Cablegate: Niger Trip Reports (3) the Nomadic Zone

DE RUEHNM #0167/01 0541239
R 231239Z FEB 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF (A) NIAMEY 128, (B) NIAMEY 137, (C) NIAMEY 62, (D) 06 NIAMEY
1133, (E) 06 NIAMEY 1023, (F) 06 NIAMEY 1025


1. (SBU) This is the third cable in a series of trip reports
(reftels A&B) that examine conditions, contacts, and political
issues in central and northern Niger. This edition takes a look at
the nomadic zone known as the Azaouagh (or Azawak). A large and
sparsely populated zone in the northern part of Niger's Tahoua
Region, the Azaouagh borders Mali and Algeria. Its population of
Tuareg and Arab herders moves and trades across those borders.
Reftels C, D, and E examined the security implications of this, and
of the Azaouagh's large number of Tuareg and Arab ex-rebels. This
report examines development issues in three communities: Kao, where
little change is evident; Tchintabaraden, where meeting basic
development needs is a struggle for the local government; and,
Ingall, where prospects of tourism development and uranium mining
elicit both hope and concern. END COMMENT

Kao: Isolation Breeds Contentment

2. (U) Twenty-five kilometers north of the point where the dirt road
leading to Tchintabaraden (Tchinta) branches off from the Agadez
highway lies the village of Kao. Two-thousand people live in the
village, which is the "chef lieu" (seat) of a rural commune of the
same name. The commune has a population of 35,000. While passing
through Kao en route to Tchinta, Poloff stopped to visit the commune
council, SG, and an ex-combatant project. Kao has only 36 officially
registered ex-combatants, suggesting locals' limited role in the
rebellion. The overall sense in this desolate community was of
satisfaction with the status quo. While some communal councils press
the visitor with "doleances" (pleas for aid) and development plans,
Kao's officials seemed content to sip tea and pass the time of day.
They noted that the rains and harvest in their agro-pastoral commune
were ok this year; that the security situation was calm, with no
problems posed by bandits, Salafists, or rebels; and, that the
ex-combatants were doing fine and keeping quiet-though they could
always use more money. High blood pressure didn't seem to be a
problem for Poloff's interlocutors in Kao-everything, it seemed, was
on an even keel.

3. (U) The notion that isolation breeds contentment finds
considerable evidentiary support in Kao. The village has electricity
for just seven hours each day (5pm to midnight). There is no
functioning rural radio. Contacts said that cellular service
provider Celtel, which has purchased land for a tower but built
nothing to date, will come "eventually." They did not seem unduly
concerned as to when. There is no television service in Kao, but
limited national radio reception started in 2006. In the absence of
cell or land-line coverage, locals make do with a "telecentre
Thuraya," where one can make satellite phone calls for 810 CFA
($1.62) per minute (to cell numbers). Locals noted that that was
"four times more expensive than a normal call." In other words, the
only link that most residents of Kao can hope to have with the
broader world comes at a price that few of them can afford. NOTE:
This underscores the importance of the cell phone revolution in the
developing world. The dramatic fall in prices that Celtel will
occasion when its service commences will enable Kao's residents to
have contact with family members and kinsmen abroad or in other
parts of Niger. It would be interesting to see if the glimpse of a
broader world thereby afforded will dent the complacency of the
place. END NOTE

4. (U) The village has a standard local health clinic with one
nurse, but no facilities for giving birth. For that, one has to
travel fifty-seven kilometers north (probably by donkey cart) to
Tchintabaraden. Kao does seem to have adequate school facilities,
though Poloff did not touch on issues of staffing or quality of
education in those facilities. The village has a nomadic school, a
primary school, and a middle school. The Commune has a tax
collector, an SG, and a municipal secretary. All other civil
service cadres are located at the departmental
seat-Tchintabaraden-and cover Kao from there.

5. (U) A few partners are there to help out-Kao is covered by the
World Bank's Programme Action Communitaire (PAC), and by UNICEF's
efforts to support basic education. There are also some Nigerien
NGOs there, though no one seemed to be very sure of what they were
doing, if anything. The Commune's development priorities were
discussed in the same lackadaisical manner as everything else. Like
other nomadic zone communities, they wanted wells dug. Unlike
Tchintabaraden, they did not have a very exact sense of where this
should be done. They noted that their women's cooperatives would be
looking for assistance and microcredit, but that they were only at
the stage of initial organization and not yet ready to develop plans

NIAMEY 00000167 002 OF 004

or seek training / finance. Things move slowly in Kao, but the
people seem quite content with the pace they've set. COMMENT: Kao
will be covered by TSCTP funded decentralization training / revenue
generation project. END COMMENT

Tchintabaraden: Good Governance
and the Struggle for Development
in the Nomadic "Chef Lieu."

