Agadez – Staying Safe in Niger

Half-jokingly, I wrote on my Facebook page: “We made it out of Agadez without being kidnapped. Woohoo!” Because a few months before all NGOs had left the area due to threats from the Tuareg rebellions and Al Qaida. But as we had heard of other travellers visiting the area recently, we decided to head the warnings and go anyway.

Once there, we made friends with the local Tuaregs resting from the midday heat in the shadows outside our hotel. And while one of them called himself the Nigerien Osama Bin Laden, and promoted Sharia law in Niger, he became quite mellow and friendly once he managed to sell us some souvenirs.

But there was also a constant, although vague, feeling of unsafety. One day, on our way to the bakery, there was thick, black smoke rising up from the middle of the street. A tire was burning. People were screaming and running towards us. It took us a moment to realize what was happening. Then stones started flying, Suddenly, there was a big bang, like a gun shot. Shit! We were caught in a cross-fire between protesters and the police.
“Let’s get out of here,” I screamed. “Now!” As we ran, our eyes started burning. Teargas! We covered our faces with wet bandannas, and ran until we reached safety a couple of blocks away.
We were later told that they were protesting against the police, who had shot and killed a moto taxi driver the previous day. Nothing to worry about. Just a normal day in Agadez.

In the Camel market on the outskirts of town, where the Tuaregs converge to sell their camels, cows and goats, the atmosphere was equally ominous. Being the only non-Africans there, all eyes were on us as we walked around the open field in the afternoon heat. A group of men approached us, their heads and faces completely covered by their black turbans and sunglasses, and their hands resting on the large sables hanging on their belts. Shaking our hands, they asked us if we were French. No. Italian? No. From where? Peru. Aaah, Peru. Conversation was over. We were not the enemy. But we were not friends, either. Feeling uncomfortable in the hostile surroundings, we fled to the safety of our hotel room.

A couple of weeks after we left, seven people, including five French, were kidnapped in a uranium mine in Arlit, north of Agadez. So even if nothing happened to us, the threat, however small, was definitely real.