Year in Sahara Letters from Niger by Tommi and Kaisu-Leena
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Our friend Mr. Chirac23.10.2003

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.


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