The Observers

Tied up and humiliated: Victims of the Koglweogo, a militia network, filmed in Burkina Faso

At least five people were arrested and chained by their feet in Burkina Faso by the Koglweogo, a militia network created to maintain security in the region.
At least five people were arrested and chained by their feet in Burkina Faso by the Koglweogo, a militia network created to maintain security in the region. © Observers

People sitting on a bench with their feet chained together ... this is the scene that our Observer in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, filmed and sent to us. The people in the video were arrested by the Koglweogo, a network of vigilante groups created to maintain order. This video is a rare insight into their methods of control, operating outside the law to fight against petty crime. 

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The video is only 11 seconds long, but in it we can see at least five people, their feet bound with chains. One person in the video speaks Mooré, one of the languages used in Burkina Faso, before another person says to stop filming.

The scene took place on March 20 on the outskirts of Ouagadougou at the headquarters of a group of Koglweogo. The Koglweogo are militias, formed as early as 2015, generally made up of civilians to counter an increase in crime.

But in fulfilling their mission, the Koglweogo have also been guilty of using excessive force, mistreatment and abuse. 

'For the Koglweogo, the presumption of innocence does not exist'

Jean-Yves (not his real name) witnessed this scene and sent us this video.

These people were there for various reasons. There were some who were there for cases of theft, cases of embezzlement. I saw a child who was there also because he had run away from home. I think he was barely even 12 or 14 years old. And I saw a young man who was there because he was having trouble with his brothers over their inheritance. So they wanted to accuse him of some things so they could keep him out of the inheritance.

For the Koglweogo, the presumption of innocence does not exist. People are often chained up without being given explanations. If no one brings food to these arrested people, they do not give them anything. We see a white bucket in the video: this is where the people relieve themselves. They are not allowed to go to the bathroom.

We spoke to Samir Abdoul Karim Ouedraogo, a self-proclaimed spokesperson for Koglweogo leadership, who told us that it is "justified to restrain an individual so that he does not flee, but the situation must be evaluated according to how dangerous he is".

He added that he disapproved of the treatment of the people in this video. 

'People cannot just replace state institutions'

Since January 21, 2021, a law entitled "Volunteers for the Defence of the Fatherland" (VDP) has allowed most of these Koglweogo groups to "voluntarily serve the security interests of their village or area of residence" through contracts with the state, allowing them to receive training. But many militias continue to operate outside this framework, particularly in the Ouagadougou region.

Many people in Burkina Faso support the Koglweogo, so incidents like these don't always attract wide attention.

Jean-Yves explained:

I must say that, before, I had no problem with the Koglweogos. But when I was there, I was shocked, because the condition in which these people were treated was abominable!

We live in a country ruled by law. People cannot just replace state institutions. In this day and age, I don't think that this kind of practice should be allowed to continue. 

Last December, the security minister of Burkina Faso held a conference with the Koglweogos and other local security groups. 

He stressed the importance of their efforts, especially in the fight against terrorism in rural areas. But he failed to mention their wrongdoings, nor did he question their methods.