Traveling Dance Troupe in Niger Fosters Reconciliation

Youth in the Diffa region of Niger call for peace and reconciliation through dance.
Youth in the Diffa region of Niger call for peace and reconciliation through dance.
IOM/Lisa Wortmeyer
Youth share messages of peace following Boko Haram conflict
“This crisis affects our lives every day.”

July 2018 — Since the spillover of the Boko Haram conflict from Nigeria to Niger’s Diffa region in 2015, nothing is the same. Violence, insecurity and fear have affected all areas of life, displacing hundreds of thousands and putting many lives on hold.

Eager to mend the divisions of this regional conflict that is affecting their livelihoods, some young men and women in southeastern Niger are eagerly calling for peace and reconciliation through dance. During one recent community performance, three youth in a dance troupe proudly chanted, “Mou-Yi soul-hou,” which means “let us reconcile” in the local Haussa language.

“This crisis affects our lives every day,” said Malam Boucar Malou Kaou, one of the primary dancers in the show. The 23-year-old lives in a small village in Niger’s Diffa region that has been harshly hit by the Boko Haram crisis. “Before, the young people went to Nigeria to work, but now we are here without anything to do,” he said. “We want peace. We need peace. With this dance show, we want to contribute to this process.”

The Boko Haram crisis and subsequent state of emergency restrictions put in place by the Government of Niger have deeply disrupted Diffa’s economy, limiting access to farming and fishing in the Lake Chad area and disrupting cross-border trade and seasonal migration to Nigeria. The lack of economic opportunities weighs particularly hard on Niger’s youth, fueling feelings of frustration and abandonment.

In February, Kaou participated in a dance workshop in Diffa town conducted by renowned Nigerien choreographer Maman Sani Moussa Almou and supported by USAID and the International Organization for Migration. For 15 days, young people from villages across the region and students from Diffa University worked with Almou to express their experience of the conflict and their wishes for a peaceful future through dance. The result is a 25-minute performance relaying the story of how a community finds peace by reconciling with former Boko Haram fighters who had imparted conflict.

USAID, through its Office of Transition Initiatives, works in Diffa to strengthen community resilience to Boko Haram and support the reconciliation and reintegration process announced by the Nigerien Government in late 2016. The dance workshop is one example of how youth can support that process and be empowered to develop their own narratives to counter the influence of violent extremism.

By introducing Diffa youth to participatory dance as a tool for communication, Almou has broken down the barriers between the participants from different backgrounds and between contemporary and traditional dance. “The young dancers discovered that they can pass a message through their dance. This is completely new to them,” he explained. “We integrated traditional steps from their villages; like this, everyone can relate to the performance.”

Almou, a 35-year-old artist from Zinder, often represents Niger in international dance festivals, but has more recently made a commitment to fully engage in his country’s cultural development. Through his collaboration with USAID, Almou has enriched the program’s innovative approach that uses performing arts as a tool for social change. Working with amateur dancers and co-creating a dance show is challenging, but the result is rewarding — empowering youth to develop their own narratives to counter violent extremism.

After the workshop, the dance troupe toured through their villages, reaching over 4,000 people. “This was an extraordinary experience. It allowed us to make the young people of our community understand the importance of peace and reconciliation,” said Kaou.

Almou shares the same enthusiasm about the reception of the performance in the villages. He is overwhelmed by the response to the dance by the youth and their communities. “Dance appeals to people’s emotions, it can be way more powerful than just words,” he said. “Our performance raises awareness about the importance of reconciliation, it gives confidence in this process. I saw how attending the dance show can give back hope and joy of life to people.”

With the Nigerien Government’s announcement of the amnesty and reintegration program in 2016, engaging communities in the reconciliation process has become a priority area for various USAID programs. While Niger is still developing the framework for its program, communities are divided over the reintegration of former Boko Haram defectors into their communities. The dance workshop starts a dialogue about this sensitive topic, giving communities a voice in the process — an important step toward reconciliation.

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Last updated: July 12, 2018

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