Niger’s River Wonders

By Elsa Sichrovsky

While Niger is known for its arid desert climate, that doesn’t mean that there is a lack of wildlife. The Nile River and Niger River both flow through Niger, and these bodies of water support an abundance of animal species that thrive along their banks. Some of the most interesting species have their own way of surviving the lack of stable water and the threats from poachers that plague this part of the world.

Nile perch

Source: WorldFish

In the Hausa language, the Nile perch is called giwan ruwa, which means “water elephant.[1]” No wonder, for the Nile perch can grow as big as 2 meters long! Its abundance and massive size make it a crucial component of East Africa’s food economy. The Nile perch isn’t particular about where it lives and thrives in any part of a lake. It adapts well to new environments, to the point of becoming one of the most invasive fish species, according to World Conservation Union. In fact, during the dry season when the Nile River dries up, the Nile perch survives by encasing itself with a layer of mucus to retain moisture[2]. Unfortunately, its natural environment is threatened by climate change and its population suffers from severe overfishing.

 

Nile monitor

Source: D. Gordon E. Robertson

While the name may suggest that it is a machine, the Nile monitor is part of a family of large aquatic lizards with powerful teeth and an aggressive demeanor.[3] The name might have been inspired by their habit of standing on two legs as if “monitoring.” Nile monitors have greenish-brown and greenish-yellow spotted skin patterns that help them blend in with their surroundings. While it is native to Africa, it is now also extensively bred in Florida and California. It preys on crocodile eggs and nests, which disrupts Florida’s native crocodile population as Nile monitors are often released into the wild when would-be pet owners can no longer care for them.

 

Egyptian plover

Source: Francesco Veronesi

This charming gray and orange bird is widely known as the “crocodile bird” because it is believed to enter the mouth of a crocodile to eat away the parasites.[4] While no photographic evidence of this symbiotic relationship existsz3, there continue to be reports of such behavior.[5] It frequents sandbars on the shores of large tropical rivers, including the Nile River. The Egyptian plover utilizes the searing African sun to incubate its eggs, which it only covers with a thin layer of sand and then leaves to hatch on its own. Since the Egyptian plover is not hunted for economic purposes, it is found in abundance and does not suffer from any threat of extinction.

African Helmeted Turtle

Source: Thomas Brown

African Helmeted Turtles are a popular pet because of their endearing head-tucking habit. In fact, if it is flipped upside down, it can flip itself right-side up with a swift movement of its strong neck. African Helmeted Turtles have their special way of dealing with the lack of water that plagues this area. They bury themselves in muddy pools during the hot season and move from mud hole to another as they wait for the rainy season.

The illegal trade in reptiles’ skins has increasingly become a concern in Niger. The skins of native reptiles in Niger are highly sought after, due to their uniqueness and rarity. Poverty makes poaching a tempting trade for many people. Niger’s wildlife is under threat due to climate change, poaching, and lack of effective government intervention. By raising awareness of Niger’s environmental issues, more attention and resources can hopefully be directed to this often-overlooked part of the world.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_perch

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wildlife_of_Niger#cite_note-Area-10

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nile_monitor

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_plover

[5] https://beautifulafricanwildanimalspets.blogspot.com/p/beautiful-dangerous-nile-crocodile.html

The Cost of Economic Exploration

by Caroline Moss

The government of Niger recently announced plans to reduce the size of one of Africa’s largest biodiversity reserves in order to expand oil drilling operations. The Termit Massif and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve overlaps three oil blocs controlled by the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation. CNPC plans to build and operate a crude oil pipeline to export its crude oil.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Termit2.jpg

 

The reserve’s unique lack of human activity has long allowed wildlife to remain undisturbed. Unfortunately, the new economic advances will undoubtedly affect the animals on the reserve. The reserve’s 100,000 square kilometers of mountains and valleys, open desert, and grassy plains will be downsized by 45,000 square kilometers to allow for new drilling. Established in 2012, the reserve is considered to be one of the last strongholds of Saharan Wildlife and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biodiversity. Biodiversity refers to the full array of life in the region including the species richness, ecosystem complexity, and genetic variation.

