of the Burundian army, said that he got this footage from someone in Karuzi, and that the footage was used during a training for the Imbonerakure [Editor’s note: a ultra-violent militia that supports President Pierre Nkurunziza] in Karuzi.

"At first, I assumed that the video was filmed there. But later on Wednesday evening, I was told that they weren’t speaking Kirundi in the video. It was then that I started questioning that the video was filmed in Burundi.”

Bernard Maingain says that he did not tell France 3 that the footage was filmed in Karuzi. Instead, he urged the channel to verify the video’s origin. He also says that he never told France 3 that the people being tortured in the video were members of the Burundian opposition.

'If the video is false, we’ll announce it in the next edition of our programme'

When contacted by FRANCE 24, the editor-in-chief of the Grand Soir 3 programme on France 3, Jean-Jacques Basier, explained:

Luc Lagun-Bouchet is the journalist who first showed me the video. He got it from a Belgian lawyer [Bernard Maingain] who is one of his regular sources for information on Burundi. According to the lawyer, this video shows opposition members being massacred in Burundi. He confirmed this to us and we have a recording of the conversation to prove it.

We did check and discover that the language being spoken in the video was not a language spoken in Burundi. But Luc Lagun-Bouchet then told me that the video showed Congolese militiamen working for the Burundi government [Editor’s note: Hausa is not spoken in Congo].

We rewrote our piece with this information in mind. I checked off on the piece, because it fell into line with the stories we’ve heard before about acts of violence being committed in Burundi. If the video turns out to be fake, we’ll announce that in the next edition of our programme. Our intentions in reporting this piece were good. It is important to talk about the massacres that occur in Burundi.

On Thursday afternoon, the office of Burundi’s president said that it planned to “press charges” against both France 3 and Bernard Maingain, without specifying on what legal grounds.

At the end of the report aired on France 3, historian David Gakunzi says, "every day, all over the country, young people are kidnapped then tortured, killed and mutilated. This is done by militia members or the presidential guard.”

This analysis corresponds with the reality described by our Observers on the ground. After the coup attempt on May 13 failed, President Nkurunziza was elected for a third term in July. Now, our Observers tell us that acts of violence against many people, including civilians, happen on a daily basis in Burundi.