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Friday, 18 September 2020 09:31

An African Country: Niger

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Niger is a landlocked Sub-Saharan African country. Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya and Mali are neighbors of Niger, which has area of 1.27 million square kilometers. The distance to the nearest seaport is around 1000 km. 80% of the country is covered with deserts and a small part in the south can be considered steppe.

Niger has a very warm climate. Likewise, in the Sahara Desert which is located in the north, the weather is very warm and dry; the regions where the Niger River flows in the south have tropical climate. In Niger, there are two seasons in a year: The dry season is from mid-September to the end of July, with almost no rain. The rainy season is usually from late July, to mid-September. The monsoon rains in the region are quite heavy. In addition to natural disasters such as famine, flood, drought, locust infestation caused by climate, political uncertainties are the main factors determining the country's agenda.

With an annual population growth rate of 3.9% in the country with a population of more than 20 million, it has the fastest population growth rate in the world. 99% of the population is Muslim and the vast majority are of the Maliki sectarian. There are also a small number of Christians and animists living in the deserts.

Hausa, Zarma, Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arab and Tubu are the main ethnic groups and they speak their own language. None of these languages are written except Arabic and Tuareg. Different alphabets are used for Hausa, but as mentioned below, the majority of Hausa are illiterate. The languages and lifestyles of these groups are different. Nigerien people, who often do not understand each other's language, communicate with either help of an interpreter or with French as much as they can. 

According to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP 2019) data, it is $12.93 billion and GDP per Capita is $558.40. Niger is the fifth poorest country in the world after South Sudan, Burundi, Eritrea and Malawi. The Human Development Index which gives a more meaningful result, Niger ranks last among the 189 countries and regions evaluated with a value of 0.377. Another evaluation index, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MP), gives the value as 0.584 for Niger, and it is considered that 89.5% of the population lives in multidimensional poverty. In short, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world in terms of materiality.

80% of its land is covered with desert and only 13.5% of Niger's territory is suitable for agriculture. In the regions where agriculture is done, agriculture can be done to make a living and a limited part of the crops can be traded. In addition to major cereals such as millet and sorghum, products such as onions and potatoes are also grown.

Livestock is a little more developed. Livestock trade has been done along the borders with countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso for a long time. Sheep, goats and cattle are the most bred animals. 

About 4 out of 10 children face chronic starvation. Only half of the population has access to drinking water. Water quality is very poor in both cities and rural areas. Water is used as it is drawn from wells and open sources by hand or motorized equipment, that is, without undergoing any cleaning or filtering operations, which causes various health problems in children and pregnant women. These waters are sedimentary, heavy and peculiar odor and may contain arsenic and other heavy metals. It is not suitable to drink and use normally, but even a drop of this water, which is found in such difficult conditions, is not wasted. 

The distances between the villages and the water sources and wells are very far. On average, a woman from Niger walks 8-10 km a day to reach the well, and after filling a 15-20 liter used oil drum with water, she carries it on her head and returns the same way.

Because water is very deep in this region, drilling wells is both very laborious and expensive. In addition, the wells drilled become exhausted after a while or become unable to use because the water pump malfunctions.

Even the capital Niamey has similar problem, although the Niger river runs through it. In some neighborhoods, water pipes have been built to the houses and the water is supplied from the Niger river. All wastewater of this city, which does not have a sewer system, flows freely from the streets and into the river. Thus, it causes both bad odor and an unhealthy environment.

Since there is no dam in the country, there is no electricity production and almost all of the electricity is supplied from neighboring countries. For this reason, there are frequent and long-term power cuts in hot weather. Even hospitals are affected by it.

Domestic waste is another urbanization problem. Because municipalities in cities do not collect garbage, most of the garbage is left where it is, while the effect of sun and heat rots and deteriorates the garbage and sometimes it is thrown around by sandstorms. It is possible to see tons of plastic and nylon waste in open areas and on some streets, and goats and cows trying to feed on these garbage mountains.

Rapid population growth has enabled the country to have a young population. Half of the total population is under the age of 15 and 25% is between the ages of 16-25. Children under the age of 5 forms 19% of the population. Although such a young population structure means a very strong workforce and stable expansion in terms of social security by the rich countries, it is also considered that the problems related to nutrition, health, education and job opportunities will continue to increase as the population increases.