The French conservation non-government organization, Noé, was entrusted with managing the reserve on behalf of the government in November of 2018. The conservation organization must now shift to working with CNPC to create an environment where oil extradition and wildlife can co-exist. As one of the poorest countries in the world, Niger would benefit economically from oil extradition, but at what cost to its environment and the animals within the preserve?

The reserve is the only place in the world known for its population of critically endangered addax or white antelope. There are currently less than 100 living there in the wild. In 2016, the Union for Conservation of Nature warned that disturbances caused by CNPC’s oil installations had pushed the addax to the brink of extinction.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Addax

The biodiversity of the Termit Massif and Tin Toumma National Nature Reserve is worth saving, not only because of the animals that live there, but also because of the land’s . As home to numerous animals and unique wildlife, the nature reserve has become a part of the cultural identity of the country. With new commercial interests in this area, companies could make important contributions to Niger by taking steps to protect the addax and minimizing oil impact to preserve the land while still contributing to the country’s gross domestic product.

 

SOURCES:

“Actualités.” Noe, Noe, 30 July 2019

Leahy, Stephen. “Africa’s Largest Reserve May Lose Half Its Area to Oil Development.” Mongabay Environmental News, Mongabay, 6 Aug. 2019

UICN. “Saharan Addax Antelope Faces Imminent Extinction.” UICN, UICN, 16 June 2016

“Termit & Tin Toumma, Niger – SCF.” Sahara Conservation Fund

“West Africa: Land Use and Land Cover Dynamics.” Biodiversity and Protected Areas in West Africa West Africa, USGS

 

 

Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

by Michelle Nelson von Euw

Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Generally speaking, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a collection of 17 international development goals set by the United Nation’s General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030. These goals are sometimes also referred to as the 2030 Agenda. The development problems addressed by the 17 SDGs range from improving general wellbeing, education, and clean water practices, to combating poverty, hunger, and detrimental climate change. The 17 SDGs are composed of 169 targets. Within each target exists one to three indicators, which are used to monitor success and evaluate if targets are being met. All in all, there are 232 indicators approved by the United Nations Development Program to track progress toward the 17 SDGs.

The SDGs were created as a response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were established following the Millennium Summit of 2000. As the first 21st century UN initiative of its kind, the MDGs outlined eight international development goals for the year 2015. One of the greatest criticisms of the MDGs was that the goals were too narrow, which made it too difficult for countries to monitor their progress. While water has always been of pivotal importance in development, the MDGs failed to consider improved water practices significant enough to stand alone as a goal. The focus of the MDGs was broad and its goals were overly ambitious (e.g. to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to ensure environmental sustainability, etc.). Many critics of the MDGs believe that when creating the original MDG framework they oversimplified the very complex concepts encompassed by sustainable development. When developing the SDGs, efforts were made to combat the vagueness associated with the MDGs. As a result, the number of goals more than doubled.

SDG 6 focuses heavily on three central problems commonly faced by developing countries: water scarcity, flooding, and a lack of proper waste management. Increased delivery and management of water systems can help create health, economic, and social progress as it relates to sustainable development. These development objectives highlight the importance of meeting the demand for water with a safe and sustainable supply. SDG 6 has eight different targets and 11 indicators spread across them. These targets and indicators are aimed to improve the management of water supplies and sanitation facilities. Integral to the approach of achieving SDG 6 is the understanding that all targets must be understood within the social, political, and structural context of each individual country so that national governments can incorporate the SDGs into their strategic planning process.

The individual targets are as follows:

  • Target 6.1 Achieve access to safe and affordable drinking water.
  • Target 6.2 Achieve access to sanitation and hygiene and end open defecation.
  • Target 6.3 Improve water quality, wastewater treatment and safe reuse.
  • Target 6.4 Increase water-use efficiency and ensure freshwater supplies.
  • Target 6.5 Implement integrated water resources management.
  • Target 6.6 Protect and restore water-related ecosystems.
  • Target 6a Expand international cooperation and capacity building.
  • Target 6b Support the participation of local communities.

