The authorities in Burkina Faso, struggling to grapple with a growing wave of Islamist militant attacks that is affecting the region, are planning to give weapons to civilians, as Louise Dewast reports.
The Burkinabe government is under pressure to take new measures to try and curtail the militants.
In January alone, at least 60 people were killed in four separate attacks in the north of the country, with another 20 killed on Sunday.
Members of parliament recently unanimously voted in favour of arming civilians in a move they said would help combat the armed groups. It is due to be signed into law.
The attacks by militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have significantly increased in the past year, causing more than half a million people to flee their homes.
Critics have questioned whether the new measure will make people safer, but the government insists that armed volunteers are necessary to stem the spread of violence.
The law says that the army’s capacity to fight the militants is limited in terms of numbers of soldiers and lack of appropriate training.
“In light of the persistent threat, populations have… expressed their desire to actively engage in the defence of the homeland,” it states.
But this is not proof of the army’s weakness, the government insisted. Speaking to the BBC, Communication Minister Remi Dandjinou likened the future volunteers to members of the French resistance during Germany’s occupation of France in the World War Two.
But there is a concern that the new measures could heighten ethnic conflict and fuel tensions between rival hunting and farming communities.