“The Koglweogo self defence militias began in the outbacks [around 2015], especially in the east part of the country and are spreading to the capital Ougadougou,” journalist Van Vyve told RFI.
Koglweogo means “guardians of the forest” in the Moré language; there are believed to be more than 4,000 such militia across the country, each with at least 20 members. They act as both police and judges.
The couple first travelled to Burkina Faso in 2017 to investigate after a Burkinabé friend told Papegnies he “was worried about the threat to democracy in his country”.
Van Vye says they struggled to reach the Koglweogo in the beginning: “They’re very codified, hierarchical, it took a while to gain their trust.”
Thanks to a crowdfunding operation, they were able to return in January 2018 to complete their investigation.
The web doc explains how, despite sometimes violent methods, the militia were able to develop and how they’ve managed to get widespread popular support.
“There’s a paradox between the fact that these groups use violence because they arrest people, torture, hit them,” Van Vye explains, “but on the other side they’re effective so security is better since they came. Two thirds of the people in Burkina Faso are for those vigilante groups.”
While she felt a sense of unease it was also “super interesting for us journalists from the West to come and see how such violence is legitimated by the people”.
Van Vye says the government has “little or no choice” but to tolerate the groups since "it doesn’t have the means to ensure the security of the whole population over the country".
She adds that the authorities have agreed to work with the Koglweogo but only if they respect certain rules such as no guns and no extortion. However “those rules are not accepted by the Koglweogos; it would mean giving up their right to decide and to take initiatives".
Van Vye and Papegnies have split the 8,000 euro prize and plan to use it to finance their next project.
The Visa d’Or for digital news is financed by French public radio and television, including RFI and France 24 as part of the Visa pour l'image festival now in its 30th edition.