Cablegate: Niger: Ambassador's Trip Report

DE RUEHNM #1222/01 2701401
R 271401Z SEP 07






E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) Niamey 1181 (NOTAL) B) Niamey 1217 (NOTAL)

NIAMEY 00001222 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) Summary. Over a 16-day period, an Embassy delegation
supported a successful basketball caravan and tolerance campaign
that covered eight cities in seven of Niger's eight regions. The
insecurity in the Agadez region (northern Niger) made it impossible
to include a caravan stop there; however, speeches, skits and a
display of good sportsmanship drummed in the message of tolerance in
the eight localities visited (Ref A). In the course of the
multi-region travel, the delegation concurrently checked on Special
Self-Help Fund (SSH) and Democracy and Human Rights Fund (DHRF)
projects. While Nigeriens in all regions remain concerned about the
insecurity in northern Niger, life in the seven regions we visited
continues to move forward with ongoing road improvements (in several
regions), building construction for the National Day festivities (in
Tahoua), as well as field work in anticipation of a good harvest at
the end of the rainy season. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Ambassador Allen and delegation (Regional Security Officer,
FSN Public Affairs Assistant, FSN Development Assistant, the
Department of Defense Military Information Support Team (MIST),
Management Section staff, a Marine Security Guard, Troupe Artistique
Mourna (a performance company), the Government of Niger Junior
National girls and boys basketball teams and national press corps
representatives) visited seven of eight regions of Niger during the
period Aug 24 - Sept 9. Local officials and the thousands of
citizens at each stop enthusiastically received what they called a
"timely" campaign, in light of the insecurity in northern Niger, and
called for more youth activities that include the regions outside of
the capital (Niamey).

3. (U) Ambassador and delegation took advantage of the basketball
caravan to meet with non-governmental organization (NGO) partners,
Peace Corps volunteers (PCV) and local officials, as wells as to
visit SSH projects and participate in out-briefs on DHRF activities.
Public and private media (print, radio, TV) interviewed the
Ambassador and local officials at every stop. The broad media
coverage of the caravan, SSH and DHRF activities expanded the
caravan's reach, amplifying the tolerance message for tens of
thousands in each region and showcasing USG support at the
grassroots level.

4. (U) Maneuvering through several detours, as a result of flooding
that washed out a couple of bridges ad large stretches of pavement
for a few main roas, the delegation traveled from Niamey to Diffa,
Zinder, Maradi, Konni, Tahoua, Dosso and Tillaberi.

5. (SBU) In Diffa, Governor Oumarou Yacouba, reterated a request
from several months ago that hs region host Peace Corps volunteers.
Ambassador responded that the Governor's request is still being
studied, that factors influencing the decision range from road
conditions (the length of time it takes to reach the nearest PC
Office in neighboring Zinder), to the proximity of a health facility
to overall security in the region. Ambassador noted the
improvements to the road from Zinder to Diffa compared to the
conditions some months ago, with recent grading of what had been an
extremely bad patch of road. The improvements reduced the travel
time from Zinder to Diffa by two hours, resulting in a three-hour
trip. Moreover, four American medical personnel (doctors and
nurses) are now located at the local hospital in the town of Maine
Soroa (in Diffa), two of them former PCVs who served in that region
in the late 1960s. Government of Niger (GON) President Tandja is
building three homes for the American medical personnel, with hopes
to transform the local hospital into a regional facility that will
serve residents in Niger, as well as neighboring Chad and Nigeria.
(Note: Maine Soroa is Tandja's home region and he has asked the
American doctors to invite two more medical personnel to the region.
End note). Groundbreaking for additional hospital buildings (to
include a new maternity ward) already has begun. The American
medical personnel reported they already are seeing patients from
Nigeria and Chad, as word gets out that there are American doctors
at the Maine Soroa hospital. As for security, Ambassador pointed
out to the Governor that during her last visit to Diffa, there had
been no mention of tensions between the nomadic Mohamid Arabs and
the indigenous population. Consequently, the initial order issued,
only a couple months after her visit (though later rescinded), to
expel the Mohamids was surprising and generated numerous questions
as to whether it would be safe to assign PCVs in the region.
Ambassador asked the Governor what ever became of the Commission
that was to study the conflict and issue recommendations. Governor
Yacouba replied that he had not yet received a report from the
Commission and didn't anticipate receiving one, but insisted that
the tensions have been resolved locally through community meetings.

NIAMEY 00001222 002.2 OF 003

He added that good rains this year have been helpful, as the
conflict primarily had been over water resources. The last portion
of the Diffa stop included a visit to the Canton Traditional Chief,
followed by a meeting with a women's group, beneficiaries of DHRF
support that was used to conduct a sensitization campaign to promote
women's engagement in politics and good governance. The women
expressed appreciation for the Embassy's support and asked that more
be done to support the efforts of women in the rural areas. A
couple of women stated intentions to run for office in the next
local elections.

