BURKINA FASO

Burkina residents protest kidnapping of Australian doctor, wife

Jocelyn and Ken Elliott, who were kidnapped in northern Burkina Faso. Photo published on the Facebook page "Djibo supports Dr. Ken Elliott".
Jocelyn and Ken Elliott, who were kidnapped in northern Burkina Faso. Photo published on the Facebook page "Djibo supports Dr. Ken Elliott".

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Residents from Djibo in northern Burkina Faso have been rallying in support of an Australian doctor and his wife who were kidnapped last Friday. The doctor, whose longstanding attachment to the town has led our Observer to call him "more Burkinabe than Australian", has been running a clinic there for more than 40 years.

The Australian couple are reportedly being held by jihadists belonging to the "Emirate of the Sahara", a branch of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Both the kidnapping and claims for its responsibility were announced barely hours after the bloody attack in the capital Ouagadougou against the Splendid Hotel and Cappuccino restaurant left at least 30 people dead. This attack was also claimed by jihadists belonging to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

According to reports, the doctor and his wife may have already been transferred to Mali by the jihadists.

Photo of the Australian couple's clinic. Photo sent by our Observer. 

The two hostages, Jocelyn and Ken Elliot, are originally from Perth in Western Australia. They opened a medical centre in Djibo more than four decades ago, back in 1972. Our Observer, Amadou Maiga, is the headmaster of Djibo's provincial high school. For two days now, he's been organising protests in support of the missing couple.

"Sometimes, he didn't even charge for check-ups"

On Sunday [January 17], pupils from the Provincial High School of Djibo, as well as management staff and teachers, gathered in front of the school to protest against the kidnapping of Doctor Elliot and his wife. Around 600 of us took part.

Protesters constructed a wall around the local school on Sunday. Photo published on the school's Facebook page.

On the same day, we started to build a protective wall around the school. Doctor Elliot was a fighter. When we heard that he had been kidnapped, we had a desire to unify our strength in order to protect ourselves. This wall is to show him that we're strong and that we won't give in.

A protest in solidarity with Dr Elliot on Monday.  Photo sent by our Observer.

On Monday, we got together once again. This time, the gathering was on a completely different scale: along with our school, all the schools in the town demonstrated together. The protest was held to call on authorities to ramp up their efforts to find the doctor and his wife and get them released.

"He's the saviour of the Sahel"

The people here really need Doctor Elliot. He's the saviour of the Sahel. He arrived here in 1972, and at the time there were no surgeons in the region. Since his arrival, he's never expressed any desire whatsoever to leave. He's become more Burkinabe than Australian. He's very reserved and doesn't talk much. I've rarely seen him chatting idly; he's always very busy. He takes care of all the surgical procedures and any complications that can arise from pregnancies.

Protest on Monday. Photo sent by our Observer.

As a result of his work, everybody knows him. In every family, at least one person has been treated by this doctor and lots of infants were born in his clinic. People come from as far away as Ivory Coast or Niger to be seen by him.

Apart from his medical centre, there aren't really any trustworthy clinics in the region. On top of that, medical fees are very high in this country. It's far cheaper to go get treated by Doctor Elliot.

Sometimes, he didn't even charge for the check-up. He treated everybody, regardless of your income or your religious beliefs.

"Their whole lives revolved around the clinic"

His wife is also very much loved and cherished in Djibo. She looks after children with malnutrition and people suffering from mental health problems. When the couple’s children or friends come to visit them during the holidays, they also help out at the clinic. Their whole lives revolve around this clinic. They also carry out public health awareness campaigns, in particular to show people the fundamentals of good hygiene in order to avoid spreading diseases.

Protest on Monday. Photo sent by our Observer.

I had never heard of them being threatened, so the kidnapping came as a shock to all of us. I'm worried for them because they're old and frail. I also ask myself what we'll do without them in Djibo. They employed and trained a few people to help run the clinic, but nobody is ready to take over from them.