5th Francophonie Sports and Arts Festival:
Niger Hosts a Global Community
Abstract: This paper
explores transnational and local cultural, political, and economic dimensions
of the 5th Jeux de la Francophonie ("Francophonie
Games" or "Francophonie Sports and Arts Festival") held in Niamey, Niger in
December 2005. The Jeux were designed to promote
peace, solidarity, and cultural exchange through sports and the arts. This
paper focuses on the kinds of discourses that were represented and celebrated
in the social and political arena of the Jeux. It
aims to contribute to the discussion of (1) the politics of Francophonie
concept, (2) the negotiation of local and global politics in the context of
major sports and arts events, and (3) the representation of local, national,
and global politics in public ceremonies.
THE FRANCOPHONIE COMMUNITY SEEKS SOLIDARITY THROUGH THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGES OF SPORTS AND ARTS
paper explores transnational and local cultural, political, and economic
dimensions of the 5th Jeux de la Francophonie
("Francophonie Games" or "Francophonie Sports and Arts Festival") held in
Niamey, Niger in December 2005.
Approximately 2,500 athletes and artists, and hundreds of their coaches
representing 44 member nations of the Organisation Internationale de la
Francophonie (OIF) competed in seven sports (track and field, basketball,
boxing, soccer, judo, African wrestling, and table tennis) and seven arts
(singing, oral storytelling, literature, dancing, painting, photography, and
sculpture). While all participants in the Jeux reside in member nations of the
OIF, choices of athletes and artists were based on the excellence of their
performance and not on French literacy. Roughly 2,000 foreign nationals also
attended as supporters.
Jeux produced collective exhilaration. This
extravagant spectacle of global Francophonie, Nigerien nationalism, and ethnic
diversity enabled participants to celebrate and examine their fluid
transnational, national, and local identities. In this time of culture wars,
misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians, growing divisions within
France (exposed dramatically in the massive protests staged largely by African
immigrants in fall 2005), hot wars, and the so-called "global war on terror," the
Jeux offers a fantastic idea: we can work toward
peace, unity, and global understanding through sports and the arts-"the two universal
languages" (CIJF 2006). Several important sub-themes were also expressed
throughout the Jeux, namely: a vision of universal humanity with generous
hospitality offered equally to all people, the creative blending of tradition
and modernity, and gender equity. These ideals were expressed through sports,
but even more directly through the arts and grand spectacles. Indeed, the inclusion of arts and sports in
equal measure distinguishes the Jeux from analogous events such as the Olympics
and the British Commonwealth Games.
core agenda of building Francophonie solidarity through sports and the arts
created a distinctive ethos for the Jeux.
Planners, participants, and audiences sought creative synergy between
competition and cultural exchange. While world-class athletes vied for hundreds
of gold, silver, and bronze medals and were monitored by anti-doping officials,
winning was not everything. For example, as the two leading women in the
marathon-Céline Comerais and Elena Fetizon, both of France-ran down the home
stretch, they locked arms to cross the finish line simultaneously. Furthermore,
although some artists were "in it to win it," the arts lend themselves better
to cultural dialogue than to competition and ranking. Many artists avidly
discussed their work with each other. Audiences appreciated non-medal winners'
talents as much as-and in many cases more than-medal winners' skills.
focuses on the kinds of discourses that were represented and celebrated in the
social and political arena of the Jeux.
