The leader who opened his house to those displaced by jihadism in Burkina Faso: You cannot look the other way

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“When I saw them arrive, I opened the door for them. You cannot look the other way before the suffering of others, ”says Diambendi Madiega in a telephone conversation with MRT. This 68-year-old healer and traditional chief of the town of Bollé, in central Burkina Faso, has welcomed into his home and nearby land no less than 37 families displaced by the jihadist violence that is spreading across half the country and has negotiated with their neighbors to do the same. Next week he receives the Nansen award from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which he shares with his compatriot Roukiatou Maiga, but he thinks that the best award is to serve others.

For three years it has been known as the Nabaa Wogbo, which in the Moorish language of the Mossi ethnic group means the Chief Elephant. “When you are named a leader, you have the obligation to take care of the others,” adds Madiega over the phone sitting on a wooden chair in the backyard of his house in the gap left by the huts of the displaced. But it wasn’t just out of compassion. “The idea was to avoid conflicts with the local population. They are fleeing violence, they are sad and mentally disturbed, the worst that can happen to them is having to suffer rejection wherever they settle. They do not want to be here, they would want to return to their villages and homes, ”he says.

“I brought as many as I could into my house, but it wasn’t enough. So I convinced other family heads to take these people in. It was not enough either, many were still sleeping under the trees. In the end came the Government’s Social Action and then UNHCR, which provided tents and household items. However, there are still no booths for everyone, so we have given land for them to settle in and many are still in our homes, ”says Madiega, who every day is interested in the fate of his guests and tries to help them as much as he can in a This conflict has been complicated by the violent repression of the Army and by the irruption of armed self-defense groups.

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Married to five wives, the last of them a widow to whom he offered his help, and the father of 32 children, Chief Elephant could never imagine that Burkina Faso would experience a situation like this. “No Burkinabe I think would have ever thought about it. When I was little, the elders told us that throughout a life there was time for joy and pain. This, without a doubt, is a time of pain, it is a misfortune that has befallen Burkina Faso, I pray every day that God will free us from this misfortune, ”says the traditional chief of Bollé. In this small town alone there are about 2,000 displaced people from areas such as Arbinda, Dori or Barsalogho.

Displaced people arriving in Bollé are fleeing massacres committed by both jihadists and other armed groups in a conflict that has caused more than 5,000 deaths since 2015, with both civilians and Burkinabe soldiers being victims. The latest incident took place last Wednesday when five soldiers died and one was injured after the vehicle traveling in the Mentao area, in the north of the country, stepped on an artisanal mine. The Armed Forces have abandoned many rural areas and have withdrawn on the cities before the advance of the jihadists, limiting themselves to patrolling the main roads.

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Unhcr created the Nansen Prize in 1954 to honor individuals, groups and organizations that have excelled in their work to protect stateless, displaced and refugees. The name comes from Fridtjof Nansen, a Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat who was the first head of the United Nations agency and received the Nobel Peace Prize. Chief Diambendi Madiega shares the award this year with Roukiatou Maiga, also from Burkina Faso, 55, president of the Djam Weli association (Peace is good, in the Fulani language).

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Maiga has not only welcomed displaced people into her own home, but has also played a key role as a mediator in inter-community conflicts and maintains a special concern to offer assistance and employment to women, some of whom are also victims of sexual violence. In 2020 her eldest son was killed by an armed group, but she continues with her work.

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