Official name: Republic of Niger
Head of state: President Mamadou Tandja (previous president assassinated in 1999)
Independence: from France in 1958
Languages: French (official), Hausa, Djerma
Religion: Muslim 80%, remainder indigenous beliefs and Christians
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XOF)
Website for LGBT Africa: Behind the Mask
1 Between hope and fear 11/02
2 It’s Survival of Cutest for Africa’s Wodabe Men 1/04
3 Laws in Niger regarding safety and homosexuality 2006
4 Niger’s parliament has voted down Africa’s Maputo Protocol 1/07
5 Al-Qaeda demands 10m euro ransom for European hostages 5/09 (Background story)
November 19, 2002 – Gay Krant newspaper (Holland)
Between hope and fear:
A gay refugee from Niger has a tough time proving to Dutch authorities that
his life is in danger in the Islamic country of his birth, Niger
by Henk Krol
Barka Hara doesn’t know how old he is. He grew up in Kari, a small village on the edge of the Sahara. Like in many parts of Niger, no records are kept of births and deaths. Especially not in Barka’s case. He doesn’t know his parents, nor does he know whether they are still alive. He has lived in Kari as far as he can remember, staying with an older man he called "my uncle". This Wada looked after Barka as well as after his own two children, Saidu and Mansuru. By now, these two, who were quite a bit older that Barka, no longer lived at home and had children of their own.
The uncle taught Barka basket weaving. At first they were able to make some money this way, but as time passed by, the market collapsed. Barka and his uncle could hardly sell baskets in the Bagagee market place any more. Barka always loved going to Bagagee with his uncle. This neighbouring village was considerably larger that Kari. It was a place where you could always meet interesting people. When his uncle decided no longer to go to the market every week because the costs had started to outweigh the profits, Barka decided to seize the opportunity.
He went to the market all by himself. There he met Alhadji Maishi, a man who made quite an impression on him. From that moment on, they had regular contact. Also, Barka and Alhadji got on well sexually. When the uncle died of old age some time later, Barka decided to move in with Alhadji. Alhadji was always finding ways of making money. He knew quite a number of married muslim men who were willing to pay for sex with a young man, particularly a minor.
The two friends simply assumed that Barka was a minor, as he had never received a call-up for national service in the army. And there was no official information available, simply because there was no written record of Barka’s birth. All Barka had was a piece of paper with the names of his parents written on it: Rashid Mama and Ajara Abdullai. Where they lived or whether they were still alive he did not know.
At first, Barka wasn’t happy. He didn’t want to make love to other men, but the need for money was great. Alhadji calculated that they could earn between 1000 and 2000 francs (between R15 and R30) per customer and promised Barka that he could keep half the profits. Eventually he agreed. Together they entertained two to three men a week.
After four months, during the week before Ramadan, things went wrong. Apparently they had been betrayed. While they were busy with a customer, the chief’s (local headman’s) bodyguard crashed through the door. At least six armed cops arrested and handcuffed Barka and Alhadji. Barka recognised some of the militias. They were the same men that forced merchants in the market place to part with a percentage of their profits.
The customer, who apparently was part of the plot, was allowed to leave. The two friends were transferred to the compound of Bora, the local headman of the villages of Babagee and Kari. They were locked in the cellblock. There were already three prisoners in the cell in which they were locked up. Within just a few hours, the sentence was made known: they were to be hanged. The three other inmates were not surprised; the same fate awaited them.
The next day, the longest serving inmate was taken away for his sentence to be carried out. His eyes were covered with a black cloth when they took him. He never returned. In the following days, this horrific procedure repeated itself. Barka and Alhadj were now the only remaining prisoners. The prison guard, who brought them some porridge, bread and water once a day, took them before the headman, who told them the executions were temporarily suspended until after the Ramadan.
One evening, a week after the sugar festival, the thatched roof of the prison caught fire. There was a panic, and the guards had their hands full fighting the fire. Barka and Alhadji seized their chance and took flight. Because of the mayhem they lost contact with each other. Barka ran straight through the forest. He kept on running all night.
