On 7 May 1971 – in the windswept sandstorm region of the Sahel, a male child was born in Southern Burkina Faso in the town of Ouessa to a farmer whose selfless character was to be a notable virtue in his son. Though born to a humble beginning, this child in his early years had the resilience of a baobab. Against the ebbs and flows of the semi-arid region of his birth, he would go with his father to their farm to cultivate crops. One day, as he helped his father with tomato plants, his father told him that whatever you do, do it to the fullest. Though it had seemed like a statement that would pass with the wind, this child took it to heart. Through seasons of drought and moments of rain as this child matured into a man, those words sunk in his heart.. 

During his years as an undergraduate student at the University of Ouagadougou, he was part of a youth wing of the national movement for human rights. He graduated in 1997 and in 1999 became a public law jurist in the Parliament of Burkina Faso. As a jurist, he was involved in various significant activities, one of which was: monitoring the compliance of draft bills with the government’s international obligations. But as a man who knew to do things to the fullest, his perspective was always wider than the enclave of the sand-swept country of his birth. He wanted to do more, to press for change beyond his country. So in 2003, he applied for the Masters in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa. 

It is no mean fit for someone from a francophone country with full education in French to aspire unto one of the most demanding Masters Programme. But this man did and with resilience, he shone. Being the first and only student from Burkina Faso, his courage in coming in spite of the challenges ahead of him was remarkable. While everyone else took away with them a degree, he took away twice as much. He took with him fluency in a second language that flung open the doors of his life.

When he graduated in 2004, he was prepared to be a leading voice of change and having been well equipped to do so, he began with resilience. In 2005, he joined the United Nations – an institution often criticised for crooning the tunes of good governance but not doing enough. While it is easy to overlook people working in this system unless they are at the very top, one cannot help but notice this man who through hardship as made a difference. He has shown that he is not just a clog in the wheel but someone determined to make a personal contribution. Someone prepared to make a lasting difference. Someone prepared to do things to the fullest. 

From Sierra Leone to Chad, to Cote D’Ivoire to Mali – countries with fragile democracies, this man has made a difference, protecting the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children. In Sierra Leone, he designed and implemented a capacity-building project for local governments on “Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law”. In Chad, he was involved in monitoring, investigating and documenting human rights violations. He chaired inter-agency meetings on child protection and participated in joint government-United Nations visits to military bases to ensure that children are not in the bases as soldiers. In July of 2010, he joined the United Nations Operation in Cote d’Ivoire where he was involved in several activities, one of which was ensuring that UN Agencies adopt a rights-based approach in their programmes and operations. During the post-election violence in Cote d’Ivoire, he was involved in human rights and peace-keeping activities. While the rest of the world slept soundly, he was awake, keeping the peace.

One afternoon in Abidjan, following the bombing of a local market, he was requested to investigate the crisis for a report to the United Nations Security Council. While many other colleagues refused to join him in apprehension, he was not deterred. Although the convoy he was in was shot at and he could have lost his life, he did not quit. This man has sacrificed not only his time but also his resources. With the yearning to do more, in 2010, he established the Citizens Information and Documentation Center in his home country. He was driven by the belief that an informed citizenry is well placed to participate in the orderings of society. 

In recognition of his sacrifice, commitment and passion for the advancement of human rights on our continent, the 2013 Vera Chirwa Award was presented to Mr Augustin Kounkiné Somé.



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