A video in Burkina Faso showing men in military fatigues walking among the bloodied bodies of boys with their hands bound surfaced on social media in mid-February. A six-week AP project delivered a frame-by-frame analysis of the graphic, 83-second video of the killings and tracked down the relatives of one of the victims: Adama, a 16-year-old cattle herder, piecing together his final hours. A soldier smashed his head with a large rock.
Most people in Burkina Faso are too terrified to speak out against the ruling military, even over the phone for fear of state surveillance. Also, it wasn’t safe to travel to the town of the killings. However, AP was able to authenticate the video circulating on Whatsapp through on-the-ground reporting, satellite imagery and open-source intelligence.
Government officials denied involvement in the killings, but analysis by Global Investigative Reporter Michael Biesecker was able to show the soldiers were wearing uniforms and had vehicles consistent with members of the Burkinabe military. After West Africa Correspondent Sam Mednick got a tip, Biesecker was able to geolocate the killings to Camp Zondoma, a military base near Ouahigouya.
Mednick and her Ouagadougou translator located the teen’s family after people in the capital with ties to Ouahigouya connected them with Adama’s uncle, the first person willing to talk. The translator, whose identity cannot be disclosed, played a key role in getting the family to speak, despite great personal risk. Mednick persuaded the uncle to let her interview the boy’s mother, who was unaware that her son’s death had been filmed.
Visual journalist Marshall Ritzel produced a video highlighting the visual investigation and exclusive interviews with Adama’s family. And a photographer, who remains anonymous for security concerns, took discrete photos of the family and street scenes in Burkina Faso.
An edit of the video by digital audiences producer McKinnon de Kuyper was among AP’s top social posts of the week, and the report circulated on social media inside Burkina Faso where the government labels reports about killings as foreign misinformation. Burkina Faso locals thought the video was fake until seeing AP’s analysis and report.
AP is the only English media outlet to investigate this killing and the only one to interview victims’ relatives. Clients used AP’s video to produce their own stories, crediting AP’s investigation, and others featured AP’s story and video on their websites, including Euronews and AfricaNews, ensuring exposure in Africa. Mednick was interviewed by Al Jazeera for their evening news report.
For shining a spotlight on the sort of casual murder that takes place in countries around the world, Mednick, Biesecker, Ritzel, the anonymous translator in Ouagadougou and de Kuyper win this week’s first place Best of the Week.