Unidentified gunmen showed up on Safiata Sayore’s doorstep six months ago. “Salaam alaykum,” they said — “We come in peace.” Then she said they opened fire, killing her brother, an account confirmed by village elders. She fled to a camp in the central town of Kongoussi.
When, in March, the government blamed “unidentified gunmen” for killing 43 people, including a 90-year-old blind man, in three Fulani villages, Fulani rights activists had enough.
The government knew who was responsible, said Daouda Diallo, secretary-general of the Collective Against Impunity and Community Stigma, a local human rights organization.
“As well as being a lie, this statement makes the government complicit in ethnic cleansing,” said Mr. Diallo.
That attack, he said, was carried out by volunteer vigilantes. These groups sprang up to fight crime, but many vigilantes now serve as military informants and accompany soldiers on operations, armed with handmade hunting guns and long knives. In January the government passed a law giving some vigilantes official status, two weeks of training and a firearm.
One mostly Mossi vigilante network called the Koglweogo is notorious for a massacre of Fulanis in Yirgou in January 2019, in which the Collective Against Impunity said more than 200 people were killed. There are vigilante units and spies all over the country.
They do not always try to hide their killing.
One such vigilante leader, Moise Kinda unapologetically described how soldiers around Kongoussi, his sleepy hometown, kill people, dumping their bodies at roadsides. He was incredulous at the suggestion that people suspected of collaborating with terrorists should be arrested and prosecuted, rather than summarily killed.