It aims to contribute to the discussion of (1) the politics of
Francophonie concept, (2) the negotiation of local and global politics in the
context of major sports and arts events, and (3) the representation of local,
national, and global politics in public ceremonies. Some consider Francophonie as an exemplary
form of solidarity; others see it as a symbol of conscious or unconscious
neocolonialism. This paper analyzes how President Mamadou Tandja and political
leaders in Niger used the Jeux to define Niger as a pillar of global
Francophonie and also to represent and reinvent a Nigerien national identity of
pride that would contrast with images of Niger as a country of underdevelopment
and famine. The ways by which the Nigerien state incorporated and transformed
different local traditions in the opening and closing ceremonies as well as in
the introduction of West African wrestling-Niger's national sport-offer the
most revealing examples of how the central themes of the Jeux were negotiated
through global, national, and local articulations. The paper also highlights
the diverse ways that Nigerien citizens defined, presented, and perceived
themselves vis-à-vis the strategic aims of international Francophonie and the
paper draws primarily from 137 structured interviews-98 in Hausa and 39 in
French-including 127 with Nigeriens and ten with foreigners of six nations,
conducted during two visits to Niamey: one of six weeks from May to July 2005
investigating preparations, and one of four weeks in December 2005 and January
2006 attending the 12-day Jeux and considering its immediate aftermath. Although I did not use random sampling
techniques, several periods of fieldwork in Niamey since 1988 informed my
decisions and allowed me to select a reasonably representative sample. The
paper also relies on long discussions with the leading organizers, informal
conversations with dozens of international visitors, and participant
observation in six street corner conversation groups-the most important
institution of public culture in Niamey (Youngstedt 2004). In addition, I
monitored state and private media coverage before, during, and after the Jeux.
AFRICAN IMPETUS FOR GLOBAL FRANCOPHONIE
an unusual twist reflecting the unpredictability of flows of culture in
modernity, Presidents Hamani Diori of Niger, Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia, and
Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, acting together in 1960, were the first to
propose the establishment of a formal institution to consolidate and promote
international Francophonie cultural and linguistic identity, solidarity,
dialogue, and cooperation among newly independent nations wishing to pursue continuing
relations with France. The Francophonie movement was
formally institutionalized by 21 signatory nations who established the Agence
de Cooperation Culturelle et Technique (ACCT) at a meeting held in March 1970
in Niamey led by Diori, Bourguiba, Senghor, and Prince Norodom Sihanouk of
Kampuchea. In 1998, the organization
adopted the name Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), and the
motto "Egalité, Complementarité, Solidarité." Today the 56 member nations of
the OIF pursue four key objectives: "(1) the promotion of the French language
and cultural and linguistic diversity [including 'the elimination of illiteracy
in national languages']; (2) the promotion of peace, democracy, and human
rights; (3) the support of education, training, higher education, and research;
and (4) the development of co-operation to the service of durable development
and solidarity" (OIF 2006).
Comité International des Jeux de la Francophonie
(CIJF) is charged to address each of these missions through organizing the Jeux
every four years in collaboration with the host nation. The CIJF is explicitly
devoted to building a "multilateral and interdependent Francophonie"
emphasizing "North-South co-operation" (CIJF 2006). It has committed to holding at least every
other Jeux in the "South" in order to show that poor countries can organize "an
event of scale whereas the near total of the international competitions proceed
in the affluent countries" and to allow "participants to discover ways of life distant
from their own culture" (CIJF 2006). Through five specific objectives, the CIJF
hopes to leave a legacy of sustainable development through sports and arts for
the organizing country-especially its youth-by working: "(1) to better
structure national federations with the support of international federations.
(2) to carry out synergies in cultural networks, (3) to [deliver] equipment for
the elite, but also for the greatest number, (4) to allow the country to
acquire a know-how usable for other national and international objectives, and
(5) to [ensure] that the population is identified with the event" (CIJF 2006).
POLITICS OF FRANCOPHONIE
Francophonie offers the image of a geopolitical
community that extends over five continents. The Francophonie
concept has inspired diverse interpretations and lively debates around the
world, particularly since the 1990s. The Jeux offered the Nigerien state and citizens an arena
consider its relationship with and the value of Francophonie.
Francophonie concept is polysemic and can be divisive
despite its imagined community ideals. Scholars typically emphasize that it can
be defined in three ways: "by the use of the French language; by membership of
a formal, organized community of nations; or by the acceptance and promotion of
a set of values and beliefs" (Ager 1996:xi). The third definition is the most
complex and nebulous since is it involves "not exclusively a geographic nor
even linguistic, but cultural approach-an attitude, a belief in a spirit, an
ideology and a way of doing things, inspired by French history, language and
culture but not necessarily using French, aware of and responsive to the nature
of the modern world" (Ager 1996:1). Emily Apter argues
that Francophonie also means a "planetary cartography,
a postcolonial ontology, a linguistic platform not a place.a multiplicity of
linguistic life-forms.a condition of untranslatability.[and] a new comparative
literature," among other things (2005:297).