6. (U) In Zinder, calls were made on the Secretary General (SG)
Ibrahim Agoumo (in the absence of Governor Yandaka who was in
Niamey), Sultan of Zinder El Hadj Mahamane Moustapha and the
religious leaders of the Niger Islamic Association (AIN). The AIN
leaders expressed gratitude for the DHRF support that allowed them
to print booklets in the local languages to sensitize youth in the
koranic schools about HIV/AIDS and other issues affecting youth.
They underscored the difficulty for youth leaving the koranic
schools to find employment due to their lack of practical skills and
inquired whether funding could be made available to arrange
vocational training in their schools, in skills such as auto
mechanics, plumbing, electrical and sewing. We responded that we
had provided support to the Maradi Youth Center (MYC) which had
successfully implemented a vocational training program. The FSN
Development Assistant provided AIN contact information for the MYC
managers, suggesting that AIN may be able to obtain guidance on
developing a similar program. The SG inquired why the U.S. doesn't
have an American Cultural Center (ACC) in Zinder, noting that France
has a French Cultural Center there. The Ambassador responded that
resource constraints affect the Embassy's ability to open ACCs, but
highlighted our efforts to open American Corners (AC) in more
regions, similar to the American Corner already established in
Zinder. She said not all regions of Niger benefited from an AC. The
delegation then proceeded to the AC in Zinder, where we were met by
two PCVs who managed the reorganization of the AC. It is now a much
more user-friendly center with better space usage.

7. (U) In Maradi, there were meetings with Governor Ali Chaibou
Maazou, the Provincial Chief and local media. The Governor
expressed concerns about criminal activity and other negative
influences from northern Nigeria. He suggested the Embassy conduct
more activities, such as the caravan, to engage youth. He also
inquired about the possibility of sports trainers coming to Niger to
help develop the skills of Nigerien athletes, to improve the
athletes' competitiveness in regional and international events. The
delegation met with PCVs who expressed a need for more materials to
assist with their education and health projects.

8. (U) In Konni, the American NGO, CARE, provided a slide
presentation of its food security efforts, such as the construction
and stocking of a new cereal bank. Unfortunately, the delegation's
scheduled visit the next morning to the community that benefited
from a new cereal bank was washed out by waist-high water; an area
reportedly dry most of the year. We determined efforts to cross the
usually dry river bed would be impossible, even with 4X4 vehicles.
(Note: A local male from the region (about 6'4") literally waded
through the water to demonstrate the waters' depth. Konni has
experienced significant rains this year and the main road in that
region was the worst among all the roads we traveled, adding an
additional two hours to the usual four-hour trip from Niamey. End

9. (SBU) In Tahoua, Ambassador participated in the ribbon cutting
for a newly-constructed library in Abalak funded with SSH support.
The Public Affairs Section donated books and DVD equipment that will
serve twelve villages in the region. At this stop, Ambassador asked
local leaders (including an ex-combatant leader who had signed the
1995 Peace Accords) whether the insecurity in Agadez was having any
effect on the mentality of residents and security in Tahoua. Our
interlocuters insisted that all was well in Tahoua, that
occasionally, the Governor and others would travel to areas
bordering Agadez, to reassure the population in the border towns.
The leaders stated that residents in Tahoua were generally pleased
with the pace of developments in Tahoua, recognized the need for
more to be done, but acknowledged it would take more patience and
time to accomplish some tasks. The Governor of Tahoua, Amadou Zety
Maiga, echoed the view that all is well in Tahoua, noting his
frequent visits to towns bordering Agadez. Tahoua is in the mist of
preparations for the December 18 National Day celebrations that will
be held there, with construction of a new 32-room hotel,
refurbishment of the artisanal village, upgrades to the hippodrome
and other infrastructure projects in motion. Governor Maiga
accompanied Ambassador to two private radio stations to participate

NIAMEY 00001222 003.2 OF 003

in interviews about the tolerance campaign. Reporters at both
stations, noting on air that it was the Governor's first visit to
their respective stations in his tenure, inquired why he does not
include private radio among the press corps that accompanies him
within the Tahoua region. The Governor responded he had no
knowledge of private radio interest in his activities and welcomed
the stations' future participation in gubernatorial excursions.
However, he warned that any reporter who misused the trips to file
malicious or untruthful reports would be excluded from subsequent

10. (U) The travel to Dosso and Tillaberi, only a couple hours away
from Niamey, were accomplished through day trips. Local officials
and traditional chiefs there, as was the case in other regions, all
supported the message of tolerance through remarks of their own.
Across the regions, communities we visited were fully engaged in the
caravan and expressed gratitude for the timely message of tolerance.
There were calls at each stop for more interaction with U.S.
institutions and American citizens.

12. (U) While the populations in the various regions across Niger
offered prayers for peace and tranquility in Agadez, the Embassy
delegation observed that other aspects of life in those regions
appear to be proceeding as normal, with primary focus on working the
fields and aspirations to reap a good harvest. Another caravan
planned for November, utilizing traditional wrestling (the most
popular sport in Niger) as a vehicle, will focus on the fight
against corruption. That caravan will provide Embassy personnel
another opportunity to visit with partners in seven of the eight
regions of Niger, evaluate the security situation in those regions
and gauge the public mood about the insecurity in northern Niger.

© Scoop Media

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