What’s Niger for?

It’s time for a break from the London bombings and the bickering which has ensued. Famine has returned to Africa - this time to the mid-west African state of Niger, a desert and semi-desert state between Algeria and Nigeria and the second-poorest “nation” on earth (I’m not sure what the poorest is, or if people there are starving).

What we’ve heard is that the famine was predicted months ago, but there is simply no reason why Niger should be starving. The plight of the people there is the result of politics, as was that in Ethiopia in 1985. Famines - particularly in this day and age, when food can easily be transported from place to place - are usually not natural, but man-made. The Irish famine, in which most of the crops didn’t fail but were shipped out under armed guard, is the most notorious example.

Niger, however, simply shouldn’t exist. It’s no more than a product of colonial boundaries between the old French West Africa and British Nigeria. Nigeria is mostly a rich and fertile country, despite its corruption. The French, and subsequently Niger, ended up with the deserts and the bits of the savanna nearer the desert and, therefore, more prone to desertification. The ethnic make-up of Niger is mostly Hausa-Fulani, as in northern Nigeria (there are also Tuareg, further north towards Algeria). Uthmaan dan Fodio, the famous scholar and jihad leader associated with Sokoto in Nigeria, was actually born in Niger - the border simply did not exist then.

So, a solution to Niger’s problems may well be incorporation into Nigeria. Nigeria’s population is around 129 million, while Niger’s is around 11.7 million, which would not significantly alter Nigeria’s Muslim-Christian balance which would no doubt be of great concern to Christians in Nigeria. Obviously Nigeria would then have to absorb Niger’s fertility problems, but this may well be offset by the strategic advantages it would gain from expanding thousands of miles northwards.

But another important aspect of Niger’s poverty is the bypassing of its historically important trade routes due to air travel and the political situation in Algeria. Given the enormous environmental cost of air travel, perhaps thought should be given to bringing the main road from the Mediterranean down through the Sahara to Nigeria (and other countries on that coast) back into use, which would help to free Niger of its dependence on its mostly poor soil.

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