One of the things that I like about my work is the opportunity it avails for traveling on the African continent and beyond. I am particularly excited about my visits in the continent. I get to see and experience first hand the culture, politics and socio-economic conditions of fellow Africans.
I am delighted that I have arrived in Niamey, Niger. It took five hours of direct flight from Addis Ababa on board ET 937.
As we were descending to Niamey, we were informed that temperature on ground was a high of 38 degrees – such a hot reception was what I felt. Coming from rainy and cold Addis Ababa, it was a testimony to the contrast and diversity that is characteristic of our continent, which is true even beyond whether.
I sat more than an hour to have my luggage collected. I protested (despite my linguistic incapacity, speaking English is not certainly enabler here) about the length of time I was made to wait; the plane with which I arrived was moving to take off.
Then a ride to the Hotel. My colleague Reginald, who picked me up from the airport asked me if I ever visited any country in the Sahel-Sahara region. I told him this was my first experience to a country in the Sahara. That I was landing in the Sahara was apparent from my view from the window of the plane – brownish dry land, absence of vegetation, sparse settlement, plain dusty surface with no hills.
As we drove to the Hotel where I will stay for three weeks, perhaps due to my latest consciousness about rail lines (curtesy of the Addis City light rail system) my attention was drawn to a rail line crossing the middle of the city. It is not run down, it actually looked rather very recent. When I inquired about it, i was told it is not yet operational. As I suspected, I found from wikipedia that the line was in fact inaugurated in 2014, although not operational. I was pleased to learn that it is part of the AfricaRail project that connects Niamey to Cotonou in Benin – a physical evidence of African infrastructural development projects.
When we arrived at the Hotel, named Soluxe Hotel, I was informed that it is the only five start Hotel in town. Although there is another Hotel with better architecture and located on a direct view of river Niger, this is apparently the best quality Hotel for Niamey’s population of 1.3 million.
Once inside, it was apparent that it is a Chinese built and chinese run/owned establishment. Chinese characters are used alongside French. Chinese paintings are hung on the walls. The team that came to fix the air-conditioning in my room was led by a Chinese.
Late in the afternoon, I ventured out to check out the city and get a bite. Passed through the area through which the River Niger passes, what a beautiful sight. My eyes caught the imposing sight of a curvy building. I successfully read what was posted on the front wall of the building – it is the Ministry of Mines and Energy. Despite the fact that its benefits are not visible on the streets of Niamey, Niger is a resource rich country. Among others it has uranium. The Uranium from this country fuels the Nuclear energy in France. Indeed, uranium is the primary source of energy for Niger’s former colonial ruler.
On departing from the Hotel, I asked Abdoul, the driver (with whatever little French I can think of —not speaking any French in this French is really debilitatingly limiting –I have made a decision to start French class on my return and I suggest you too do the same if you don’t speak French) to take me to a cafe named Le Cafe. Instead of Le Cafe, Abdoul first took me to an Italian Restaurant Le Pilier, the first restaurant that appears on tripadvisor.com He asked a couple of gentlemen standing outside for Le Cafe. We continued the ride, passed through the market area and when we arrived, it was another restaurant, La Cabane, a restaurant with Lebanese and European dishes.
I perused the Menue and went for a simple meal. I ordered chicken burger. I also drank expresso late. Despite the fact that Niger’s uranium fuels France’s energy, my internet connectivity at the restaurant failed so many times due to recurrent power interruption.
When I asked for the bill, I was provided with a receipt of 6000 CFA, and instead of the 1800 CFA that I saw on the menu, the price for the burger indicated in the receipt was 4000. After a frustrating exchange and explaining the discrepancy as convincingly under the circumstances- I lament my French disability again – , I paid the full price while protesting.
Heading back to the Hotel, we passed a number of toyota picks ups on which armed soldiers and the gendarmerie are loaded, indication of a country facing a security challenge. Although Niger successfully withered the spillover of the disintegration of Libya, it is one of the countries in the Sahel affected by terrorist attacks including from Boko Haram and various groups in the Sahel and North Africa.
In a clear testimony that we are in a desert territory, we also passed at the centre of the city a camel carrying hey and walking with a camel’s long and awesome movements. It is not also difficult to notice that in Niamey, as in many other African cities, motorcycles are very common and serve as major means of transport.
My first day over. I am looking forward to more of Niamey. I hope to learn even a great deal more on the state of human rights in Africa – at Africa’s major gathering on human rights at the 60th Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Au revoir, Bonne Soiree, A plus tard, Salut!