May 02, 2020


A total Regional Lockdown of frontiers and trade routes has successfully stopped all trade not just in the huge Sahara proper, but also in the thousand-mile-wide belt called the Sahel immediately to the South where innumerable others are also at immense risk.
The direct result of the sudden lockdown has been the triggering of immense and growing hunger, a growth in widespread abuse of fundamental human rights, and a huge Jihadist upsurge of activity.
While the whole world is now fighting tooth and nail to limit the spread of the deadly Coronavirus and to prevent countless premature deaths, conceivably to be numbered in the millions, the consequence of that one widespread type of action has been to suddenly stop dead a vital network of trading activities in and around large parts of the Western Great Sahara. Appalling hunger looms over large tracts of territory and this is happening in the midst of a huge Jihadist upsurge so that these separate overlapping crises together spell terrible extra trouble for different population groups and States.  The risks go far beyond the already globally catastrophic social and economic effects of the Great Pandemic which normally operates 'on its own' so to speak, as if that wasn't enough!
On the 13th of April, 2020, the Algerian authorities declared their national border with Mali to be closed and that all movement in and out of Algeria was suspended until further notice.  Niger followed suit that day, and similar restrictions were quickly imposed by Burkina Faso, Mauritania and other states around the region.  The immediate consequence of that total shutdown was that the whole Western Sahara and Sahel region a truly vast area, came to a total standstill.   Much may be largely inaccessible but all is totally dependent on trade and the free flow of goods.  The stoppage remains to this day. Food shortages and the imminence of famine have now become central topics of ordinary conversation for all the innumerable widely scattered inhabitants.  "The Great Sahara" region previously depended on food supplies coming out of Algeria. All the countries involved have suspended normal free movement. There is most impact in the northern parts of Mali and Niger where, although some indigenous Tuareg nomads are now settled, most are still nomadic, being accompanied in their travels by various livestock.
The lockdown on free movement has impacted badly not only on cross-border trade but on other types of movement; with one major exception, however.   Criminal gangs and terrorist groups are now ever more active and thriving, particularly flourishing in the vicinity of Tellabere, Inaker and Menka.  Last week, according to eye witness reports, the fundamentalist Islamic State in the Greater Sahara started to allure ever more young people into their ranks.  The group goes back to 2015 and is led by Abu Walid al-Sahraoui.
One of the organization's recruiting agents has recently been seen near Menaka and Inaker, Mali.  He was distributing both food and hard cash to some of the very poor families that are suffering the most. This same agent is one of the organisation's most active local leaders.  According to one local source, he has managed to recruit at least 35 young men in his area.  Another member of the same terrorist organisation appears to have a similar assignment and recruiting mission in the Tellabere region, close to a small village near the border of Western Niger, where it adjoins neighboring Mali.   Security sources in that area also suggest that the expansion of recruitment by terrorist groups is targeted mainly at young people from poor families.  Activity is thought to have increased tenfold since April 13, when many countries in the Sahel region closed their national borders.  The Coronavirus now threatens at least three million Africans according to the W.H.O.
The worst consequences of the current pandemic also now include numerous serious violations of human rights as stated earlier, alongside the hunger or starvation that is putting the lives of thousands on the line.  Incidentally, a recent OXFAM report warned that at least 50 million people are now threatened by impending famine in West Africa.
The Coronavirus has come on top of actual armed conflict that was already present arising from serious pre-existing tensions and insecurity.  It is particularly common in places like Northern Mali where some of the Tuareg have long been fighting the government of Mali in pursuit of the desired independent state to be called Azawad.
The increasingly fragile food-market situation in the region exacerbates things amidst all the tension, instability and conflict which is both between various armed groups and the very weak government of Mali in Bamako. Further South atrocities have also been taking place against the Tuareg and Fulani people.  In the last couple of weeks more than 36 Tuareg have been killed by the Nigerian Army.  That was at Ayarou and Tera areas.  One of the victims by the name of Abdulaye was only 27 years old when murdered by Nigerian Army soldiers near Tellabere. The victim, a Fulani herder was tied up and shot dead, along with his animals, before military tanks ran over the bodies. The Nigerian government has only commented on these stories with a bald assertion that its army has killed a number of terrorists in the area.
That dismissive Nigerian Army version of the truth has subsequently been refuted both by local civilians and by Human Rights bodies including the Imouhagh International Organization for Justice and Transparency.  The latter is a well-informed organisation concerned with the whole region.  They have now published a letter demanding a thorough investigation by the Nigerien Government, followed by impartial justice for the families of innocent victims. One victim in a different but adjacent post-colonial state was Attyoub Ag Allou, 40 years old, and the father of six children.  He is someone totally dependent on UNHCR support for survival and was living at Mentao Refugee Camp in the province of Djibo, Burkina Faso.  This man was arrested, before being tied up in front of members of his family and severely beaten.  Fortunately, he survived to tell the tale and managed to escape from a place where he was being held, a few days later. A second victim from the same refugee camp of Mentao was less fortunate however. He was a 60-year old blind man, hired by the camp residents to look after their animals.  He is alleged to have been arbitrarily killed inside the camp, right in front of his family.
In conclusion, we can only say that the need to write this troubling story arose when it became clear once we were in possession of the above facts that anyone with some power and ability to act, has a duty to do share the information. We should all try to re-focus public attention, however briefly at this time of universal self-centered distractions, on the much worse plight of the people in the places mentioned above.  We must ask our leaders to try to reduce the likely scale of the impending disaster.

