World Self-defence militias rise in Niger as jihadist attacks mount
Great Green Wall brings life back to Niger desert
Great Green Wall brings life back to Niger desertGoats crunch acacia seeds, squirrel and partridge prints dot the ground, praying mantises hang from trees and swarms of grasshoppers devour the verdant foliage.
Abdoulaye casts a questioning eye over the passengers of a car that has pulled up at the entrance to his village in western Niger.
Slung over the shoulder of his long and slender frame are a bow and a quiver of arrows -- the only weapon he has against the ruthless, highly-armed men who prowl the region.
"I'm a member of the Vigilance Committee," he said. "I'm just carrying out a patrol of the village."
Niger: Facing the jihadists, the self-defense militias multiply
the regular army seems unable to curb the terrorist threat in the west of Niger. Also, at the risk of their lives, the inhabitants rise militias, targets of choice of Islamists. © provided by FranceInfo for any weapon, they carry a bow or a stone launcher. They are young, brave, and have joined one of the self-defense groups that multiply in the west of Niger, in the famous zone called "three borders".
The "Committee" is just one of the many self-defence groups that have sprouted in the violence-torn Tillaberi region.
Remote and arid, Tillaberi is reeling from a string of massacres by suspected jihadists, many of them operating from across the border in troubled Mali.
Cattle theft, ransom kidnappings, targeted killings and exortion add to the community's list of woes.
Exasperated and fearful, villagers have rushed to set up local militias -- but sometimes at deadly cost to their young men.
"Young villagers... have signed up to avenge the dead and protect their property," said a former mayor of Banibangou, a town near Abdoulaye's village.
"They are merely equipped with (bows and) arrows, knives and probably a few guns," a Banibangou resident said.
Burkina Faso assesses army failures after deadliest jihadist attack
A jihadist attack on a base in northern Burkina Faso this month that left at least 57 dead has turned the spotlight on glaring failures by the security forces to protect themselves against a ruthless, highly mobile foe. On Sunday meanwhile, nine gendarmes and about 10 civilians were killed in an attack on their base at Foube, also in the desert north, security sources say. Raids by armed groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have plagued the landlocked Sahel nation since 2015, killing about 2,000 people and displacing 1.4 million from their homes.
A new self-defence group emerged earlier this year in neighbouring Tahoua after 141 people were slaughtered in March.
A video circulating on social media shows men clutching automatic weapons, saying they have "taken up arms against terrorism."
But the price for openly defying the jihadists can be lethal.
At least 69 militiamen, led by the mayor of Banibangou, were killed in an ambush on November 2.
On November 16, 25 members of another self-defence group were killed at a camp in Bakorat in Tahoua.
- Tolerated -
The poorest country in the world by the benchmark of the UN's human development index, Niger is struggling with jihadist attacks both in the west on the border with Mali, and in the southeast, on the border with Nigeria.
Its armed forces, operating across a vast and often empty landscape, are massively under-equipped.
As a result, President Mohamed Bazoum's government has adopted the posture of tolerating the militias, while not formally banning them.
French army convoy blocked by Burkinabe protesters reaches Niger
Stopping of convoy came amid rising anger over failure of local and international forces to contain escalating violence.Hundreds of demonstrators in the city of Kaya surrounded on November 19 the logistics trucks and armoured vehicles as they traversed Burkina Faso on their way to Mali through Niger.
"The government doesn't encourage people to defend themselves -- it's very dangerous for them," said General Mahamadou Abou Tarka, head of the High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace (HACP), a government institution tasked with building dialogue between communities.
Souley Oumarou, who heads a campaign group called Forum for a Responsible Citizenship, said militias heighten the risk of inflaming ethnic tensions.
"Self-defence groups may attack members" of another ethnic group that have jihadists in their ranks, and this unleashes tit-for-tat violence, Ouamarou said.
Bazoum went to Banibangou after the latest bloodshed, where he told locals that he understood why they were "not satisfied" with the army's performance.
"If you think that you can provide your own defence, that's legitimate, but the thing which should ensure your defence and on which you can count is the state," he cautioned.
- Burkina lesson -
In neighbouring Burkina Faso, the government has set up an official self-defence force -- the Volunteers for the Defence of the Motherland (VDP) -- to act in a supporting role for the army.
Death toll from Burkina Faso attack rises to 53
The death toll from a weekend attack by suspected jihadists on a gendarmerie in northern Burkina Faso has risen to 53, the government said Wednesday. The attack was one of the deadliest to hit the West African country's defence and security forces since jihadist violence erupted six years ago. Gunmen travelling on pick-up trucks and motorcycles attacked the Inata gendarmerie near the Malian border before dawn on Sunday, leading to drawn-out clashes, a security source on the same day said.On Monday the death toll was reported as 32.But government spokesman Ousseni Tamboura said Wednesday that a total of 53 people were killed, 49 gendarmes and four civilians.
Volunteers receive 14 days of training and are then sent out on patrols and surveillance missions, equipped with light arms.
More than 250 VDP members been killed since the force was set up in December 2019, and some observers argue that the existence of the militia itself is an incentive for violence.
"It hasn't stopped the cycle of terror," a Nigerien security source said.
Seeking to drain support for creating militias and to strengthen the army, Niger's government has set up a programme to train young people to join the National Guard in jihadist-hit regions.
Around 500 have already been recruited in the southeastern region of Diffa, and 500 are expected to follow suit in Tillaberi and Tahoua, a presidential aide said.
Last month, Bazoum announced three-year spending plans of more than 150 billion CFA francs ($260 million) to help "strengthen the capacity" of the air force.
The country is also going to buy drones, planes and armoured vehicles from Turkey.
Anger as bodies of slain Burkina police buried .
Thirty-six Burkina Faso police officers killed in a jihadist attack were buried on Tuesday in front of an angry crowd of grieving relatives. At least nine police officers were killed in another attack in northern Burkina Faso over the weekend that also bore the hallmarks of jihadist violence. The November 14 attack came as the police had been waiting to be relieved for several days and after they had appealed for help, saying they were running short of ammunition and food.