Ager reviews the central problems facing
Francophonie, including "the identity and culture associated with the French,
threats from English and other languages, the opinion of many that France's
[meddling in the affairs of former colonies and] continuing overseas
possessions are little more than the world's last colonies, [and] the disparity
between North and South in economic terms" (1996:IX).
the time Niger had secured the right to host the Jeux in 2000, the Nigerien
state had promoted the Francophonie concept for 40 years. Nevertheless, most Nigeriens held only vague notions of the idea if any at
all. A massive public advertising campaign over five years inspired much
discourse among Nigeriens. Many people
wondered what Francophonie community or identity could possibly mean for Niger
since only 20% of Nigeriens speak French. One woman outlined the contours of
the reservations about Francophonie shared by many Nigeriens:
Francophonie could not represent an identity for us
Africans from the moment when the French language was forced upon us while not spoken
by the majority of our population. In
fact, for me, it is nothing but a continuation of colonialism, this time
linguistically. The Jeux is not bad, it is even interesting, but may we insist
less on the language as a sort of union and more on the cultural diversity and
exchange that constitute an advantage for the country's youth.
views among Nigeriens sometimes correlate and sometimes do not correlate with
linguistic aptitude. As indicated through interviews, French-speaking Nigeriens generally approved of and appreciated
the Jeux more than non-French speaking Nigeriens. However, Francophone
Nigeriens were among the most vocal opponents of the Jeux, including a local
French language teacher who declared, "The Francophone world is, in my view, an
implicit neocolonialist pursuit. The
role of the Jeux is to first and foremost spread France's values and ideology."
Nigeriens focused their critique on global inequality, or as one woman put it,
"My final opinion is that Francophonie is only foolish doubletalk because the
children and their mothers who live in African countries do not have work; it
is necessary for Francophonie to study and fight poverty in Francophone African
countries, not just organize foolish Jeux."
Nigerien discourse interrogating the value of Francophonie reflects concerns
articulated around the world, 75% of people in my interview sample-including
70% of non-Francophones-thought that Francophonie was a valid form of global
community identity for Nigeriens, at least for the duration of the Jeux. That
is, for many Francophonie and the Jeux were conflated. Comments such as
"Francophonie increases friendship and solidarity between French-speaking
countries, and also promotes the French language. Francophonie
creates unity, you see we would not understand other countries without
Francophonie, now we know about other countries as well as their people," and
the use of the idiom of kinship to capture this feeling, "The Jeux brought
people together in solidarity as if they all had one mother and one father,"
were representative of this perspective. Finally, a trader, sounding like a
government minister declared, "Niger should be thought of as pillar of the
Francophonie organization for organizing these beautiful Jeux."
FROM GLOBAL SHADOWS TO SERVE AS THE HOST NATION
conventional globalization theories, anthropologist James Ferguson (1996:14)
challenges the idea that globalization promotes economic, political, and
cultural convergence between Africa and the rest of the world, arguing that
"the networks of political and economic connection do indeed 'span the globe,'
as is often claimed, but they do not cover it. Instead they hop over (rather
than flowing through) the territories inhabited by the vast majority of the
African population." Globalization
processes, Ferguson (1996:41) emphasizes, efficiently create "forms of
exclusion, marginalization, and disconnection." Niger is a prime example.
