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Sahel: Reporting from the line of terror



Twenty Malian security forces were reportedly killed by militants on January 26 as the brazen attacks by Islamists increases and creates more challenges in the food insecure and extremism riddled Sahel region.


At the same time, monitoring the increasing violence on the ground has become deadly for reporters. Despite that, The New Humanitarian (TNH) is keeping an eye on the zone which includes the countries Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso as part of their 2020 trends and crises to watch considering the region’s ongoing terrorist violence.


“Burkina Faso has been a moderately tolerant society. It is just in a bad neighbourhood sandwiched between Niger and Mali which have been in turmoil for many years,” said Obi Anyadike, TNH senior Africa editor in a recent webinar hosted by the news organisation.

He added that most military groups in Burkina Faso come from across the borders but some are “homegrown”.


“Certain groups of people are jihadist,” Anyadike said.


In an early January briefing, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the special representative of the secretary-general and head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel, said 4 000 deaths were reported in 2019.



“Every day or so it seems the UN or aid groups will put out frightening new figures on the scale of displacement and they are often big numbers,” TNH African correspondent and editor Philip Kleinfeld told frayintermedia.


The UN refugee agency estimates that at least 36 people died in central Burkina Faso’s Sanmatenga province.


“Armed militants” attacked and burnt down a market in Nagraogo village on January 20 killing 32 civilians before killing four more people in Alamou village.


“These numbers are often hard to humanise and it is part of what we do as journalists, to humanise conflict and to try and tell the stories of the people caught up in these crises and amplify their voices and to show audiences how their stories encapsulate broader problems and crises,” Kleinfeld said.


Burkina Faso’s parliament recently voted to allow the military to use civilian volunteers to help fight Islamic extremism in the country.

“Initially, government institutions were the targets but now it’s just everybody and its ordinary civilians and that’s partly driven in the government outsourcing some of the security to self-defence militia and we’re seeing a type of identity politics where certain people have identified as part of the jihadist extremist groups,” Anyadike said in the webinar.


In such instances where there are different opposing camps, Kleinfeld said getting to the truth of the story is often complicated, particularly in areas of conflict.


“Different actors in conflict zones have often different versions of the truth and given time limitations on the ground. It can be pretty frustrating to try and cut through what is right and what is wrong with often different accounts you are given. There is often this feeling that you’re being manipulated by different sides of the conflict,” Kleinfeld said.


Kleinfeld said his approach is to work “doubly hard to triangulate the information” by interviewing many sources that patterns and facts come through the fog.


“And when that is really impossible, just be honest about it and make that - the struggle of finding the truth in the differences and different accounts - part of the story,” he said.


While working in the Sahel has given Kleinfeld insight into what he described as “a focus on military solutions over political, social, economic or humanitarian ones” in the region, Kleinfeld said it is important that journalists do not lose sight of their scope and function of their work.


“As journalists, we aren’t in the business of giving an opinion but we are in the business of reporting problems and finding out facts, hoping others will pick up and those and implement things that can make them better,” Kleinfeld said.


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