6. (U) Located at the end of an 82 kilometer dirt road,
Tchintabaraden (Tchinta), a town of 20,000 people, is "chef lieu" of
an urban commune of 39,000 and a Department of 115,000 persons. To
the extent that any place may be fairly described as the "chef
lieu," or capital of the Azaouagh nomadic zone, it is Tchinta. It
was here, in 1990, that the Tuareg rebellion started. In February of
that year, Khaddafi expelled many Nigerien Tuaregs from Libya after
years of using them as proxy fighters in his "Islamic Legion." In
May, a group of these returnees perpetrated a series of armed
robberies and attacks on GON facilities in Tchinta. The Nigerien
Army was sent in to restore order, which it did by massacring at
least 54 Tuaregs. More than 100 other Tuaregs were rounded up and
sent to the Niamey and Kollo prisons. The rebellion was ignited.

7. (U) Today, Tchinta is home to 383 officially registered
ex-combatants (of 3,160 in total). They live in a political
environment characterized by one of the most important outcomes of
the rebellion-political decentralization. The region's communities
can now elect their own local governments, which work in concert
with the formerly dominant - and largely southern - central
government administrators. Many of these local officials are
impressive; so too are the development challenges facing them.

8. (U) Poloff met Tchinta's dynamic and intelligent Tuareg Mayor,
former International Visitor Ikoum Mohammed, and saw how little he
had to work with. The nomadic zone "chef lieu's" facilities are in a
sorry state, which illustrates the particularly difficult
development environment of the Azaouagh. The 12 bed hospital, which
serves the entire region, was filthy and outdated. Lacking
materials, proper space for surgery, privacy for patients, regular
electricity and water, vehicles, paint and basic maintenance, it can
be of little use to anyone who seeks assistance there. A decade
after the peace-accords, a Tuareg or Arab seeking services at the
Tchinta hospital could not be blamed for concluding that the GON
cared little about his or her health or welfare.

9. (U) While Tchinta's needs are as great, and its resources as few
as those of many other Nigerien towns, two things make its case
different and, from the perspective of US assistance, more
compelling: Tchinta's commune government consists of problem solvers
who display an uncommon degree of acumen and managerial skill; and,
Tchinta is the public service provision point for the strategically
critical Azaouagh zone.

10. (U) Tchinta was founded in 1964 for precisely that reason. Like
other towns in the Azaouagh, it was not an organic village but a
deliberate creation of the GON, which convinced the chief of the
third Tuareg Groupement to establish his seat there. Designed to
serve as a point where nomads could come, obtain the full range of
government services, and pay taxes, Tchinta evolved into the
de-facto capital of the Azaouagh. Much of its demographic and
economic prominence derived from sedentarization of nomads during
the droughts of the early 1970s and mid 1980s.

11. (U) Mayor Mohammed stressed the commune's development needs and
its ability to manage assistance. Noting that the commune's rate of
tax recovery was high, at between 65% and 71% of potential revenue,
the mayor conceded that Tchinta was still just keeping its head
above water. City Hall is a converted residence; the shower serves
as storage space; everything is shrouded in dust. Nevertheless, the
mayor presented his town's budget figures and commune development
plan with authority and an impressive command of detail. He admitted
that some locally funded initiatives had failed, and that some
budget line items had not worked out as planned, and then explained
why-the first mayor in Poloff's experience to be so forthcoming.
While he listed as many as twenty sites in the commune that needed
wells, he stressed that the commune was doing four of them itself
this year, and that nine were considered priority sites because of
especially heavy use by livestock, proximity to nomadic camps, or,
in one case, proximity to a nomadic school that would suffer a drop
in enrollment if water could not be provided. COMMENT: This ability
to prioritize among competing development projects is far from
universal in Niger, and suggests that Tchinta's officials have done
some real thinking and made some tough decisions rather than just
throwing a long list of requests at the feet of donors and hoping
for the best. With respect to revenue, Tchinta's relatively high
recovery rate may be explained by the small size and
ethno-linguistic homogeneity of this Tuareg town. It may be easier

NIAMEY 00000167 003 OF 004

to create a sense of mutual responsibility in such an environment.