As stated by a 2018 Report on SDG 6, the aims of this goal are vital to the success of many of the other development goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda.

“Fresh water, in sufficient quantity and quality, is essential for all aspects of life and sustainable development. The human rights to water and sanitation are widely recognized by [UN] Member States. Water resources are embedded in all forms of development (e.g. food security, health promotion and poverty reduction), in sustaining economic growth in agriculture, industry and energy generation, and in maintaining healthy ecosystems.”

In recent decades, the increasing misuse of water resources has created an increase in pollution and severe water stress within developing nations. Countries facing this threat desperately need improved technology to purify wastewater to increase the amount of water available to recycle. Currently, over 2.4 billion people lack access to safe sanitation. Data collected by the UN from 79 countries showed that only 59% of all wastewater is safely treated before entering waterways. As such, there is a dire need for governments and other organizations to support treatment technologies. Additionally, heavy rains and standing water further increase the risk of disease as they limit the sources of fresh water. In areas where water cannot be treated, waterborne illnesses, such as malaria and cholera, can spread much more easily.

In response to SDG 6, the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), a network of over 340 partner organizations around the world, has dedicated itself to ensuring that SDG 6 is achieved through the promotion of sustainable sanitation systems. As of 2018, however, only 27% of the population of low-income countries have access to soap and water. While SDG 6 is very important for developing countries to work toward, it is also important to note that developed countries could also benefit greatly from the improvement of water systems and waste management. Clean water is the foundation on which all civilizations are built.

For any country, or organization, to come anywhere close to attaining SDG 6, it must create a social, organizational, and physical structure that can provide sanitation facilities, increase investment in needed infrastructure, and encourage hygiene in as many ways as possible.

References:

“Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation.” United Nations Development Programme, United Nations, www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals/goal-6-clean-water-and-sanitation.html.

“SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018 on Water and Sanitation Archives | UN-Water.” UN, www.unwater.org/publication_categories/sdg-6-synthesis-report-2018-on-water-and-sanitation/.

“SDG Indicators (Edition 2016).” Global SDG Indicators Database, 2015, doi:10.18356/237bcfcf-en.

“United Nations Millennium Development Goals.” United Nations – We Can End Poverty, United Nations, 2015, www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml.

“Water and Sanitation : Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” Sustainable Development Goals: Knowledge Platform , United Nations, 2018, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/waterandsanitation.

 

Climate Change and Life in the Sahel Region

by Raphaela Barros Prado

Source: Hugues

The weather around the world is changing as evidenced by the many natural disasters and growing patterns of abnormal weather like droughts and heat waves. The temperature in the US for example, has risen by 1.8F, while the Earth’s average temperature has increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Climate change affects people’s lives in poor regions like Niger, as the availability of usable land goes down and water sources became less reliable. Niger is located in the middle of the Sahel, and climate change is even worse in this area, where the temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than in any other place. For this reason, people decide to migrate to other places that may be dangerous or join armed groups because of the lack of opportunities in the area. Thus climate change is contributing to an increased violence in these areas.

Although the situation in places like Niger is delicate and complicated, there are different ways to help improve the population’s quality of life. For example, building partnerships and investing in new financial models can be a good start. Local organizations, donors and scientists could work together with communities to create and implement long-term solutions. For example, Wells Bring Hope makes an impact in communities that have contaminated water by providing clean water and drilling new wells. Wells Bring Hope also stays in the community for 15 years, making monthly visits to ensure that the new practices become ingrained in daily behavior.

When a well is drilled, life in a village is transformed. Of course, the well means that there is a nearby source of safe, clean water, so women and girls no longer have to walk miles every day to access unsafe water sources that are becoming more depleted every day. There is, however, another key benefit that is becoming increasingly important as more frequent droughts lead to more frequent famines. When a new well is drilled, villagers are taught how to use grey water and drip farming to grow gardens, which provide essential nutrition and help to ward off starvation during times of famine.