Another striking fact about population growth is that the fertility rate in women is 7.6 on average. Unlike the rest of the world, women are almost competing to have more children in Niger. According to research by Western newspapers, women are willing to have children between the numbers of 9 and 11. Men are also happy to have many children. Getting married at a young age and giving birth quickly makes it easier.

In Niger, where marriage for up to four women is acceptable, divorce is quite easy, and not being able to give birth or even giving birth quickly enough in the first few years of marriage can be a reason for divorce or marrying another new one. For this reason, women try to give birth to 5 children as soon as possible in the early years of marriage. Thus, it becomes difficult for the husband to intend to divorce and marry someone new due to the community pressure. Because the community, that is, the social environment, does not allow a fertile woman who gave 5 children to be thrown in the street easily by the husband.

The man of the house can marry more than once if he wants to, and he usually does not need the permission of his wife for this. The man suddenly brings the woman he has married into the house or rents another house and puts her there. A woman who is faced with such a fait accompli has little to object to, because she knows that otherwise (especially if she has not given birth enough yet) the man can easily divorce her. 

From a social point of view, women from Niger, who have just started to urbanize, spend most of their daily time taking care of their children. There is not much housework such as cleaning and dishes. The houses consist of only one or two rooms and a courtyard. The entire family lives in this small area, they also share this area with animals, if any.

Water is usually taken from a nearby well and some of the time is spent on the well while waiting for the line to take water. Since the culinary and food culture is underdeveloped, milk powder or milk/water mixture is drunk around 11:00 a.m. by making a Millet slurry. Until the evening, not much is eaten except fruit. In the evening, the food brought by the man of the house is prepared and consumed. It is quite interesting that the man eats his meal on his own. After he is full, he gets up and the wife sits at the table with the children and eats the leftovers. The man invites his family or the children he chose to the table only on holidays or important days. 

Social assistance between women is very good despite the lack of communication opportunities. In cases such as birth, death and illness in the neighborhood, women gather to help each other. Although they are very poor, they take care of widows, orphans and the homeless.

The meal consists of millet (a type of African grain) and some sauced meat, if can be found in the villages. In the cities, rice took the place of the millet. The meal is eaten from a single bowl and with hands. The handled rice is dipped into the sauced meat and squeezed like meatballs and put into the mouth. The majority of these dishes are very bitter. Due to the climate, hot peppers are added to all kinds of sauces by chopping them. Meat sauce is sometimes made from sheep (the most popular), sometimes goat, cow, chicken or fish. In wealthier families, the main meal is mostly meat. This meat is also consumed with hot sauces and rice.

If we go back to the children again, the children of Niger, who make up a very large part of the country's population, actually have to grow up very freely. Children over age 3 spend all their time on the street, except for sleeping and eating. If they have 7-8 year old girls, they are responsible to take care of their siblings. Mothers do the housework, which is already very few, and prepare food. Apart from that, they spend their time bringing water and doing laundry. In the remaining time, they spend time with their neighbors. There are no meal times; the meal is eaten as soon as it is ready, and first comers get the biggest share. It may sound strange, but mothers do not mind even if their children ate food or not.

Niger is the country with the highest number of child workers in proportion to the population in the world. It is a fact that 30% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are employed in very difficult conditions and on extremely low wages. Employment capacity is already low in the country, and job opportunities are very limited. For this reason, it is easier for employers to employ child workers just working for peanuts. 

Primary education is compulsory nationwide, and the state is working to raise literacy rates. As a matter of fact, the number of literate people is increasing in official indexes. However, the quality of education is very poor, except for some private schools in the capital. In primary schools, more than one class has to take lessons from the same teacher in the same classroom. An average class is 80-100 people. The number of teachers is inadequate and existing teachers have low knowledge levels. Most of the primary school graduates cannot read or write. Especially the number of people who know arithmetic operations is quite low. In fact, the main reason for this is that the language of formal education is French. French is the official language, but most of the people do not know this language well enough and do not want to learn it. Except for officials, people can talk enough to get things done because of necessity, but the number of those who write is very small. In villages and remote towns, there are hardly any French speakers and writers. 