The next day he arrived in Dougoudonor, not far from the town of Zinder. Exhausted and tearful, he sat by the side of the road. He was accosted by a truckdriver from Zinder, whom he told his whole story. The driver advised him to get out of Niger completely, especially now that he was a fugitive and that it was known he had worked as a prostitute and would probably be killed eventually. The driver offered to smuggle Barka to Benin. He was going there to collect goods in the harbour of Cotonou. From there, Barka could try to flee to Europe.
It was a journey that took many days. From Zinder they went to Maradi and then in the direction of Niamey. There they took the main road to Parakou in Benin. From there they still had to go to Cotonou on the coast. All this time Barka was forced to hide in the small sleeping quarters behind the driver’s seat. Once at the harbour, Barka saw the driver negotiate with the captain of a ship and give him money. Eventually he was allowed to board, on condition that he wouldn’t ask questions. He then spent many days on bread and milk in a small space behind the ship’s engine room.
At the end of the trip he was put out onto the quay. It was cold and wet. That was Barka’s first experience of Europe, in January of this year. Suddenly he found himself in Rotterdam. At the police station he was given a train ticket to Breda and a connecting bus ticked to Rijsbergen, where he had his first of a long series of interviews in order to obtain asylum.
In the meantime, Barka is staying at an asylum-seekers hostel in the east of Holland. In the hospital, his fictitious birth date was determined as the 1st of January 1982. He shares his room with three other Africans. In a few months, next to his own languages Hausa and French, he learned to speak quite a bit of Dutch and quite a lot of English.
Two weeks ago he was told that his request for asylum had been denied. He has to go back to Niger, and is terrified. His first lawyer has deserted him. Barka can still appeal, but then his second lawyer then has to resort to every trick in the book. While awaiting expulsion, Barka is no longer allowed to attend Dutch classes. That is why he watches Dutch TV every night. "That way, I can still learn a bit of your language", he says in Dutch.
Two weeks ago, someone gave him the address of the Gay Krant, a Dutch gay newspaper. Maybe they could help him. That same weekend he went to a gay festival for the first time.
The party was in full swing: a heart-rending contrast, a sad Barka in the midst of all those exuberant Dutch queens. That night, the last bus to the asylum-seekers centre had already left. In the middle of the night, using his last few coins, Barka bought an old bicycle near the railway station. Barka doesn’t realise that this is undoubtedly a stolen bike. There are many things wrong in Niger, but stealing bicycles is not one of them.
Dutch lawyers are pessimistic about Barka’s case. In Holland only the legal situation in the country of origin is usually looked at. In Niger, the laws are not very anti-gay, so solid evidence will have to be presented. If, for instance, Barka can prove that the three fellow-prisoners were actually executed, this will make his case a lot stronger. Also, if there are known cases of homosexuals in Niger that have been executed because of their sexual preference, it will increase his chances of getting asylum in The Netherlands.
The Niger penal code has little to say on homosexuality and aside from the laws against "public indecency" (articles 275 to 282) with sentences of a fine and a jail term of between three months and three years. This applies in any case to someone who has sex with a same-sex minor. In practice, the situation is much harsher. This is confirmed by Amnesty International.
According to Behind The Mask, a web site for African gays, homosexuality is denied in Niger: "You cannot criminalise what doesn’t exist. The iron logic of this has put the Dutch immigration service on the wrong track." Local Niger authorities put whomever they want behind bars. People are being sentenced without a normal judicial process, there is no freedom of the press and every year people are killed for political reasons.
Yet Niger seldom makes international headlines. The last time that happened was in 1999. The then president Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara, together with four associates, was assassinated at the airport by his bodyguard, at the request of an opponent.
[All names have been changed.]
January 18, 2004 – Los Angeles Times (Associated Press)
It’s Survival of Cutest for Africa’s Wodabe Men
Young (presumably non-gay) males of the nomadic Sahara tribe preen, invoke magic and dance as women judge beauty contests. The winner gets a bride.
by Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press Writer, In Gall, Niger
Sword at his side, compact mirror at the ready, a 6-foot-tall Sahara nomad named Efad Dadi squinted with determination and girded for the ancient trial of his desert people. Milk of a white cow for the complexion. Black kohl liner to bring out his eyes. Powdered bones of a roasted white egret to accent his lips. "I wanted so badly to be chosen. My heart was trembling," the 24-year-old cowherd said — one day after giving his all in a 15-strong chorus line of smiling, swaying young men in ostrich feathers.