has long been a desperately poor place, and conditions are deteriorating. By 2005, Niger was deemed the least developed
nation on earth by the United Nations Human Development Index (UNDP 2005). Niger
has largely avoided serious ethnic conflict and civil war even though it has
faced the range of historical conditions that have all too frequently
contributed to violent upheaval in Africa. As expressed in lyrics of a
prize-winning song at the 1983 national festival, "Niger may not be land of
material wealth [arziki], but our
wealth is peace [zaman lafiya]" (Miles
challenged Nigerien pride in their culture of peace as it attracted more
international media attention than any issue in Niger's history (Youngstedt
2003). As part of the justification for their invasion of Iraq, the U.S. and British
governments, using crudely forged documents, falsely accused the government of
Niger of illegally selling uranium to Iraq in order to exaggerate the threat
posed by Saddam Hussein. Although these lies were quickly exposed, many
Nigeriens fear that observers around the world will continue to link Niger with
to a complex and toxic mix of factors-drought and locust invasions, poverty,
global neoliberal policies, state mismanagement, grain hoarding by local
merchants, and the indifference of the international community-Niger suffered a
horrible famine in 2005 (Youngstedt and Grolle 2005). Remittances sent by Nigeriens in diaspora,
late arriving international aid, and the completion of a relatively good
harvest in September temporarily alleviated the problem before the Jeux began
while failing to address key structural issues and sustainable
Niger's difficult history of hosting international events needs
mentioning. The only other large-scale,
international gathering hosted by Niger is the Festival International de la
Mode Africaine (FIMA) or the "International Festival of African Fashion."
Many protesters, representing various
Islamist groups, picketed the first edition of FIMA, held in Agadez in 1998. During
the second edition held in Niamey in 2000, protests turned violent and deadly
and spread to other cities, particularly Maradi, leading to the decision to
move FIMA out of Niger. Islamist speech was often and directly addressed at
efforts from "the West" to undermine Nigerien cultural norms, as defined by
reference to "Islam." "Islamic
nationalist" discourse cited FIMA's pairing with bars, cinema houses, satellite
dishes, and United Nations programs as evidence that the West has a detrimental
agenda for Islamic Niger.
a failed attempt to hold the third edition in Gabon in 2002, FIMA returned to
Niger in 2003 and 2005. There were no reports of organized protests or violence
during the 2003 Festival. The 2005 FIMA was held in Karey Gorou, just 16 kilometers
from Niamey, from November 29 to December 2-just days before the Jeux opened on
December 7. Months before, the Comité National des Jeux de la Francophonie
(CNJF) attempted to persuade organizers to postpone the FIMA, fearing that it
might again be targeted by protests and that these would spill over into the
Jeux. Indeed, about 10% of Nigeriens interviewed-including Islamists and
mainstream Muslims-objected to the Jeux on religious grounds. They viewed the Jeux as a trivial or
dangerous distraction from serious religious responsibilities, fearing that it
would attract loose foreigners to corrupt the local population through the
indiscriminate mixing of men and women.
An Islamist preacher complained, "The problem of the Jeux is that they
[foreigners] will do sinful things like drinking alcohol, and they will do lots
of it in our country." However, the FIMA
and the Jeux were held on schedule and without public demonstrations.
like many Africans, are increasingly seeking to emerge from "global shadows" to
make claims of "worldly connection and membership"-to be identified as
"citizens of the world" (Ferguson 2006:22,23).
The Jeux offered an exciting and irresistible opportunity to make such
claims, and forge global economic, political, and cultural connections. Before the Jeux began, one man succinctly
summarized hopes shared by most Nigeriens, "Francophonie will increase the
global prestige of Niger; it will strengthen our prestige because guests will
have a great time. Nigeriens will take
good care of the guests, because if the guests feel happy they will return
again to Niger. When they go home they will tell their friends how great Niger
is and they will not forget Niger."
NIGERIEN STATE AND THE CNJF: REMAKING IMAGES OF NIGER
In spite of or
perhaps because of its dire poverty, in October 2000 Niger was able to appeal
to Hamani Diori's influential role in the foundation of Francophonie and the
CIJF's commitment to regularly hold the Jeux in the "South" to secure the
rights to be the host nation. Still smarting from Nigergate and reeling from
the famine of 2005, Niger desperately needed some good news and an
international image makeover. The state and many private citizens anticipated
accruing substantial benefits. A
Nigerien sociologist summarized these, "The Jeux constitutes a great cultural
and athletic event for Francophonie youth, profit for Niamey, new
infrastructure, and important financial offshoots." Niger provided $6.5
million, or 53% of the total conventional budget of $12.2 million (CNJF
2003:6-7). France contributed $2.9
million (24%); Canada added $2.2 million (18%); and the CIJF pitched in
$647,000 (5%). In addition, the Village
de la Francophonie-a complex for athletes and artists with housing,
administrative offices, grocery markets, restaurants, nightclubs, pharmacies,
and a bank mosque, post office, cyber café, and gymnasium-was constructed with
$56 million of private financing, while private hotel and tour operators
invested $8.8 million. A combination of public and private investors financed
urban improvements at $8 million, and sports and arts facilities' renovations
at $3.1 million.