12. (U) Mayor Mohammed noted that, in the absence of a partner on
decentralization, the commune had approached the German program
LUCOP and obtained training from them, using their own resources. He
was pleased to learn that the TSCTP financed MercyCorps
decentralization program would be targeting the Azaouagh for
training and revenue generating activities. Tchinta is on their
list. Ever the self-starter, the mayor commented that
leatherworking, dairy processing, and artisanal craft production
were all reasonable sources of income that the commune was
attempting to encourage.

13. (U) Overall, hydrology seemed to be the biggest area of
development concern. Pointing out a stream of water running through
one of Tchinta's main streets, the Mayor noted that it came from one
of the town's water towers, which were broken. The town provides its
residents with running water on a phased
neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis each day.

14. (SBU) COMMENT: A visit to Tchinta illustrates both the severity
of the development challenges posed by the nomadic zone and the
energy with which local leaders are trying to address them. The
urban commune of Tchintabaraden has good leadership and plenty of
popular support. However, it has fewer resources and partners and
more strategic importance than many of its southern counterparts. By
virtue of donor indifference, the USG has the room to position
itself as the single most important donor in Tchinta and throughout
the Azaouagh. Embassy Niamey's two TSCTP financed activities are a
big step in that direction, but some humanitarian assistance
directed toward high visibility projects like the hospital, village
wells, or municipal water system would really put the USG's stamp on
this sensitive and neglected region. END COMMENT

Ingal: High Hopes Off the Beaten Track

15. (U) Nigeriens and expatriates associate Ingal with the nomadic
festival known as the Cure Salee - and little else. A visit to Ingal
"out of season" afforded a sense of what was on peoples' minds.

16. (U) At the entrance to the town there is an old stone "castle"
apparently built by the French or a local nobleman, depending on who
one choose to believe. Later converted into a school, it educated
the first generation of modern Tuareg leaders. Former Niamey
Governor Jules Ouguet, former Agadez Mayor Akali Dowel, MNSD
power-broker Elhadji Habibou Allele - in short, any major,
establishment Tuareg figure over a certain age - all came out of
that school. At present, the commune is seeking to parlay this
eccentric old folly into a revenue-maker by converting it into a
museum of dinosaur bones. To this end, they have had some
discussions with University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sarano.
Located off the main road (which ceased to run through Ingal on its
way to Agadez in the 1980s) but quite near the dinosaur-rich
escarpment known as the Falaise Tiguidit, Ingal has high hopes for a
tourism fueled future based on more than just the annual Cure Salee.

17. (U) While the Cure puts Ingal on the map for foreigners and
Nigeriens alike, a few days of attention each year aren't enough to
meet the development needs of this ancient mud-brick "banco"
village. As noted in reftel F, the area north of town is now in play
as a uranium prospecting zone. The prospect of mining was taken as a
mixed blessing by the municipal counselors Poloff met. Concerned by
the environmental costs and lifestyle changes mining would bring to
town, locals seem to prefer the surer and less invasive route of
tourism development.

18. (U) Linked to the Agadez highway by one of the best roads in
Niger, they feel that Ingal has a shot at marketing itself as a
regional tourism destination. Tour companies with a little
government coordination could set up a "dinosaur tour" south of
Agadez as a logical extension of the mountain / desert tours in the
Air. Ingal, with its nascent dinosaur bone museum, could be the
focal point of such a tour. No other town along the Falaise Tiguidit
is so well linked by road to Agadez and Tahoua; no other town has as
interesting an old quarter as Ingal. With its ancient Grand Mosque
(built by Songhai Emperor Askia Mohammed in 1325), Sultan's house
(complete with the tomb of the current Sultan's father), and
picturesque combination of hills, oases, and palm groves, Ingal has
much potential. Even without a modern hotel, the town affords many
superb camp sites.

19. (U) COMMENT: Such are local leaders' hopes. As was often the
case in the nomadic zone, decentralization had brought creative
people to the forefront. Ideas for development were plentiful, and
locals brainstormed and planned in a manner that suggested both
empowerment and practicality. While limited resources frustrate many

NIAMEY 00000167 004 OF 004

plans, a sense of optimism and hope still prevails among the
minority communities of the zone. Decentralization's greatest
success in the nomadic zone may be psychological. END COMMENT

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