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The Sahara's dying herds

Text by Melissa BELL

Latest update : 2010-06-16

FRANCE 24’s special correspondent in Niger, Melissa Bell, recounts her experiences reporting on the food crisis that has blighted the country.

Monday June 14

On the road from Zinder to Agadez, lies Tanout. Once well within the Sahel region, it now sits on the edge of the encroaching Sahara and, to locals, marks the edge of civilisation. So when we decided to follow a group of Tuaregs north into the desert to see for ourselves the dying herds they spoke of, the local prefect decided to get involved.

We were given four soldiers, each bearing a kalashnikov, and an army pick-up truck, complete with menacing machine guns. It seemed a little over the top, but the prefect insisted it was necessary -- and that we'd have to pay for it. He also insisted we return by nightfall.

For two bumpy, sweltering and painful hours the army truck drove us through the desert to the Tuareg village of Kanak, a collection of tents, caked in sand and baked by the Saharan sun.

The Tuaregs showed us the goats, lying dead where they had fallen of hunger and of thirst. These animals, they explained, were supposed to provide their wellbeing. All the food they had, they bought in Tanout by selling their animals. It had taken them a week-long round-trip to get there. But now that the goats were dying, they weren't sure how they could survive.

The soldiers kept a close watch, never letting us out of earshot. The Tuareg rebellion was still fresh in their minds and the colonel explained that they were capable of anything, even an ambush.

To us they seemed quite harmless, gentle even. But my interpreter thought otherwise. He said they were armed to the teeth and not to be trusted. And yet as the sun began to set and we prepared to leave, the Tuaregs and the soldiers knelt down together on a rug by the truck to pray for a safe journey home. Ultimately, the dangers of an unforgiving desert are greater than all the divisions of mankind.

Date created : 2010-06-15


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