By:  Akli Sh’kka, filmmaker, journalist and human rights activist

August 01, 2016

Northern Mali's Schools in Ruins

Three Tuareg children stand in the ruins of their little school building in northern Mali. The conflict there continues, despite a peace accord last summer. The board in back is their chalkboard. Many Tuaregs remain in refugee camps outside of Mali because state-supported militias keep attacking Tuareg civilians.

June 28, 2016

Torrential Rains Ravage Northern Niger

Des inondations ravagent le nord du Niger
Par Mohamed Ag Ahmedou -
26 juin 2016

Des pluies diluviennes créent une catastrophe humanitaire dans le département d’Ingal au nord du Niger. “La population de la région est fragilisée par les inondations qui ont causé d’énormes dégâts” a déclaré Aghali Etay Kelfedy membre du comité d’appui de la municipalité d’Ingal. Les populations sahéliennes sont plus que jamais touchées par des problèmes de changements climatiques.

Le bilan est alarmant :
-- 644 ménages sinistrés  [644 affected households]
-- 4,204 personnes sans abris  [4,204 people HOMELESS]
-- 161 maisons effondrées  [161 banco houses collapsed]
-- 08 cases emportées  [8 huts swept away]
-- 318 bovins morts  [318 cattle dead]
-- 11,012 ovins morts  [11,012 sheep dead]
-- 10,654 caprins morts  [10,654 goats dead]
-- 227 arsins morts  [227 donkeys dead]
-- 44 camelins morts  [44 camels dead]
-- 98 puits effondrées  [98 water wells collapsed]
-- 116 jardins de 26.2 hectares détruits  [116 vegetable gardens, 26.2 hectares, destroyed]

En tout, 79%, de la province d’Ingal est touchée par les inondations.

Le Sahel, victime du changement climatique

Les cadres de la mairie interpellent désormais le gouvernement nigérien et ses partenaires sur le risque de propagation des maladies transmissibles via l’eau dans laquelle gisent des cadavres d’animaux en décomposition. “Le risque des maladies peut venir de la seule eau consommable qui est disponible dans la province à savoir celle des marigots. Des mesures doivent être prises le plus vite possible pour éviter le pire,” interpelle Aghali.

Les populations se trouvent dans une situation extrêmement difficile suite à la catastrophe qu’elles ont connu à travers ces inondations. Beaucoup de femmes et d’enfants sont condamnés à dormir dans les rues ou les écoles à cause de la destruction de leurs domiciles emportés par les eaux. Selon le cadre de la mairie d’Ingal un comité de crise constitué de huit personnes de la municipalité plus un membre du cabinet du premier ministre a été mis en place pour évaluer la situation.

Depuis quelques années plusieurs dizaines de personnes périssent dans le desert nigérien très touché par les changements climatiques. De nombreux experts africains attirent l’attention sur l’urgence à créer un fond dédié aux catastrophes causées par le réchauffement de la planète dans le Sahel. Pour les tenants de cette initiative, les grands pollueurs au niveau mondial devraient contribuer à alimenter ce fonds à 90 %.

Freak rainstorms wreak havoc in Niger desert

Freak rainstorms wreak havoc in Niger desert
Report from Agence France-Presse
Published on 20 Jun 2016
Niamey, Niger | AFP | Monday 6/20/2016 - 12:48 GMT

Unusually heavy rains in Niger's desert north in recent days have killed thousands of goats and cattle, gutted homes and stores, and left three people dead, national television said Monday.

"Torrential rains caused severe damage and three dead in Bazagor", a town in the northwestern province of Tchintabaradene, and destroyed 100 stores and 100 homes, said Tele Sahel.

In Ingal, near the northern city of Agadez, "85 millimetres (3 inches) of rain fell in two hours" on June 14, though yearly rainfall is rarely over 100 to 130 millimetres there.

Hundreds of people have been left homeless in the past days with more than 8,000 goats, sheep, cattle and camel killed in the area, where animal corpses are visible over 20 kilometres, television footage showed.

Sub-Saharan Niger, a vast arid nation, regularly suffers food shortages due to drought.

But early this month the UN warned of floods in 2016 affecting the livelihoods of more than 100,000 people.

Climate change has wrought havoc in Niger, bringing floods, droughts, spikes in temperature and food shortages -- buffeting the lives and livelihoods of millions of the country's farmers.

Flooding in 2012 killed more than 100 people, affected more than half a million Nigeriens and caused at least 135 million euros ($145 million) worth of damage, according to the disaster prevention office.

Floods similarly killed dozens of people and affected hundreds of thousands in 2014 and 2015.

Global warming is only worsening the problems, with the steadily encroaching desert now covering three-quarters of Niger.


© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

Three Dead, Thousands of Tuareg Livestock Perished, Unusual Torrential Rain

Unusual torrential rain in Niger desert kills 3
Ismail Akwei with AFP 20/06 - 15:12

At least three people died and thousands of livestock destroyed after heavy torrential rain in the desert in northern Niger.

Nigerien state television, Tele Sahel, which announced the death toll on Monday described the rain as exceptional adding that it destroyed hundreds of shops and houses.

“Heavy rainfall caused significant damage killing three people in Bazagor, a locality of Tchintabaradene in the northwest,” they announced adding that more than 115 millimeters of rain fell within hours.

On June 14, Ingal, a town hundred kilometers from Agadez in the north, 85 millimeters of rain fell in two hours rendering thousands homeless as it collapsed hundreds of houses, according to local disaster management services.

The waters also killed more than 8,000 goats, sheep and cows prompting the prefect of the town, Abdourahamane Bikki to appeal to the government and international aid for help and the cremation of animal carcasses to prevent serious health problems.

The havoc created by the heavy rain in Niger adds to the number of damages recorded in the west coast of Africa including Ghana and Nigeria where flooding affected major parts of their capital cities.