(en) Niger

Joel Ng (andng@singnet.com.sg)
Tue, 14 Jan 1997 15:01:18 +0800


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I just got back from there, and very little news of it gets out that's not distorted, so at someone's suggestion, I've taken the liberty to post a little info on it: (please don't ask about accuracy, information there passes so slowly and gets distorted all too often, too easily).

Niger: One of the poorest countries in Africa - worse than Ethiopia, Sudan or Rwanda (but never gets in the news). It's got its fair share of turmoil: a Tamajaq (Tuareg*) rebellion in the north (they've revolted against everyone who's ever tried to rule them: the French before and every local government since then), and a Fulani/Zirma civil war in the east (near Lake Chad) which the government has no power to control.

The government hasn't paid its civil servants in six months. (It established itself "democratically" 2 or 3 years ago - the coup leader was "elected" president but only marginally: about 55% of the registered vote) The government presence is near to zero in the north (in the Sahara), due to the rebellion (I only found out because a missionary veterinarian who applied to work with Fulani herdsmen there was rejected on the grounds that it was "trop dangereux", and also inherent suspicion that he would aid the Tamajaqs there.)

Unemployment hovers just under the 50% mark. Although the population stands around 14 million, it is already too high to support itself well, and it is considered overpopulated. The country is much poorer than it was 20 years ago (although a few amenities have improved).

Estimates are that their grain supply will run out by mid-March of this year (In Maradi, the 2nd largest city, widespread famine is expected by the end of February according to relief workers there)... The planting season begins in April, and harvest falls between September and December.

Actually, it's a decent place if you ignore the army & other hardships. The people certainly bear with it admirably. It has to be one of the least spoilt countries by capitalism. Fast food doesn't even exist there! The government recently went broke installing needless things like traffic lights in the capital - there are hadly any cars anyway, and it's incredibly infuriating to stop at a junction with no cars on either side. No one knows how it is going to be able to import grain for the coming year to feed its malnourished population.

They have all the pre-requisites for revolution. The main reason people do not revolt, is simply because they lack the necessary impetus to risk everything for something they haven't even dared to imagine. (I remember a couple of kids who were absolutely fascinated by the air-conditioner in my car, let alone the idea that I was actually paying attention to them) There have been several strikes recently, and the union of taxi-drivers is relatively powerful there.

Racial tensions do exist, as in almost every country in Africa. Fortunately or not, infighting among themselves prevents all-out civil war, and they are a little too poor to do that. (although that hasn't stopped numerous skirmishes, including the current one between Fulani & Zirma herdsmen (or farmers, I'm not too sure).)

I'm by no means an expert on the country, though I lived there until about 7 years ago, so that's just a general impression.

* Tuareg/Touareg is a Hausa word for these people. It's a Hausa equivalent for barbarian: it simply means "foreigner" but has negative connotations... Tamajaq is the name they call themselves, although they're used to the other label. (I don't know a great deal about Hausa, but there are several very different dialects, so there may be different opinions on the matter.)

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