In addition, providing education, training, and jobs, will empower people to find solutions for themselves. All of these strategies require financial support and mechanisms to extend the humanitarian help around these areas. There are a few projects providing hope for Sahel’s population. One such project is the Great Green Wall Initiative, which was adopted by the heads of state of eleven founding countries and was designed as a reforestation belt with more than 4,400 miles of extension and about 9,300 miles wide across Africa. The original goal was to understand the effects of desertification and then stop the advance of the desert. The reforestation would include 100% of indigenous species. Albeit there are some challenges, the project is currently underway. Hopefully more initiatives like this one will be developed and will have a big impact on people’s lives in the Sahel region.

SOURCES:

https://www.africanews.com/2019/01/22/mali-niger-climate-change-and-conflict-make-an-explosi ve-mix-in-the-sahel/

https://www.encyclopedie-environnement.org/en/life/green-wall-hope-greening-sahel/

Sarraounia Mangou: Niger’s Forgotten Princess

by: Elsa Sichrovsky

During the “Scramble for Africa” of the late nineteenth century, where European colonial powers rushed to conquer, and exploit the African continent, a powerful queen emerged: Sarraounia (Hausa for “queen”or “female chief”), leader of the Anza people in Lougou, Niger. Although, French historical documents give little information about this fascinating woman, the information that exists is astonishing enough. In April of 1899, her village was threatened by the notoriously cruel French commanders Paul Voulet and Julien Chanoine of the bloody Voulet-Chanoine Mission. Captain Voulet was said to have “a true love of blood and cruelty” and Lieutenant Chanoine was described as being “cruel out of cold-bloodedness as well as for pleasure.”[1] Determined not to allow her people to fall into such evil hands, Sarraounia rose up to defend her people with an ingenious plan.

She hid the women and children behind a thick, impenetrable bush, while she led her army against the invaders. When enemy gunfire overwhelmed her forces, she strategically retreated with her comrades into a protective thicket of jungle vegetation. From the cover of the undergrowth, her army continued their resistance with guerilla warfare. Although the French army ultimately prevailed, Sarraounia’s skill and bravery gave Voulet and Chanoine the most painful losses of their mission thus far: four French soldiers killed and six wounded.

By ChernorizetsHrabar – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The term “Sarraounia” refers to a woman who is not only a political ruler, but also a religious authority.[2] Interviews conducted by Professor Antoinette Tidjani Alou in modern-day Niger, record Nigeriens calling Sarraounia the “mistress of all the spirits” and “mother of all [animist] traditions” (Tidjani Alou 48).  She, being a female leader of the animist Anza people in a predominantly Islamic region, was believed to possess mysterious powers. The disastrous Voulet-Chanoine Mission ended with both Voulet and Chanoine being killed by their own soldiers, and Sarraounia’s magic was believed to be responsible for this humiliating end.[3]

Sadly, Sarraounia fell into oblivion and was only brought back to international attention by novelist and political activist Abdoulaye Mamani, who wrote the novel Sarraounia about her. In 1986, it was made into a movie which won first prize in the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. Once an obscure female ruler in the annals of Nigerien history, Sarraounia became a pan-African symbol of both colonial resistance and female leadership.[4]

Sarraounia’s courageous example is an inspiration to anyone who is fighting for freedom against great odds. The mission of Wells Bring Hope is to empower girls and women to achieve independence and equality in spite of economic and cultural obstacles. No matter how long the process or how insurmountable the setbacks, every Nigerien girl can make a lasting difference in her community, just as Sarraounia made her mark in Nigerien history.

photo from Sarraounia 

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voulet%E2%80%93Chanoine_Mission

[2] Alou, Antoinette Tidjani. “Niger and Sarraounia: One Hundred Years of Forgetting Female Leadership.” Research in African Literatures, vol. 40, no. 1, 2009, pp. 42–56. JSTOR.  www.jstor.org/stable/30131185.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voulet%E2%80%93Chanoine_Mission#cite_note-17

[4]Elara Bertho, « Sarraounia, une reine africaine entre histoire et mythe littéraire (Niger, 1899-2010) », Genre & Histoire [En ligne], 8 | Printemps 2011, mis en ligne le 21 novembre 2011, consulté le 23 novembre 2018. http://journals.openedition.org/genrehistoire/1218 .

