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IFEROUANE (Niger) (AFP) – Dishes of spit-roasted lamb had been served and the sound of electrical guitars echoed throughout the pink Saharan dunes in direction of the Air Mountains.

“It is like taking part in at dwelling,” stated musician Oumara Moctar.

The desert, he stated, “is the place we had been born, the place we grew up, and reminds us of the place we come from.”

One of many largest cultural occasions within the Sahel area, the Aïr Pageant returned final week, bringing the songs, dances and oral traditions of the nomadic Tuareg tradition to an viewers of 1000’s — and a burst of hope for jihadist-scarred Niger.

The eagerly-awaited three-day get together unfolded in Iferouane, an oasis sandwiched between desert and mountains 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) from the Nigerien capital Niamey.

Some 5,000 folks, a lot of them native VIPs and some foreigners, changed the desert’s standard calm with a ballet of 4x4s whipping up plumes of mud.

After attending live shows and wonder pageants, festival-goers spent lengthy hours reclining on mats the place, in between rounds of tea, dialogue ranged from the deserves of Toyota pick-up vans to barely-concealed regionalism.

Oumara Moctar, also known as Bambino, performing at the Chiriet dunes northeast of Iferouane
Oumara Moctar, often known as Bambino, performing on the Chiriet dunes northeast of Iferouane © Souleymane Ag Anara / AFP

“Tuareg tradition, in a nutshell,” smiled younger Iferouane resident Mohamed Bouhamid.

If not for the pervasive presence of troops to supply safety, this scene may have taken place some twenty years in the past.

The competition, launched in 2001, final befell in 2020. In its prime, well-heeled European guests beat a path to Niger and neighbouring Mali, and males who are actually insurgent chiefs labored as vacationer guides.

An airline linked Paris on to Agadez in Niger and to Gao and Kidal in Mali. For a few years, the Paris-Dakar rally raced by way of the desert.

Recollections of this halcyon time persist at this time, regardless of the 2 jihadist insurgencies that beset Niger, and its continual poverty — it’s ranked the world’s poorest nation by the benchmark of the UN Human Deveopment Index.


After six French residents had been killed simply outdoors Niamey in 2020, France — beforehand the primary supply of vacationers — declared Niger a “pink zone” and beneficial journey there be averted.

For these wishing to go to the competition in Iferouane, the French authorities beneficial postponement.

The festival celebrates the culture of the Tuareg, a semi-nomadic people who have badly suffered in the Sahel's decade-long jihadist insurgency
The competition celebrates the tradition of the Tuareg, a semi-nomadic individuals who have badly suffered within the Sahel’s decade-long jihadist insurgency © Souleymane Ag Anara / AFP

Deputy mayor Hamadi Yahaya denounced “these embassies” that “have sparked hysteria” regardless of the battle being greater than 1,000 kms away from Iferouane.

Along with the troops, dozens of Ishumars — a reputation given to former rebels — “have been deployed within the surrounding desert”, stated Rhissa Ag Boula, a insurgent chief who now serves as an adviser to Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum.

At close by Chiriet, the Ishumars’ vans bearing recognisable white flags remained at a discreet distance. They flanked a rowdy race between some 80 drivers rushing by way of the sand.

Rocco Rava, an Italian who manages a tour company known as Societe de Voyages Sahariens (SVS), had returned to the area for the primary time in 15 years.

He grew up within the regional capital Agadez the place he developed his tourism enterprise earlier than shifting to neighbouring Chad when the “turbulence” started in Niger.

Niger © / AFP

Tourism and machine weapons

“There’s a sturdy demand,” he stated, explaining he had come to Iferouane to take a look at the chance of bringing vacationers again.

However the state of affairs is paradoxical, he stated: “If it is actually safe, then vacationers ask us why we have to have a navy escort.”

Niger requires all Westerners travelling to the desert to be accompanied by an armed escort, for which they need to pay.

Individuals should settle for that the “earlier than” occasions are over, stated the president of Iferouane’s artisan collective, Kader Hamadede, who has been making jewelry for 3 many years.

“The tourism we’ll have any further will all the time contain the navy, and I do not know if vacationers are considering that.”

Many native folks had been downbeat about prospects for a greater life and a few noticed migration or working within the unlawful gold mines dotting the Sahara as their solely hope.

“There’s nothing extra to do right here,” stated 22-year-old Mohamed Bouamid, who hopes to make his fortune with a four-month stint within the gold enterprise.


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