By Akanimo Sampson
Lack of effective border control and tensions over limited available resources are currently making Tillabéri a volatile area. Ethnic conflict has been a determining factor in the development of violent extremist organisations (VEOs) and criminal groups that occupy and regularly cross the region’s border areas.
Tillabéri is however, located in southwest Niger. It straddles Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. The region is characterised by fragile stability and today sits threatened by various economic and security risks concentrated at this three-state border zone.
This October, the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) Community Cohesion Initiative (NCCI) in Niger organised a rather unique response to these tensions: dance. IOM promoted a 10-day training in participatory dance in Niamey, Niger’s capital, for four dance troupes from the departments of Bankilaré, Ayorou and Téra – all in the conflict-affected region of Tillabéri – as well as for ten professional dancers from Niamey.
Around since 2014 and funded by the USAID/Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI), the NCCI programme addresses key drivers of conflict, including youth unemployment, increased reach of VEOs, and long-held feelings of exclusion among different ethnic groups.
Following their training sessions, the troupes took part in the “Rue Dance Niger” festival. There they performed participatory dances in the streets of Niamey. These performances offered youth from challenging environments opportunities to share their daily experiences and aspirations for a better future.
The festival, organised at the Centre Culturel-Franco Nigérien Jean Rouch (CCFN) in Niamey, gathered both professional and amateur dance troupes from Niger, neighbouring countries and France, and gave them a platform to perform in front of hundreds of people from mixed socio-economic backgrounds.
“Niger has long been known for its traditions of peace and tolerance between various ethnic groups, and activities such as this restore that vital inter-community dynamic”, said Alan Bobbett, NCCI Chief of Party and Programme Manager.
“It was inspiring to watch the troupes practice and to hear their stories. Community events and festivals such as this have been a casualty of the armed groups operating along the borders of Niger.”
Added Amadou, one of the trainees: “This training has really opened our minds to see the role we, the youth, must play in bringing back peace and security to our regions. As a Nigerien, it has been very interesting for me to learn different forms of dance from other communities.”
The programme partnered with famous Nigerien choreographer Maman Sani to create a space for positive youth engagement and expression. Music, dance and theatre have been identified by the programme as a powerful means for youth to promote alternative narratives and convey messages of peace and cohesion that can efficiently contribute to increasing the affected communities’ resilience to violent extremism.
NCCI strives to empower youth leaders across western Tillabéri to play an active role in creating and promoting narratives to counter violent extremism. This activity aims to enhance youth’s resistance to these groups and increase the ability of local communities based in Tillabéri to address threats by violent armed groups.
While the activity aimed first and foremost to allow young artists from departments confronted with insecurity to become strong actors of social change, it also helped give a more positive image of the Tillabéri region. The youth’s performance integrated traditional dances from their region, portraying the rich culture of Tillabéri to the public in Niamey.
The PCCN programme previously supported the participation of dance troupes from Abala and Diffa in last year’s edition, through which youth from these departments successfully engaged with the audience on sensitive topics such as peace and reconciliation. In Diffa and Tillabéri, the programme has also used ancestral storytelling, traditional singing and theatre workshops to engage youth and build resilient communities.