timing of the Jeux in the wake of famine sparked diverse discourse. The private press was highly critical. Le
Républicain, Niger's most important independent weekly opened with a
blaring headline, "The Opening of the 5th Jeux: Tandja invites the
Famine to the Francophonie!" Meanwhile,
the lead headline of Le Canard Déchainé read
"Niger, The Food Crisis, and the 5th Jeux."
contrast, others believed that the Jeux might attract development support to
Niger, or as one man put it, "The Jeux will allow people to understand the
living conditions in Niger, to understand our suffering."
international and Nigerien observers suggested that Niger had neither the
management skills nor the infrastructure to host a festival of this magnitude.
Their doubts were not entirely unfounded. Allegations of corruption and
ineptitude led to the sacking of the Directeur Général, Almoustapha Soumaila,
in February 2005. As late as July 2005, the CIJF was still contemplating moving
the Jeux to Ouagadougou or Tunis while the Village was only about one-third
Nevertheless, the CNJF led by new
Directeur Général Dr. Sériba Mahaman
Lawan, convinced representatives of the CIJF that Niger was up to the task.
in close collaboration with the CIJF and with President Tandja, the CNJF faced
a wide range of responsibilities, most importantly: (1) organizing all
logistics and (2) defining Niger for international and local audiences. First,
the CNJF was responsible for: offering receptions for foreign guests;
organizing the construction of the Village (incorporating beautiful Sahelian
architecture at international standard); building a new Martial Arts Complex
and National Wrestling Museum, and substantially renovating all sports and arts
facilities; building a major new road and re-paving key roads; providing
security, a medical department, and insurance; and creating a workable schedule
for the Jeux with enough busses to transport athletes and artists to and from
the Village and competition sites.
national honor at stake, Niger rose to the occasion. It is not at all clear
that these objectives could have achieved under the leadership of Soumaila. Virtually
from the moment Sériba assumed the post of Directeur Général in February 2005,
rotating shifts of construction workers worked 24 hours a day until just days
before the Jeux began to finish. Due to the CNJF's relentless efforts, all
events took place on time. Nigerien technicians
performed competently to ensure that very sophisticated sound and lights
systems operated precisely according to specifications of dancers and
musicians. With justification, "work, courage, determination, and discipline"
were the key words used to punctuate having hosted the Jeux as a grand event in
the history of Niger and to praise the work of Sériba at a CNJF meeting on 22
December celebrating their success (CNJF 2006).
the CNJF enjoyed the unique opportunity to define Niger for both international
and local audiences.
The CNJF appropriated symbols of a
marginalized minority-the Tuareg-for constructing the Nigerien nation-state,
just as the Australian Olympic Committee exploited Aboriginal imagery during the
2000 Summer Olympiad (Godwell 2000, Meekison 2000). The Tuareg
Cross of Agadez was superimposed upon the OIF logo-an oval consisting of five
colors representing dynamism and Francophonie unity across all continents-to
serve as the primary logo for the Jeux. Dr. Abdoulaye
Maga, an archaeologist and the Directeur of the national Institut de Recherches
en Sciences Humaines (IRSH) chose "Jobaria"-an 18-ton dinosaur that once lived
in the Nigerien Sahara as the official mascot. Maga
explained that Jobaria was the mythical ancestor of the Tuareg. Friendly-looking cartoon caricatures
depicting the prehistoric dinosaur performing in all of the sports and arts
disciplines were printed in magazines and on souvenirs such as t-shirts and
baseball caps. Interviews with Tuareg revealed mixed reactions to having their
symbols used to represent Niger: some expressed pride, a few were deeply
offended, but most barely noticed given the long history of the use of the
cross of Agadez as a national and political symbol.