High school graduates can work as primary school teachers if they get pedagogical formation; However, although there are many unemployed young people who have graduated from high school, they do not want to be a teacher because of the fear of being assigned to distant places of Niger. Being a teacher in Niger is seen as a profession with a low social status. The fact that the state consistently pays teacher salaries late and makes cuts can be considered as technical reasons why this noble profession is not in demand. According to statistics in Niger, the French literacy rate is 29%. In fact, it is lower than the given numbers. Although the literacy rate for women is given as 17%, this is also not realistic. 

In addition to formal education, the traditional neighborhood school is located in almost every neighborhood. These are schools where one or more teachers teach freely (écoles coranique or Makaranta in the local Hausa language).

The house of the teacher or a neighbor, the neighborhood mosque, under a tree, the street or wherever appropriate is the school. Macaroni is not compulsory, but the number of students can be very high. Every child from the age of four is admitted. There are similar schools even for housewives. Anyway, after finishing the housework, women go to the neighborhood school they chose with their neighbors almost every day and take lessons. 

The language of instruction of the neighborhood school is the local language, almost none of the teachers and students here speak French. Most of the local languages are not written. For the last 30-40 years, they have tried to make the Hausa language written, but no integrity has been achieved. The use of the Arabic alphabet in some regions, the Latin alphabet in some places, and sometimes a local alphabet breaks the integrity of the Hausa language.

In the neighborhood schools, the curriculum is free and determined by the Teacher (Teachers are known as imams or marabu), and its main purpose is to teach the Qur'an and give religious information. It is possible to see students who are enrolled in formal education but do not go or pause in these neighborhood schools. 99% of Nigerien people are Muslims and they try to live Islamic life. The main reason why they do not want their children to learn French is that they think that if they learn French, there is a possibility of drifting apart from Islam. For this reason, families want their children to get Islamic education and to learn Arabic if possible. 

These schools are not madrasas; inasmuch as the lecturers were trained from similar schools. Some teachers have started to teach by declaring themselves as teachers, perhaps even without passing an exam. It is easy to open and operate such neighborhood schools because there is no permit and control mechanism. Still, students prefer schools of well-known teachers. In particular, teachers who speak Arabic are preferred.

It is taught by memorizing the Qur'an in neighborhood schools. In other words, it is not tried to teach reading with Elifba or similar methods. Students listen to their teachers and repeat them continuously and in chorus. After class, they consolidate their repetitions at home. Sometimes one of the teacher's older and senior students helps him and tries to maintain school discipline in the old ways. Because it is not possible for dozens of children aged 4-15 to keep quiet on the street, under the sun, in a very hot weather. Since there is no paper, pencil and blackboard, verses are written on trees, wooden boards and similar surfaces with charcoal or, if there is, chalk or paint, in some neighborhood schools. Students who want to memorize read these plates. 

These schools teach separately for boys, for girls and for women. Although the teachers of the girls are sometimes men but the teachers of the women are usually women. At some special times, well-known fiqh teachers answer questions by giving private lessons to women. 

Teachers receive a small fee from each student weekly or monthly. This amount often around half a euro to two euros per child per month. However, there are many children who cannot afford it. Because it is not easy for a family with 7 children with age of 4 to pay that much money every month. Teachers try to get more income by increasing the number of students as much as they can; it is normal because they make their living in this way.

In various documentaries, children begging with bowls on the streets of Africa have been seen many times. Begging is common in every corner of the world, but the reasons these children with bowls beg are to help their school survive. The characteristic of the children with bowls is that they are poor students who come from the countryside or the outskirts of the city to study and live in the school, that is, they stay on boarding and work and study at the same time. The collected money or treats are given to the teacher at the neighborhood school; The teacher also spends these treats and money for his own needs and for the needs of the school. 

It has been mentioned above that being a teacher is not very popular. However, people respect Teachers, imams and religious scholars and believe their words. The obedience culture is common especially in rural areas where 80% of the population lives. Teachers and imams are not officials; they do not receive a salary from the state, but they are respected more than officials. The reasons for this are long and need to be detailed in another article. 

Since education in Niger is an issue that needs to be dealt with on its own, we are content with this for now and we hope to give the details in another article. However, we would like to remind you that the concept of neighborhood school is not an institution that has remained in the past or is about to be forgotten, and that it continues to exist even though it has undergone changes over time. 

E.Ergür

September 2020

Read 554 times Last modified on Tuesday, 22 June 2021 09:12
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