• Indigenous peoples in Niger

    Indigenous peoples in Niger

    Niger’s indigenous peoples are the Tuareg, Fulani and Toubou, all of them transhumant pastoralists. Niger’s total population was estimated at 14,693,110 in 2009; 8.5% of the population, or 1,248,914, were Fulani, 8.3% or 1,219,528 were Tuareg, and 1.5% of the population, or 220,397, were Toubou.

Indigenous World 2019: Niger

Niger’s indigenous peoples are the Tuareg, Fulani and Toubou, all of them transhumant pastoralists. Niger’s total population was estimated at 14,693,110 in 2009; 8.5% of the population, or 1,248,914, were Fulani, 8.3% or 1,219,528 were Tuareg, and 1.5% of the population, or 220,397, were Toubou. 

The Fulani can be further subdivided into the Tolèbé, the Gorgabé, the Djelgobé and the Bororo. They are mostly cattle and sheep herders although some of them have converted to agriculture since losing their livestock during the droughts. The Tuareg raise camels and goats and live in the north (Agadez and Tahoua) and west (Tillabéry) of the country. The Toubou are camel herders who live in the east of the country around Tesker (Zinder), N’guigmi (Diffa) and along the border with Libya (Bilma).

The June 2010 Constitution does not explicitly note the existence of indigenous peoples in Niger. Pastoralists’ rights are set out in the Pastoral Code, adopted in 2010. Most importantly, this Code includes an explicit recognition of mobility as a fundamental right, along with a ban on the privatisation of pastureland, which poses a threat to this mobility. A further important element in the Pastoral Code is the recognition of priority use rights in their pastoral homelands (terroirs d’attache). Niger has not signed ILO Convention 169 but did vote in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Terrorism in the Sahel results in atrocities against the Fulani

Never in living memory (that of the Nigeriens and of the country’s different communities Haoussa, Djerma, Fulani, Tuareg, Arab, Toubou, Gourmantché and Kanouri) has a community been  forced to live in such a serious and sensitive situation as the Fulani community of Niger. This is being caused by an influx of terrorism and terrorist groups into the Sahel (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara/ ISGS in the north of Tillabéry region and Boko Haram in Diffa, specifically), with all the ensuing discrimination, stigma and flagrant human rights violations.

This has been the case since the first incursions of different terrorist groups into Niger and, in particular, the regions of Diffa (Boko Haram) and Tillabéry (ISGS). These incursions have resulted in a high number of victims, both among the Defence and Security Forces and the civilian population, and are likely to continue to do so.

In the war on terror, and particularly in the north of Tillabéry region on the border with Mali, it should be noted that several armed groups and movements legitimised by the Malian State, such as GATIA (Tuareg, Imghad and Allies Self-Defence Group), created on 14 August 2014 by General El hadj Ag Gamou, and the MSA (Movement for the Salvation of Azawad), created on 2 September 2016 by Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, are conducting joint operations with the Nigerien army. Unfortunately, in the name of the war on terror, these groups are settling their own accounts and historic feuds, resulting in serious attacks against the Fulani community who are the historic rivals of the Daoussak Tuareg to the north of Tillabéry, and of the Dogon in the centre of Mali.1

On 18 May 2018, a massacre of Fulani took place in Niger two kilometres from the border with Mali, resulting in 18 dead and one wounded. Witnesses state that the assailants appeared to be Tuareg who retreated rapidly into Mali and could thus not be arrested. The Nigerien Minister of the Interior, Mohamed Bazoum, visited the area on 19 May with the Tillabéry Governor and Prefect of Ayorou. The authorities were in no doubt that this was a reprisal attack. The attackers appeared to have knowingly targeted and murdered 17 Fulani in revenge for the deaths of a similar number of Tuareg in recent weeks in an attack in Mali.2

On 29 April, Aboubacar Diallo, President of the Tillabéry Pastoralist Council (Fulani of the North) stated that he was:

[…] Deeply concerned at the stigmatisation of the Fulani community. We the Fulani community of Niger note with bitterness and distress that the Niger State has been involved for some time in the use of foreign armed groups for the so-called war on terror but, to our great surprise, these mercenaries are indulging in a genocidal extermination of the Fulani community in Niger. As we informed the government and national and international opinion during our first statement in November 2016, and again following the gruesome and deadly events of 11 July 2017 committed by the GATIA of El Hadj Ag Gamou and the MSA of Moussa Ag Acharatuman, the authorities are beginning to realise the serious depths to which the government has been deceived and betrayed in the conduct of its mission, (…) it should also be recalled that this is not the first time that these armed bandits and their chiefs have targeted members of the Fulani community. This was also the case in 2013 and in 2017. These groups have embarked on their operations in a spirit of vengeance (…) The alliance between GATIA, MSA and other actors in the conflict in northern Mali is becoming an unjust and inhumane machine for exterminating the Fulani communities of north Tillabéry.3

Investigation mission of the Association for the Revival of Pastoralism in Niger (AREN) and the Niger National Human Rights Commission (NNHRC)

In July and November 2018, as part of the Oxfam-funded Conflict and Fragility Project in the Diffa and Tillabéry Regions, investigation missions carried out by AREN and the NNHRC concluded that GATIA and MSA had indeed been involved in actions against the Fulani community.4

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concerned at explosive situation on the Niger/Mali border

On 4 May 2018, an ICRC press release raised concerns over the extent of violence in the border area between Niger and Mali, which is one of the most difficult places to reach in terms of humanitarian access. Given the recent violence, the ICRC was calling on all stakeholders present in the area to avoid throwing oil on the fire. The organisation is holding noone responsible in particular, but describes this violence as, above all, a community conflict, explains Loukas Petridis, ICRC Head of Mission in Niger:

It is very difficult to gain an objective overview as we are not on the ground, we can’t visit where the massacres are taking place. But I think that is not the most useful way of viewing things in this context. This relates to communities that have had problems in the past and who continue to have problems. The presence of armed groups, with their own agenda, has only made matters far worse. I think this upsurge in violence is also a consequence of this.5

Different projects for Fulani pastoralists

With the support of CARE, AREN has been implementing three different capacity-building projects for pastoralists:

Training of pastoral populations

In the context of the regional pastoral education and training programme (PREPP-AREN NIGER), an identification mission took place from 8 to 12 August 2018 to camps located on the pastoralists’ transhumant routes running from Benin to Chad.

Training on conflict management

In the context of implementing the Protection and Fair Management of Agropastoral Resources in the Tillabéry Region (PGERAT) project, and in partnership with the Open Society Initiative For West Africa (OSIWA), AREN has embarked on a series of training workshops on land conflict management aimed at helping bring about a peaceful co-existence between pastoralists and farmers by establishing effective mechanisms for sharing the available natural resources in their day-to-day activities. This project is focused on three communes in the Tillabéry region: Tagazar, Hamdalaye and Dantchandou, and will run for 18 months.

HAMZARI project on partner roles and capacities

The start-up workshop for the CARE Niger HAMZARI Project on Partner Roles and Capacities took place in Niamey from 4 9 November 2018. AREN is involved in its implementation, in supporting the development of community-level pastoral resources, value chains for livestock and poultry in the community-level pastoral zone, establishing links to market, accessing veterinary inputs and services, providing training to beneficiaries and contributing, where appropriate, to developing livestock companies.


2018 was a year of serious attacks on the Fulani community with the local authorities failing to take measures to confront this sad reality, resulting in the terrible suffering of the Fulani people. The position of some of Niger’s Fulani leaders is that this situation has gone on for far too long and that they can no longer stand by and accept the lack of action from a State unable to guarantee their community’s safety. The consequences can already be seen in the fact that the Fulani community are now mobilising in self-defence, a situation that will clearly have consequences for the unity and stability of Niger.

Notes and references

  1. RFI Afrique 20 May 2018
  2. Declaration of the Fulani community of Niger dated 29 April 2018
  3. Ibid
  4. Reports of the joint missions of the Association for the Revival of Pastoralism in Niger (AREN) and the Niger National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) in July and November 2018 in Tillabéry
  5. RFI (/author/rfi) published on 04 May 2018

Saidou Garba Bachir is a journalist and photographer specialising in development, gender, youth and food security. He is communications and mobilisation coordinator for the Association for the Revival of Pastoralism in Niger (Association pour la Redynamisation de l’Elevage au Niger / AREN).

Patrick Kulesza is Executive Director of GITPA, the Groupe international de travail pour les peuples autochtones www.gitpa.org



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