A world away from Miss World, in a beauty pageant that Bert Parks never could have found the words to sing about: There He Is — Mr. Sahara. Or maybe just Mr. Oasis. Here on the southern edge of the Sahara, it’s the young men who do the preening, singing, charming and dancing of beauty contests. It’s women — two or three of the comeliest of their community — who do the judging, and the rewarding: usually, their hands in marriage to the winners.
Because among the Wodabe, a 125,000-strong tribe wandering from oasis to oasis, brawn and brains don’t matter. Beauty is what counts — and male beauty in particular. The pageants are playing out under palm trees across the far reaches of the Sahara at this time of year, after rains bring respite from the year-round search for cattle fodder.
Affable and courtly, Wodabe have escaped West Africa’s bloody slave raids of centuries past and the Kalashnikov-fed mayhem of the present, thanks to their isolation and insular ways. In a cutthroat world where men often compete for status with the power of their guns or the size of their SUVs, the peaceful Wodabe have decided that looks are all it takes.
Passing travelers over the years have reckoned the Wodabe among the happiest people on Earth. Camel-riding cognoscenti estimate them among the most stunning: "To be ugly is to be unforgiven," a Wodabe proverb goes. "It is our heritage. Even our ancestors are handsome. Our women are very beautiful, and the babies they make are the most beautiful," said Derre Chafou, a past pageant winner and son of an even more famously beautiful father. He speaks with the confident ease of a retired champ, leaning back on cushions under a palm tree. "If I am the man who is the prettiest, lots of women come to marry," Chafou said. "If they are corpulent, if they aren’t beautiful, the women won’t get close."
Trailing after longhorns all their lives, Wodabe carry with them little more than shepherd’s crooks, sleeping mats and, for the men, pocket mirrors entrusted to them soon after birth. Women of the family coach toddling boys how to use the mirror to check for schmutz on their face, unsightly leftovers in their teeth. Starting from babyhood, mothers and sisters pull the limbs of boys to make arms and legs long and lean. They tweak the noses, trying to mold them to a point.
Beauty is so important that a homely man won’t mind his wife having a child by another man — as long as it comes out looking good. Wodabe allow men to have several wives.
The flip side: Wodabe women can choose two husbands.
And at the beauty pageants, it’s survival of the cutest. "If they are fat, they don’t come to the pageant," said Barka Gorsa, pushing 30 and still aspiring to his first pageant win and a bride. "They go and hide in the country." "The man with the big stomach, he can’t win the contest," said Dadi, the cowherd. The judges pick the top three winners with a nod or a tap on the shoulder.
Losers slink off into the bush or turn to winning a bride the old-fashioned way — with a gift of cattle. At In Gall, a centuries-old desert crossroads town of camel skeletons and collapsed adobe huts, Gorsa and Dadi came for the most public of the annual pageants.
It’s the government-sponsored event, drawing in nomads from thousands of miles across the Sahel. When Wodabe dance, Tuareg tribesmen park their camels at the edge of crowds for a hump-high view.
Niger soldiers, armed with AK-47s, hold one another’s hands as they watch. Veiled young girls stroll under umbrellas against the North African sun, arms draped over their girlfriends’ shoulders, whispering.
Competitors’ families may spend a year on the young men’s costumes — lading them with embroidery, dangling earrings, row after row of necklaces. The young men sometimes travel for days to find a mountain with the right clay, the right herb, to make their red-and-yellow face paint.
But it’s magic that makes the beauty pageants as hard-fought as any in Atlantic City. Men drape themselves with amulets and whisper charms, casting spells to catch the eye and throw off rivals’ spells. "Men try for 10 years to get the right magic," said Chafou, the reclining beauty.
"Here, all the men are beautiful. It’s the power that makes the difference." At night at the pageant, Tuareg electric guitars twang across the desert. Young Wodabe men dream of pageant victory. By day, they give their all, dancing for days — smiling coyly, darting sideways glances to check out the response.
And when they disperse into the desert, the winners — and their panel of judges — slip out of sight. Dadi and Gorsa: They lost.
