Niger’s nomadic herders get collectively to rejoice cultural ties

For three days, this semi-arid patch edging the Sahara desert blooms with a riot of colors – crimson, orange, blue, fuschia – as hundreds of nomadic herders don their greatest gown for a competition celebrating their tradition.

For more often than not, the tiny oasis city of Ingall has a inhabitants of only a few hundred. But yearly north Niger’s conventional gateway to the Sahara, identified for its salt flats, is the gathering level for the Cure Salee competition of Tuareg and Wodaabe pastoralists.

The competition which ends on Sunday marks the top of the wet season, when herders carry their animals to graze – and the place they meet outdated buddies, trade information and reinforce cultural ties and traditions.

“Every year we come, we meet breeders from Zinder, Tahoua, Tilia, from all over Niger,” says Banwo Marafa, 46, wearing a purple polished-cotton gown topped by a protracted white turban.

“We’ve known each other for a long time. We get together every year with music and dance. It’s a big party.”

This yr is even larger, he mentioned, as a result of final yr’s gathering was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuareg individuals dance in the course of the annual competition in Ingall [Michele Cattani / AFP]

‘Before we were free’

Further on, his nephew and about 50 different younger individuals, all males, dance in a circle within the sand.

They sing about love and reunion within the Fulani language. Others look on, conventional sabres slung at their belts.

Everywhere, there’s a festive vitality.

But when individuals sit down underneath the canopies of their tents, the temper modifications and the faces which earlier lit up with laughter and smiles shortly flip critical.

The revelry is just a short interval within the lives of those herders. Lives which might be turning into more durable as the duty of discovering water and grazing for his or her animals turns into harder.

“Before, we were free. We used to take our herds everywhere,” explains Assamou Malem, a neighborhood chief. “But for the past 50 years, problems have been piling up: lack of work, land problems, a lot of injustice.”

In Niger, the world’s worst-performing nation by way of the Human Development Index, the nomads have, as elsewhere within the Sahel, been ignored by policymakers since independence in 1960.

And after a number of Tuareg rebellions in Mali and Niger, Sahelian nomads had been the primary to be recruited by armed teams linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

These teams are established in Mali, Burkina Faso and the neighbouring areas of Niger, however not but right here.

But this immense desert north of Niger, already a land of trafficking and undocumented migration, “is perceived by the terrorists as the territory they are destined to gradually occupy”, President Mohamed Bazoum warned on Friday on the opening of a discussion board in Ingall bringing collectively the state and conventional chiefs.

He mentioned we should be ready “to be armed to face the claims of these two groups”.

Brigadier General Mahamadou Abou Tarka, who heads the highly effective High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace, additionally warned in opposition to “small conflicts” between communities that result in large-scale violence.

A younger lady rides her donkey to attend the annual competition [Michele Cattani / AFP]

At the 2021 competition, NGO awareness-raising stands line up in a protracted line, armoured autos guard the doorway to the VIP space, and a surveillance drone, most likely from a close-by United States airbase, flies via the blue sky overhead.

But of all of the individuals interviewed by AFP, nobody other than President Bazoum would brazenly discuss concerning the fighters’ risk to the area.

“We must not wait until the fire is there to put it out,” the president of the Regional Council of Agadez, Mohamed Anacko, mentioned obliquely.

Away from the constructing housing the discussion board, the occasion however has the air of a competition like every other – besides that it takes place within the Sahara.

There are the Quechua tenting tents of the herders (most popular to the standard tents at some stage in the competition); a bunch of Russian vacationers; the live performance by the Tuareg star Bombino.

Someone has put in a sound system and makes those that move by dance.

Meanwhile, a bunch of younger Fulani Wodaabe have gathered round considered one of their quantity who’s being made up for a ceremony.

“It was better before,” says one other group chief, anonymously railing in opposition to the “politicisation” of the competition by the authorities.

“Originally it was an event of nomads for nomads,” he says. “We simply celebrated.”

Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum (centre) waves as he arrives for the competition on Thursday [Michele Cattani/AFP]

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