media-including websites, newspaper, magazines, brochures, and television and
radio broadcasts-the CNJF defined Niger as a democracy, proud of its peaceful
history and harmony in cultural diversity, filled with picturesque Sahelian and
Saharan landscapes, and equipped with a modern tourist infrastructure allowing
visitors to explore and enjoy the wonderful hospitality of its people.
productions were filled with rich historical and ethnographic detail and
beautiful color photographs and film, highlighting cultural diversity, regional
festivals, Islam and Islamic festivals, the skill of Nigerien artisans, and
individual and team profiles of Nigerien and international athletes and
CNJF, reflecting Tandja's wishes, chose not to include a single mention of the
famine of 2005 in any of its media. Indeed, throughout 2005 Tandja and state
media consistently denied that Niger was experiencing famine in addressing
local and international audiences. Faced with stinging criticism at home and
abroad for this stance (which included an unwillingness to distribute free food
in order to protect local markets), Tandja was determined to successfully host
the Jeux, convinced that it was crucial for reviving his political popularity. He
feared that highlighting the famine would only jeopardize Niger's right to host
the Jeux to show off the best of Niger, and calculated that the Jeux could
bring many visitors and positive attention to Niger, enhancing the chances for
long-term international development partnerships.
by the OIF and the CNJF regarding the organization of the Jeux provoked much
discourse on the interplay of global and local politics, including passionate
critique of inequality and segregation. Ordinary Nigeriens
realized that hosting the Jeux offered Niger an important opportunity to emerge
from global shadows, but many felt betrayed and left in the shadows of the Jeux
in their own nation. Their most widely articulated complaint concerned ticket
prices for competitive events-which typically ranged from $.60 to $2. This was
far too expensive for most Nigeriens as per capita daily income in Niger is
about $1, leading to crowds of disappointed people standing outside ticket
booths and low attendance at a number of events. A wrestling fan explained that
this, "was not suitable because in Niger everyone knows the country is one in
which people do not have work. They
should have had one symbolic, token price-for example 100 CFA [$.20]-so that
quite a few more Nigeriens would be able to attend the Jeux."
designed to create a "clean and dignified" event and isolate guests from hosts
in Niamey were seen as heavy-handed violations of the sprit of the Jeux by many
Nigeriens. Dozens of small-scale merchants were disturbed by government orders
to disband their informal tables and stalls along major roads most likely to be
traveled by foreigners. Many others were dismayed by the arrests and detentions
of street corner beggars, including young children and elderly residents with
disabilities. International guests were largely segregated from their local
hosts, as athletes, artists, coaches, their families, and hangers-on stayed in
the Village and were provided with busses to take them to all competitions and
for sight seeing tours. Only about 300 Nigerien workers and business operators
were permitted access the Village, leading one trader to conclude, "The Jeux is
not working.If people are to make friendships with visitors and also benefit
from them, it is necessary that some of the visitors stay in the Village, while
the rest stay in the city so that they can understand the people and understand
visitors at the Village ensured their safety, even though it inhibited
face-to-face intercultural dialogue and community building-the central goal of
the Jeux. The CNJF reasoned that having
crime or chaos at the Jeux would have been worse than losing their right to
host the Jeux. Unusually friendly and helpful Nigerien security forces were a
ubiquitous presence throughout the city.
a few ordinary Nigeriens positioned themselves to benefit financially from the
Jeux, including CNJF staff: thousands who found work, particularly in
construction; and a few arts traders and private businesses, particularly those
who had permits to operate within the Village or the National Museum. Most hotel and restaurant operators in Niamey
were extremely angry (Ait-Hatrit 2006).
Many lost a lot of money or did not reap the profits they had
anticipated-recall that they invested $8.8 million in preparation for the Jeux.
