Between bandits and jihadists, western Niger trembles

His washed face over time recounts his life as a peasant, the work and daily struggle of the inhabitants of the coast in the face of the wrath of the elements and the ferocity of men. He’s 58, and he’s doing so much more than that. His name is Zako Karimo, and he’s sitting on a chair, and for the occasion he wore a new wax cut jacket and pants with pretty Prince of Wales checks, gray with green and white trims.

Like a mature and wise man who wears a kufi (Hat worn by men in West Africa, editor’s note)It is fresh, woven with the traditional zarma patterns, those of his people. Barefoot and cross-legged, he holds in his worn-out hands soft pale yellow straw that rolls between his fingers as he recounts the atrocities his community has suffered, of which he is a fragile and vibrant spokesperson.

Around him were a hundred men by his side, the women, and then the children as well. Sitting on mats on the dusty ground, huddled together, they are serious, curious, and anxious.

“Come here (In Niamey, editor’s note) 7 months ago from our village, Adelabad (Banibango municipality, Ulam province, editor’s note)220 km north of Niamey He explains in Zerma in a soft voice in which one hears the fine sand blowing from the immensity of the desert.

Since the dawn of mankind

The story he tells has been known since the dawn of mankind: the village ransacked by an armed group. pattern seven samurai Akira Kurosawa or Seven mercenaries by John Sturgess. But here, there are neither samurai nor mercenaries to protect the villagers. “Even if our soldiers were stationed two or three kilometers away, they wouldn’t move to defend us.” Zaku Karimu says on behalf of his community, which does not contradict him.

Unlike medieval Japan in Kurosawa and West Sturgess, bandits in Niger ride motorbikes and carry machine guns, their faces hidden behind a scarf or scarf. For six years, we had to pay tax once a year. They threatened to kill us if we did not comply. The first time, to show they were serious, they wiped out six people in cold blood. We had to pay them between 7 and 9 million CFA francs (between 10,629 and 13,666 euros, Ed.) every year. »

Too much money for these peasants. Frightened and bound, they first dipped their cattle: their flocks melted like snow on the coast. So we asked our distant relatives, in the diaspora, to help us collect the required amount. Thanks to them, we were able to remain at peace until this year. But seven months ago, when they came to collect the ransom, we hadn’t raised all the money needed. We gave them half. Give us a few days to collect 3.5 million missing people. But the man responsible for bringing her did not. So they returned to our village, a crowd of about sixty motorcyclists. And they attacked us, plundered us, took all that was left of the cattle, stole our stock, and killed 69 people, both men and boys. »

Zako Kremo does not know the identity of the bandits: Their faces were covered, they asked for nothing but tax, but they spoke Fulani. »

Under threat from ISIS

The border between bandits and jihadists is full of porous, in Niger as in the entire Sahel region. The proportion of Fulani in these groups is notoriously large, particularly among the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS), the most ruthless jihadist organization. Recruiting them will be easier because these pastoral farmers are the main victims of climate change, they live in areas with little or no investment by the state and administrations, and there is an ancient rivalry opposing them with the settled population. In almost all of them are countries of emigration, from Mali to the Central African Republic.

For all these reasons, the Fulani are also the main victims of the security forces and self-defense militias that proliferate from Mali to Niger. Victims of the war against terrorism, a number of them joined the ranks of the terrorists.

If the name of ISIS is not pronounced by Zaku Kremo, then everyone knows that this Islamic nebula is relentlessly and dangerously close to the Nigerian capital, even wandering around the outskirts of the city. Insecurity caused the army to protect all the main axes leading to Niamey. No Western Caucasian nor any NGO is allowed to leave the city without a military escort. The Niamey and Tillabéri region is now considered one of the most dangerous in Niger, forcing the people of Niamey to live in seclusion, stopping for Sunday walks in the wonderful surroundings of the capital; And above all, not to go see their parents live outside the walls.

As a young Nigerian woman working for an NGO said: “My life is going to work, working, coming home, sleeping, going to work…. I no longer go out at night and avoid doing it during the day.” Unheard of in the memory of Nigerians.

ISIS controls North Tillaberi. But we have not seen any attacks for two months because of the dialogue and negotiations that the government has started with this group.” Modibo Traore, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Niger notes. In his fortified office downtown, away from his chair and Zakou Karimou, the UN official also noted a worrying and rapid deterioration in security in this landlocked country. sEspecially in the south of Tillaberi, where the non-state armed groups Occupy divisions, dominate highways, multiply attacks and explosions. Between four and eight soldiers are killed every week on the road to Burkina Faso. »

holding his children

Zako Kremo does not know all these details. When his village was attacked, he took the road into exile with most of the villagers, an exodus on foot, and cart along a country that takes water on all sides but still stands firm. We came to take shelter here as we are welcomed by family and relatives. Except for them, no one came to help us, no NGO, no official, no government institution. We have been reduced to doing odd jobs as helpers to masons, and women collecting pebbles to sell.»

“There is nothing, we are not living well“,” shouting voice. Another, female launches: “Many of us have lost their man. We care about our children.”

Despite the extreme situation in which they find themselves, Zaku Kremo and his companions in misfortune do not doubt God. They are all religious, they seem to have absolute confidence in him. The head of the village, his little straw between his fingers, flies out: “Only God knows why he does this.” And he smiled, nodded his comrades. In the attack on his village, Zaku Kremo lost 14 members of his family.

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A sharp rise in violence since the beginning of the year

The vast landlocked region of Tillaberi, It is located in an area called “The Three Frontiers” Between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, it has been the scene since 2017 of the bloody actions of jihadist movements linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS.

according to United Nations Office Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 12 out of 13 departments “affected” by doing ‘Highly Active Armed Groups’.

Between May 1 and May 19, 43 civilians were killed and 22 kidnapped in the provinces of Torodi, Tira and Goetia.

since April, 34,746 people live in the border areas with Burkina Faso and Mali ‘They were forced to move to safer places’Ocha confirms.

From January to December 2021, 318 security incidents claimed the lives of 645 civilians there. “more than 200% increase” Compared to 2020, 145 civilians were killed in 265 incidents and 45 others ” Missing “.

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