Updated 2006 – Smart Traveller (Australia)
Laws in Niger regarding safety and homosexuality
When you are in Niger, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by western standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, your home government will do what it can to help you but they can’t get you out of trouble or out of jail. The death penalty exists in Niger for serious crimes such as murder.
Homosexuality, including homosexual acts, are illegal in Niger. (conflicts with Wikipedia report below) It is illegal to photograph around military zones, military assets and/or military personnel, the Presidency Building and Kennedy Bridge in Niamey, radio and television stations and the airport . Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.
Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 17 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in sexual activity with children under 16 while outside of Australia.
We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution because of high levels of serious crime. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks. Foreigners are frequently targeted by criminals. Armed home invasions, kidnapping, carjackings and muggings occur and four-wheel-drive vehicles are a particular target for thieves. Petty crime is high in the capital city, Niamey, and muggings are common around the Gaweye Hotel, the National Museum, Kennedy Bridge and Petit Marche. Criminal activity throughout Niger increases at night.
Armed banditry also occurs in the northern and eastern regions, particularly on roads between major cities such as Agadez, Arlit and Tahoua. Several roads in the north are closed to tourists except with special authorisation. If travelling from Niger to Mali via Burkina Faso, travellers are advised to avoid the Ayorou Gao Road as banditry is a problem. It is also a problem on the road between the Burkina Faso border and the town of Torodi in the Department of Niamey.
Niger borders with Algeria, Libya, Mali, Chad, Nigeria: We strongly advise you not to travel to the border areas with Algeria, Libya, Mali, Chad and Nigeria, including the Azawagh area between the Malian and Algerian borders, because of the risk of armed banditry and the activities of armed extremist groups… More from Smart Traveller.
More from Wikipedia regarding laws relating to homosexuality
Consensual sex between individuals (above the age of consent) of the same gender appears technically to be legal (conflicts with SmartTraveller report above)
Lewd Act on Minor of the Same Sex: Article 282: Whoever has committed a lewd act or an act against nature on a minor of the same sex under twenty-one years of age will be punished by imprisonment of three months to three years and a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 francs.
Protection based on sexual orientation in law
There is no anti-discrimination law.
Recognition of same sex couples
The government of Niger does not recognize same-sex marriages.
Gay life in the country
Since Niger is a former French colony, the law is rather liberal, but not public behavior. Niger is mostly an Islamic country
June 6, 2006 – Reuters
Niger’s parliament has voted down Africa’s Maputo Protocol
Niger’s parliament has voted down Africa’s Maputo Protocol on women’s rights in a setback for the accord aiming to guarantee women equality in all spheres of life and end the practice of female circumcision. The protocol, adopted by African heads of state in 2003 at a summit in Mozambique, came into force last November after being ratified by the threshold 15 nations.
The government of Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, approved the protocol back in January, but lawmakers voted against it at the weekend by 42 votes to 31, with four abstentions, official media said on Monday.
"The rejection of the motion is a serious setback for Niger, but this is a proper application of democratic principles," government spokesperson Mohamed Ben Omar told state daily newspaper The Sahel. Niger, 95 percent Muslim, is one of the most conservative societies in Africa.
Female circumcision – often referred to as female genital mutilation – is common, as are polygamy, child marriage and other customs discouraged or banned by the Maputo Protocol. The protocol aims to guarantee women rights in marriage, politics, education, employment and a host of other areas, and requires countries which ratify it to respect those rights in their own domestic laws.
Although welcomed by campaigners for human and women’s rights across Africa and beyond, the Maputo Protocol has met opposition from some quarters. Catholic bishops in Uganda objected to its commitment to allow abortions for victims of rape and incest or where pregnancy would endanger the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or fetus.
17 May 2009 – Magharebia.com
Al-Qaeda demands 10m euro ransom for European hostages
Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb demanded a 10m-euro ransom for two European hostages held since January, Maghreb and international press reported on Saturday (May 16th). Al-Qaeda Sahara region chief Hamid Essoufi, alias Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, is reportedly behind the ransom demand.
According to El Khabar, the Swiss hostage will be released upon receipt of the ransom payment, followed a week later by the Briton. Two Canadian diplomats and four tourists were kidnapped in Mali and Niger during the past five months by the North African branch of al-Qaeda. In April, the terrorists released the diplomats and two of the tourists.