CEREMONIES: GLOBAL IDEOLOGIES, NATIONALISM, AND BRANDING
of the opening and closing ceremonies and the wrestling festivities is informed
by the growing literature on "mega-events" such as the Olympics. Godwell (2000:246) summarizes the central
dynamics of balancing global ideologies and the branding of host cities for the
challenge for the modern Olympics.has been to distinguish the same
"product".every four years as being a unique offering from each respective host
city.Geography is co-opted, architecture symbolized, national values reframed
to reinforce Olympic ideals, national politics suspended to fabricate
nonpartisan support, and cultures essentialized to serve every occasion.
ceremonials are the key sites through which host cities and nations seek to
address these challenges. Some scholars
are highly critical, arguing that Olympic ceremonies amount to nothing more
than "jingoistic hypocrisy" or are exploitative in the ways they co-opt
marginalized or indigenous cultures as the Australian Olympic Committee did
with Aborigines in the 2000 Summer Games hosted by Sydney (Tomlinson 2000:181, Godwell 2000, Meekison 2000, Tomlinson 2000). Other
scholars heap praise on "the worth and the uniqueness of Olympic Ceremonies",
as spectacular venues for communicating "the Olympic message", facilitating
"intercultural exchange", and promoting peace (Zweifel
1995, Carrard 1995, MacAloon
1995, Takac 1995).
the "Olympics" are replaced with the "Jeux" in all of the above, we get a sense
of the challenges faced by Niger and controversies generated by the choices
made in organizing the opening and closing ceremonies. The Nigerien state clearly valued the opportunities
presented in staging these spectacles.
They were the only elements of the Jeux funded entirely by Niger.
CEREMONIES: A MULTINATIONAL SPECTACLE HIGHLIGHTING NIGER'S HISTORY
the constraints of the protocols established by the CIJF, the distinctive
cultural elements of the opening ceremonies were defined by the CNJF in
collaboration with a multinational team of experts and by the mass
participation of Nigerien artists and audiences. The CNJF chose Guinean
Souleymane Koly-a pioneer in contemporary African arts policy and production-to
organize the opening and closing ceremonies. El Hadj Alougbine of Cote d'Ivoire
and Were Were Liking of Cameroon supervised the selection of decorations and
costumes. Li Lu and Wu Dianceng of
China, experts in grand events, were commissioned to choreograph the dances of
800 Nigerien students.
overflow crowd of roughly 50,000 people enthusiastically filled Stade Seyni
Kountché-a gift from China some 20 years ago-and was delighted to see that it
had been renovated to meet international athletic standards and now featured a
brand new jumbo video screen. The audience was thrilled that no entrance fee
was required, only tickets of invitation however, the process of distributing
tickets was mysterious-they seemed to flow from CNJF members to their
friends-and thousands of disappointed Nigeriens were left standing outside of
stadium entrances). Reflecting the OIF's mission,
dozens of Nigerien youth sporting distinctive black t-shirts and working for
the Control Arms campaign circulated the arena soliciting signatures for the
Million Faces Petition designed to pressure members of the Economic Community
of West African States (ECOWAS) to sign a binding international treaty to
prohibit the trafficking of weapons to help build peace and security in the region.
opening ceremonies-following rigid CIJF guidelines-began with a
counter-clockwise procession around the track by participants in the
alphabetical order of the official names of their countries ending on the
football field. Participants stopped to
greet the members of "cabin of honor," including: President Tandja; Presidents
Mathieu Kerekou of Benin, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, and Olusegun
Obasanjo of Nigeria; the Prime Ministers of Togo and Chad; the Vice President
of the African Union; the Secretary General of the OIF, Abdou Diouf; and
Jean-Francois Lamour, the President of the CIJF and France's Minister of Youth
and Sports, among others. Athletes and artists from all countries received
extremely warm receptions. The largely Nigerien audience
cheered the loudest for the flamboyant Chadian contingent who included acrobats
in their procession; the Vietnamese, wearing their distinctive conical straw
hats reminiscent of those made by nomadic Nigerien Wodaabe; and the Lebanese,
many of whom broke out of their procession to greet the audience with waves and
blown kisses to celebrate their selection as the host nation for the 2009 Jeux.
this, precisely timed speeches-largely scripted by the CIJF-by Nigerien
ministers and the President of the CIJF were concluded by President Tandja's
proclamation of the opening of the Jeux. Next, the official flag of the Jeux
was raised, accompanied by the playing of its anthem. A representative of the Nigerien delegation
then delivered an oath-also written by the CIJF-promising to uphold
sportsmanship and honor cultural diversity, followed by the Nigerien state
brass band's rendition of the national anthem.
