How Community Cohesion Initiatives in Conflict-Hit Parts of Niger are Strengthening Ties and Shaping Dreams
In the Diffa region, women celebrate the reopening of the Mainé-Soroa elementary school, newly equipped with six classrooms. Photo: IOM Niger
Dakoro, Niger – To Mariama, a municipal councilor in the commune of Dakoro in the southern Maradi region of Niger, the presence of women at all levels is key to the proper functioning of any community.
Mariama doubles as a youth leader in her commune, purposing to creating safe spaces for youth to connect and amplify their voices, particularly women. She is part of 75 youth leaders in Dakoro, and among the 15 women, trained to raise awareness on the dangers of drug abuse and ways to build peace within her community.
Limited or inequitable access to basic services, public spaces, and livelihood opportunities can lead to frustration and rising tension within vulnerable communities. The Niger Community Cohesion Initiative (NCCI) promotes social cohesion by improving access to good quality social and infrastructure services.
The programme’s beneficiaries' forum held at the tail end of 2022 brought together over 140 stakeholders. For two days, local authorities, community leaders, and community members from the Diffa, Maradi, Tahoua, and Tillabéri regions, as well as national partners and NCCI donors, exchanged ideas on both endogenous and innovative solutions to build peace within their communities.
The importance of increasing income-generating activities for vulnerable youth and women, building water infrastructure to reduce conflicts in agropastoral areas, and organizing more conflict prevention training for youth and women could not be stressed enough in strengthening their impact in promoting peace in Niger.
In Mainé-Soroa, the arrival of internally displaced persons fleeing attacks perpetrated by non-state armed groups has affected the education sector. The primary school's reception capacity was limited, and the facility was obsolete, offering an environment to children from local communities that was not conducive to learning. In 2022, the NCCI programme renovated and equipped the primary school to improve conditions for learning and reduce the dropout rate.
Ramatou, the principal of a primary school in Mainé-Soroa, a commune from the Diffa region at the heart of the Lake Chad Basin region and at the border with Nigeria, travelled 1,200 kilometers to share her story during the forum. She recalls what it was like before when classes were held under tents which amplified the high-temperature conditions without water and protective fencing a year before, a contrast to what it is today. Now the school boasts of six classrooms built with permanent materials, a shop, a kitchen, a borehole, four streetlights, an electricity meter, and four fire extinguishers.
The school can now decently host 913 students, 475 of which are girls, many of them displaced and the refugee communities. The impact of the rehabilitation of school premises is evident on students' grades and performance, and girls' retention rate with the number of dropouts decreased.
In Tillia, a commune in the Tahoua region bordering Mali, a 607-metre-deep borehole built by the programme and covering a three-kilometer-long water network solves the population's water problems and prevents conflicts around water points, especially between herders and local communities.
Infrastructures such as access to water can improve communities' living conditions and foster peaceful coexistence and social cohesion. Prior to the rehabilitation of the water supply system, conflicts often arose at water points. A limited supply of water would see the host community sometimes deny access to the nomadic communities.
In the past, the Tillia community had to queue early in the morning to fetch the precious commodity that would be depleted later in the course of the day. Children and young girls often took on this task while their fathers looked after the livestock and their mothers looked after the house.
Now, access is at any given time of the day without having to wait in long queues, and children can go to school instead of spending their whole days at water points.
Promoting the resilience of vulnerable communities, especially women and youth, is also one of NCCI's primary objectives. The programme creates much-needed employment opportunities and improves livelihoods for vulnerable communities, which contributes to restoring the local economy in conflict-affected areas.
In the Tillabéri region, income-generating activities and awareness-raising sessions on peaceful coexistence organized by the NCCI have strengthened fraternal ties while offering youth the opportunity to develop sustainable economic activity. Among the beneficiaries are 10 vulnerable young women, including six displaced persons, who were trained in cosmetics manufacturing and financial management.
“These opportunities not only enable them to earn a living and provide for their families but also keeps them away from illicit activities many vulnerable youths are exposed to,” says Maïmouna, the departmental president of the coordination of non-governmental organizations and women's associations of Niger in Tera, in the Tillabéri region.
Successful integration is a multi-dimensional issue that covers migrants’ inclusion in economic, psychological, social, linguistic, navigational, and civic spheres, as well as empowering host communities and other local actors to receive and engage with migrants.
With the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, the European Commission Service for Foreign Policy Instruments, the Bureau of African Affairs of the United States Department of State, and the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, IOM seeks to increase communities' cohesion and resilience to conflict, insecurity, and threats by violent extremist organizations and strengthen their trust in local government authorities and state structures.