Think Again

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 3, 2019 01:40

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Think Again

By Satish Sekar in Niamey, Niger © Satish Sekar (February 2nd 2019)

Grand Opening

This afternoon the Under-20 AFCON will begin in Niger’s capital, Niamey. It will be a tournament conspicuous by the absence of Western journalists. Scouts may be a different matter, as this tournament is a hotbed of young promising talent – age-cheating aside – but the lack of journalists is political, and not CAF’s fault. Nor is it Niger’s.

Western governments say Niger is unsafe – parts of it are – but the tournament is not being held near the danger-zones, the northern border with Mali, or the southern one with the north of Nigeria. Both of those border areas are dangerous because Niger stood up and was counted in the ‘War Against Terror.’ Now it faces the backlash – a War on the War on Terror, that is largely ignored in the west. If Niger is in peril, it is for standing up and being counted. They need investment, aid and diplomatic support – the very things they are being starved of.
The War on the War on Terror

In 2013-14 France intervened militarily at the behest of the Malian President, after a Tuareg rebellion – they had genuine grievances – was hijacked by jihadists. The Islamic fundamentalists were driven out in this intervention, but from the jaws of defeat a victory was handed to the insurgents.

They targeted Niger to punish it for standing up to them. The western nations, grateful at the time, sold Niger out. It is only at risk of terrorist reprisals because it stood up to them and helped Mali when it needed it most.

Niger also stood up to Boko Haram on its southern border. Now it is targeted, and the nations that wanted that intervention, and a stance against Boko Haram, largely from a safe distance, abandon the ally they needed.

There is no British consulate in Niger – ironically limited consular support is given from Mali of all places. British nationals are advised not to go to Niger unless absolutely necessary.

If Niger is dangerous, it is because it did what western nations wanted. Its soldiers fought for them, and helped defeat the jihadist insurgency in Mali. For that they were targeted. Now they are left to pay the price.

Grinding poverty leads to crime and disaffection, and a fertile recruiting ground for the terrorists. That leads to terror. Niger cannot tackle the causes of its risk alone. It needs support, aid and diplomatic and investment – none of which is forthcoming.

The Great and the Good

The President of Niger, His Excellency, Mahamadou Issoufou, will attend the opening ceremony, along with the President of CAF, Ahmad Ahmad, the President of FENIFOOT (Niger’s Football Federation), Colonel-Major Djibrilla Hima Hamidou, and other dignitaries.

Would they risk their lives for a youth football tournament?
It’s inconceivable. CAF had visited Niger several times to check on the arrangements as the preparations continued. The infrastructure is up to scratch in both Niamey and Maradi, and safety?

Safety First

It has been passed ready by CAF. Yet Western governments, including Britain, have no diplomatic relations with Niger, saying it is subject to fundamentalist Jihadist terror. And even if there are terrorist outrages – there are – can the dangers of reprisals be worse than Kenya for example, which was targeted for tackling that menace in Somalia?

Have the western nations broken ties with Uhuru Kenyatta’s government because of the recent terrorist outrage in Kenya – hardly the first atrocity in that nation? Have they moved consular support to a neighbouring nation? Have they advised British nationals not to go to Kenya unless absolutely essential? Have they advised NGOs to pull out of Kenya? Have they brought aid and development programmes to a grinding halt there?

Not a bit of it, so why Niger?

Red Tape

British journalists wanting to cover this tournament faced a ridiculous process. The Foreign Office say ‘think again’ about going at all. Nigeriens say their country is safe – at least Niamey and Maradi are, and want journalists to come.

I have, and had to get creative regarding the required visa.

It was impossible to get it in Britain in advance, and I couldn’t get one in the Netherlands either. The advice is go to Paris to get one.

I was lucky and found another way, so I am here, and have seen nothing to concern me apart from the need for development here.

As for security, I saw the arrangements for the opening ceremony rolling into place last night, literally.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’d say western powers are doing wrong by Niger.

Expect a festival of top-quality African football enjoyed by Nigeriens – safely! And don’t write off Niger making history on the pitch too. Their coach Soumaïla Tiemogo has high, but realistic hopes for the tournament, and for his team.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar February 3, 2019 01:40