Divorce in Niger: Fear, Hope, and the Struggle for Equality

By: Elaine Wallace 

In a fascinating post last year, Wells Bring Hope writer Shayna Watson described how social media is changing marriage culture in Niger, in good ways and bad. One positive development has been the rise of new social media platforms that encourage women to pursue gender equity in their relationships and to consider work, rather than marriage, as a means to financial security. These platforms empower women by giving them a vision of something other than the traditional path of early marriage and financial dependence on a husband.

Not everyone is happy about this development. As the Guardian reported in July, religious leaders fear that Niger’s divorce rate is soaring and that social media is to blame. They believe social media encourages infidelity among men and promotes ideas about women’s status that are at odds with traditional Nigerien culture. The solution, they say, is for women to abandon social media. Many older Nigeriens agree.

Social media may be an easy target for those who fear a rising divorce rate, but a new report by the New York Times provides a more complex view of the situation in Niger. Dionne Searcey, the Times’ West Africa bureau chief, went to Niger to explore a story about child marriage. But after speaking with a judge in Maradi who has been hearing divorce cases for over a decade, she decided to write about divorce . Searcey marvels that in Niger, where women have less education, lower living standards, and less equality with men than almost anywhere else in the world, women are taking more control over their lives and relationships. She calls it Niger’s “quiet revolution.”

Searcey notes that fears of a skyrocketing divorce rate in Niger are misplaced. A recent study by the Centre on Population Dynamics at McGill University supports her conclusion. According to the study, the divorce rate has actually dropped by about 10% over the past 20 years. The real change in Niger is not in the number of divorces, but in how divorce is initiated.

In the past, the vast majority of divorces were initiated by men. In the last 10 years, however, the number of divorces initiated by women has risen dramatically. Social media has undoubtedly played a role in this change, but the situation is more complex. Several social, political, and economic changes have contributed to a deep cultural – and generational shift – in Niger. As a result, young women are no longer willing to endure bad marriages, as they have been expected to do for generations. They are demanding respect, and hopefully love, from marriage partners and are willing to divorce husbands who don’t treat them well.

Although women in Niger are less educated than in other countries, and the child marriage rate is still high, more women are educated now than in the past and, in some areas, are marrying later in life. More women are also moving into cities for work, leaving parents and local traditions behind. This, in turn, empowers them to leave bad marriages.

There is also a greater commitment to women’s rights and more laws against discrimination and domestic abuse. 10 years ago, many women were unaware that they had any rights at all. Today, government-sponsored radio programs broadcast about a woman’s right to leave failing relationships, and billboards, talk shows, and even hip-hop lyrics inform women of their rights as wives.

Economics plays a role too. Niger’s already impoverished economy has been badly impacted by the war in nearby Nigeria with radical Islamist group, Boko Haram. Husbands in Niger are no longer able to support their wives financially, a problem that is compounded by a high birth rate and the practice of polygamy. Financial problems are often the reason women seek divorce.

Women also have more access to media than they had in the past. In rural areas, women discuss marriage troubles on call-in radio shows. In cities, they vent relationship frustrations on social media. Previously isolated, women now have online support networks to help them stand up for their rights, including the right to divorce. 

Social media is a mixed blessing. There’s no doubt that 24-7 interconnectedness creates a host of unexpected problems. But around the world, social media has given a voice to people who otherwise would not have the social, political, or economic power to speak. In Niger, women are using that voice to demand more control over one of the most fundamental aspects of their lives – their marriages.

