In todays lesson we shall deal with politics and the societies of poor
African countries. We shall also learn how to make a distant French-speaking
African nation go crazy.
Let's begin with the recipe for making a nation crazy. Take one former
colonial master, preferably the former colonial master of the particular
country. Then pick the head of state from this colonial master and put him
or her sitting in an aeroplane. The plane is then headed towards the African
The formula is very simple, but perhaps it would be easier to understand, if
we looked at it through an example. In this example I have completely
randomly, wihout any personal reasons affecting my choice, chosen Niger as
the African country to be made crazy (Niger is, as everybody may already
very well know, not the same as Nigeria). Niger gained its independence from
the French rule in 1960, so the colonial master of this example is France.
So now in our left hand we have Niger, and in our right hand France. The
head of France is a president, who at this moment is known by the name of
Jacques Chirac, so let's put him sitting in an aeroplane, and send this
plane directly to Niger. Now, the preparations have been finished, and we
can just follow what all this will cause in Niger.
First of all, the only national university of Niger was closed more than a
week ago. Of course, the government announced the reason for this to be that
"the students tried to take the power into their own hands" (which, of
course, in certain way is true, for the students did burn down a taxi when
rioting a few weeks back), but the student activists think that the reason
for closing down the university was only Chirac's visit, for the students
had been planning anti-French protests, and the state is trying to prevent
the organizing of students by closing down the universities.
On the other hand, behind the closing down of the university may very well
be just the governments attempt to suffocate all kind of opposition
movement, so that they could form "honest" elections next year. Some weeks
ago the government cancelled the permits of couple dozens of independent
radio channels, for the channels "had been breaking the laws of Niger"
(apparently this was all the reason the state gave), and also one editor of
an opposition newspaper was send to jail for a year without any real reason.
Then on the day when Mr. Big Guy from France arrived in Niger (and this
happened yesterday), the government announced official national free
afternoon -- work and schools were closed already at noon (with the natural
exception of polices and soldiers, who had been ordered all around the city
to maintain order). All the main roads, which would be used by Mr.
President, were decorated with the flags of France and Niger, and they were
also closed for almost whole day. Only black cars escorted by police and
military vehicles were driving these roads, so it became almost impossible
for other people to go around in the streets of the capital.
Radio channels, which usually just play annoying African rap or hip hop or
some other kind of shouting, were now playing classical music or French
chanson from the 50's. Between the music they were telling about the
personal history of Mr. Chirac. And they had new, beautiful 2000 CFA bills
in the stores (although this probably has nothing to do with Chirac).
Also, because Chirac visits also Tahoua, the fourth biggest city of Niger,
where cell phones have not worked before, a French-owned telephone operator
Celtel decided to put up a base station in Tahoua, and sent an SMS of their
creditable deed to all of their customers. The message ended with the
sentence "to honor the visit of President Chirac in Niger".
As far as I am aware, Chirac has no particular official reason why he came
here yesterday, but according to several estimates (by the foreigners living
here) the reason could be too great an influence Libya has over Niger.
Chirac wants to keep Niger as a nice and submissive minion of France, so
Chirac has to come and visit here just to show that "yes, in France we think
that Niger is a very important country. Forget Libya and Gaddafi, France is
there just for Your needs". Soon after gaining its independence, Mauritania
left France to become an Arab country, and apparently in France they are
afraid that the history might repeat itself. And, indeed, the Libyans (and
other Arabs) really seem to have lots of influence here, since, for example,
we are living in a nice area owned by the Libyans, and the few shops in
Niamey are owned by Arabs.
Yesterday evening the French Embassy arranged a dinner, and all the French
citizens living in the country were invited, so also our neighbors Michel
and Rijuna went to do some chit-chat with President Chirac (even though
Rijuna is actually Indian). I do not know any details what happened in the
event, but clearly it was difficult to get there, since the taxi drivers had
decided to take the day off as well, because, as said, the streets were not
open for traffic.
If our beloved readers are more interested in news of Niger (like the fact
that according to studies there are almost a million slaves in Niger), you
can find news in English from the following addresses:
Other links concerning Niger you can find under the Niger-tab.