Friday, February 1, 2013

Life in Niger 'normal' despite West African conflict

By Taylor Pool

“Today is a different normal,” expatriate Jonathan* said in light of the conflict in Mali that has altered the lives of many people living in several West African countries.

According to news reports, Niger has pledged to send troops to help with France’s efforts to fight corruption in neighboring Mali. Plus, many Refugees from Mali have fled to Niger to avoid unrest at home. Soon, Niger may also be home to several United States surveillance drones.

Petit Marché, Niamey, Niger
In the face of those changes, daily life in Niger is safe, perhaps safer than it has ever been. It’s just different.

Security efforts in Niger have increased for the safety of both Nigeriens and those who reside in the country, but have citizenship elsewhere.

It is true that expatriates living in Niamey, Niger are finding they can no longer leave the capital, even if they have been commuting to other cities in the country each week for years. Plus, some French schools have temporarily closed and many French expatriates are returning home.

Military trucks do patrol the streets to keep people safe and some schools are guarded by police officers for the same reason, but life on the ground is still the same as it has always been. You can still buy fruits, vegetables, brochettes, brooms, buckets and African mats on the streets and at the market. Taxis still run, the air is still hot and people still spend plenty of time each day greeting each other. People living in the villages in the countryside may never even see the effects of the conflict, especially if they don’t have access to the Internet.

If you asked me if I feel safe living in Niger, even despite the new reality of life here, the answer would be an absolute yes. I have never felt afraid of the police officers or military personnel because I know they are in the city for my safety. I have never doubted that I would return home or felt like my well-being was in question. Honestly, I have more to fear riding in the crazy Niamey traffic than I do living in a French-speaking country that has made it in the English-speaking news because of an international conflict.

The real reality is that conflict and danger is everywhere. It’s unavoidable, even in the small town of Athens, Ohio, home to Ohio University. While security measures increased in Niamey, Athens residents and students were in a panic 5,000 miles away because an armed robbery suspect was spotted in the small college town. In any part of the world, one’s safety is not a guarantee, nor should it ever be taken for granted, but to live life in fear is to not live at all.

*last name not provided to guard source’s anonymity

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