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jul/23/how-social-media-is-revolutionising-marriage-in-niger

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/06/world/africa/niger-divorce-women.html

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/11/684346376/more-women-seek-divorces-in-niger-new-york-times-reporter-reveals

https://www.futurity.org/divorce-sub-saharan-africa-1080642-2/

Nigerien Hip-Hop: The Voice of Niger’s Youth

By: Elsa Sichrovsky

{Source: rfi MUSIQUE}

Although hip-hop music may be widely considered a product of American pop culture, Niger has also produced hip-hop artists of outstanding talent. They use music as a medium to raise awareness for the social issues of their generation. Nigerien hip-hop was indeed heavily influenced by American culture in its early stages[1]. Eventually, local artists produced a genre unique to Niger’s culturally diverse populace by combining classic hip hop elements with traditional African music.

The mid-1990s was when Nigerien hip-hop and rap exploded in popularity. Although the artists were young people producing music with little financial support and limited facilities, their music about poverty, politics, and gender issues resonated with the public. In particular, the rap group Wass Wong[2] took on political issues such as misuse of public funds, youth unemployment, failed electoral promises, nepotism, censorship, and ineffective governance. They rapped in both tribal languages and international languages like Hausa, Djerma[3], French, and English. International NGOs such as UNICEF have since enlisted Nigerien hip hop artists to participate in compilation albums on issues such as AIDS, female genital mutilation, and poverty.

Nigerien hip-hop has struggled to develop as young performers leave bands, regroup, experiment, and slip in and out of the music scene. Recording quality is a major issue for Nigerien artists, due to the limited number of recording studios and the fact that Nigerien sound professionals are still unfamiliar with this music style. Artists face high production costs and are obliged to supplement their income with odd jobs. They even borrow money from family and friends to support their dreams[1]. They see these young performers as intruding on a space that belongs to the traditional guardians of music – the griots. “In a Muslim society like ours, parents do not really like that choice,” says Wyzzy, a solo rapper, “but I’m passionate so I keep going[1].”

For Zara Moussa (ZM), one of Niger’s few female rappers, gender was another obstacle to overcome. “To be a girl in rap is pretty hard,” she says with a smile, “some boys did not believe I was able to rap[1].” Her family struggled to accept her passion: “My mother is always reluctant. My song lyrics touch her but she would have liked me to express myself with means other than music”. Nevertheless, Zara proved the naysayers wrong. In 2002, her track “Femme Objet” won a rap contest organized by the French Embassy. Her first album, Kirari, was released in spring 2005. While many Nigerien rappers complete an entire album within a few days, Zara took her time to produce high quality work[4]. She uses music as a medium through which to express the cries of oppressed women, those women in forced marriages, as well as women in love.

There are so many talented young men and women in Niger with the potential to produce art and music that will touch hearts worldwide. Unfortunately, many Nigerien young people are caught in the cycle of poverty and disease that leads to high rates of preventable child mortality[5]. Wells Bring Hope educates mothers on how to protect their children from germs and sickness, thus preventing young talent being lost to death and disease. After Wells Bring Hope drills wells for a village, mothers no longer have to walk long distances just to get water for their children. They can attend microfinance training provided by Wells Bring Hope, which enables them to earn an income for their child’s education. By promoting female leadership and requiring that women participate in well maintenance, Wells Bring Hope is giving young Nigerien girls a positive example that will motivate them to work for a brighter future. With more Nigerien youth having healthier, brighter childhoods, who knows what these youth could go on to become?

 

[1]     http://musique.rfi.fr/musique/20050726-rappe-le-niger 

[2]    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iie_ZWGrJUA

[3]     https://www.guidetotheworldofmusic.com/people-and-places/a-brief-story-of-nigerian-rap/

[4]    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPoDr9NBNnw

[5]     https://wellsbringhope.org/faq/

 

Specialties of Nigerien Cuisine

By: Lilia Leung

Each country or culture has its own cuisine and food specialties, and Niger is no different. The climate and environment of Niger play a crucial role in the types of food that Nigeriens eat.

Millet is a staple of everyday Nigerien cuisine. A common way to prepare millet is to pound it in a mortar and boil it to make porridge. The porridge is typically served with a sauce, and meat or fish. Other types of grains such as rice, couscous, noodles or bread are sometimes used in place of millet.

In cooler areas of the country (such as southern Niger and the Aïr Mountains), agriculture fares better and thus fresh fruits and vegetables are a larger part of the daily diet. In the riverine areas, fish is plentiful and often used in dishes where it is smoked, grilled, or cooked in sauces. For special occasions and celebrations such as marriages and holidays, more elaborate meals are prepared. Meat is often involved, particularly mutton.

The following are some specialty food items and dishes that are unique to Niger and West Africa.

Koulikouli

Koulikouli is a greasy paste like peanut butter that is made with groundnuts. First, oil is separated from the paste so that only the dry paste remains. The dry paste is then rolled into balls, which are roasted or fried. The cooked balls are then eaten as is or ground up again and used as a condiment in cooking. Koulikouli is most common in the region of Maradi.

Kilichi

Kilichi is essentially what we call beef jerky. It’s beef that has been thinly sliced, sun-dried, and grilled. Common flavors of kilichi include salted, salted and spiced, and Koulikouli and chili powder-coated. Kilichi is commonly found in Maradi and Tessoua, where it’s often sold by vendors on bikes.

Halawa

Halawa is a fudge made from sesame seeds, cane sugar and lemon juice. It’s usually sold as strips, bars or cubes.

Tchoukou / takomért

Tchoukou (as it’s known by the Hausa people) or takomért (as it’s known by the Tuareg) is a hard, dry cheese made from cow, goat, sheep or camel milk. Salt is added, and then it’s dried in the sun. This cheese is commonly made in animal-herding areas to conserve milk in the dry winter months. Its taste may differ depending on the local variety. Favorite ways to eat it include slicing it and dipping it into hot tea, and crumbling it and mixing it into millet porridge.

La boule / foura

What the Tuareg calls la boule and what the Hausa calls foura is a brew or porridge made from pounded and cooked millet. First, the millet is mixed with salt, spices, ground dates or ground cheese. The mixture is then rolled into balls and left to dry. For consumption, the balls are ground again before being mixed with milk or water.

Toguella

Toguella is a bread made with wheat flour and water, and baked in sand that has been pre-heated with fire. The dough is placed directly on the hot sand, further covered in hot embers and sand, and left to cook. After cooking is complete, the bread is removed and dusted off. Toguella is commonly torn into pieces and dipped in sauce.

Mechoui

The Mechoui is a dish that consists of an entire sheep stuffed with couscous or rice that is cooked in a clay oven until the meat is moist and tender. This dish often appears during festivities and feasts.

If you ever get the chance to visit Niger, don’t hesitate to try some of these West African specialties!

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Republic of Niger

by Jennifer Dees

 Image source

December 18th was the 60th anniversary of the Republic of Niger. The event, held in Zinder, celebrates the achievements and progress of Niger since its proclamation in 1958. It was attended by the President of the Republic, Issoufou Mahamadou, and many other officials throughout Niger and surrounding countries.

The celebration against the backdrop of the Zinder Saboua Program initiated earlier this year. The program includes urbanizing 25 km of road and improvements to airport infrastructure, which will give the airport international status. These improvements will allow for more connectivity among surrounding countries and an increase in food cargo. The Dollé Market was also recently modernized, including 2,151 shops, sales halls, an administrative block, prayer areas, and sanitary blocks. It has become one of three modern markets in Niger (Niamey, Maradi, and Zinder). Issoufou hopes that this rehabilitation will restore Zinder to a prosperous commercial hub. Beyond infrastructure improvements, tour circuits were offered to highlight the cultural, historical, and natural potential of the region, from the tomb of an early founder of the region, through the winding alleys between traditional architecture, to the palace of the Sultan of Damagaram. Tourism generates 9,000 jobs and creates 32 billion FCFA per year. All of these additions and improvements attest to the fast growth of Nigerien cities.

The ceremony itself began with a welcome song, performed by children from a Zinder school, and the decoration of several people for service to the Nation. This led into the colorful military and civil parade with representatives from five Sahel countries. The previous three days included competitions celebrating the creativity of actors, artists, writers, singers, musicians, and dancers throughout the region. The festivities included a handicraft fair as well as a competition by I3N to encourage women’s contributions to food security. Representatives from different regions of Niger presented products they processed from grains, fruits, and vegetables. They were rewarded cash prizes for the best product and cooking. These innovations are important for farmers in the event of overproduction. The festivities concluded with traditional satirical theater called Wassan Kara, in which youths imitate various historical figures in Zinder and throughout the world to gain an appreciation of their heritage.

With a celebration of the past, it’s natural to look to the future. While cities in Niger continue to grow and strengthen connections between themselves and the world, Wells Bring Hope strives to help develop the rural villages that interconnect all of Niger. Places like Zinder once had poor water security and little economic opportunity. Along with the unending perseverance of rural villagers, Wells Bring Hope will continue to empower women and girls to recognize that their lives and their futures are also cause for celebration.

Mariama Keita: The Remarkable Legacy of Niger’s First Woman Journalist

by Elaine Wallace

As the end of the year approaches, I find myself thinking about some of the people we lost in 2018 whose lives and work touched and inspired us. One of them is Mariama Keita, who passed away on October 29 at the age of 72. Keita is best known as Niger’s first woman journalist but she was also a lifelong advocate for democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women and children. She leaves a remarkable legacy and a long list of accomplishments that will inspire generations of women to persevere in the fight for equality and human rights for all.

Keita was born in Niamey in 1946 and began her career at age 18 as an intern at Radio Niger, the country’s first radio station. Journalism was an exclusively male profession at that time, and Keita faced widespread discrimination. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to be reporting on events and conducting interviews, especially with male leaders, rather than at home caring for her family. Even today, women in Niger are significantly under-represented in the media, especially at the highest ranks of the profession.

But Keita persevered, determined to become a successful journalist. At the end of her Radio Niger internship, she traveled to France to study journalism at the Office of Radio Cooperation as part of a program for African students. She returned to Niger in 1967, journalism diploma in hand, to become the country’s first woman journalist.

Keita worked at Radio Niger for many years as a reporter, editor, presenter, and producer, often focusing on issues affecting women and children. She not only pioneered women’s journalism in Niger as the first female voice of radio, she also shattered the glass ceiling. She rose through the ranks to become the director of Radio Niger (by then known as Voix du Sahel) and, in 2003, was appointed the first woman president of the High Council for Communication, the entity responsible for regulating Niger’s media and ensuring a free press.

In addition to her distinguished career as a journalist, Keita was an advocate for democracy and human rights, particularly the rights of women and children. In advance of the country’s first democratic elections in 1993, she helped popularize Niger’s new constitution. She also headed the Association for Democracy, Freedom and Development, one of the first non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Niger.

In 1995, Keita co-founded the Coordination of Niger Women’s NGOs and Associations, a coalition of nonprofits focused on women’s rights. She proved to be adept at navigating Niger’s complex political and religious landscape and at building consensus among different interest groups. She and her organization worked closely with religious leaders, village chiefs, lawmakers, and judges to advance women’s rights in areas such as marriage and divorce.

Keita also worked as a teacher, mediator, and communications consultant, sharing her knowledge and skills with Niger’s next generation of young journalists and with human rights organizations and governmental agencies. She authored articles and working papers, spoke frequently at conferences, and received several national and international awards for her work. Throughout her life, Keita never stopped working to improve the lives of Niger’s women and children. As I reflect on her many accomplishments, I am inspired by her determination, tirelessness, and courage. I am also grateful to be involved with Wells Bring Hope and to be able to play my own small part in empowering the women of Niger and bringing hope to them and to their families.