The participants left the center stage and proceeded to fill their seats
of honor in the grandstands in order to observe ceremonies designed to
symbolize peace and unity.
cultural spectacle opened with traditional, neo-traditional, and modern
performances by 163 Nigerien dancers, acrobats, instrumentalists, and vocalists
highlighting the concept that the unity of Niger is found the respect for its
mutually enriching cultural diversity. Next, 800 Nigerien
students joyously performed perfectly synchronized dances of welcome.
grand finale centered on music and dance in honor of the legendary Sarauniya
Mangou, concluding with an extravagant 30-minute fireworks show. Sarauniya Mangou, the Queen of the Arewa of Lougou at the
turn of the century, earned fame as a national heroine for her resistance to
colonial domination. Known as fierce
warrior and inspirational leader, she withstood a Tuareg invasion from the
north and efforts of the Sokoto Empire in the south to convert her people to
Islam. But she distinguished herself
most prominently by courageously refusing to surrender to French forces led by
Captain Voulet who attacked her country in April of 1899. Captain Voulet's soldiers, far more brutal than previous French
invaders, committed horrific atrocities across French West Africa including
massacres of thousands of people in Sansanne Haoussa and Birnin Konni (Niger) that same year. Sarauniya
Mangou's most famous form of resistance was
religiously inspired. As the moral and spiritual authority of the Arewa, she
used magic to inspire her people and terrorize the French garrison. Indeed, Captain Voulet's logs reveal that he
retreated in fear of the Queen's magical powers after months of stalemate and
rules specify that this short ceremony should focus on peace and unity. Clearly the Nigerien state and the CNJF took
creative liberties with the script.
Whereas the first three hours of events focused on Francophonie, the
state chose to conclude by reflecting on the history of Nigerien resistance to
French colonialism led by a woman wielding non-Islamic local spiritual powers.
people interpreted this message in different ways. One Canadian official
concluded that the focus on the Sarauniya appropriately addressed the gender
equity sub-theme of the Jeux by highlighting that women are just as capable as
men of creating miracles despite the Nigerien belief that women should stay at
home. Virtually all Nigeriens-encountered through interviews and public street
corner conversation groups-were enormously pleased and proud of the ceremonies
up to the grand finale, but a substantial majority found the Sarauniya Mangou
segment inappropriate. Three themes are evident among those who expressed
objections. First, many people were
offended by the complete lack of attention to Islam as central to Niger's
identity. For them, the inclusion of a "pagan" rite in honor of a "pagan" who
had resisted conversion added insult to injury. Second, and often linked to
first theme, many men were upset that a woman was chosen as the representative
of the nation. Third, many men and women expressed their concern that the
glorification of Sarauniya Mangou compromised the responsibility of the nation
to serve as good hosts for their French guests. Indeed, many expressed their
commitment to redouble their efforts to be excellent hosts.
summary, the opening ceremonies served as key entry point through which global,
national, and local players performed and negotiated all of the key themes of
the Jeux. The ceremonies were, by
definition, multinational as they involved participants representing the nations
of the OIF. Moreover, the planning was deliberately and creatively
multinational. A Guinean, a Cameroonian,
and an Ivorien played key roles in directing how Nigeriens would present
Nigerien cultures. Stade Seyni Kountché,
a gift of the Chinese, and the hiring of two Chinese choreographers represent
in concrete and figurative ways the growing influence of China in Niger. Most
of the events within the opening ceremonies explicitly celebrated Francophonie
unity and peace, while the Queen Mangou segment expressed pride in Niger's
distinctive history of resistance and a call for gender equity. That is, the
Nigerien state communicated its desire to be an equal partner with other
nations in global Francophonie, on its own terms, sparking lively debates regarding
definitions of Niger's identity in modernity. Modeled loosely after modern
Olympics ceremonies and held in a newly modernized stadium, the opening
ceremonies also paid homage to the rich diversity of "traditional" Nigerien
music and dance-insisting that tradition deserves a place in modernity.
WITH TRADITION AND MODERNITY
wrestling was included in the Jeux as a feature event for the first time due in
large measure to the impetus of Sériba, Directeur Général of the CNJF. The
celebration of the sport of wrestling-and the ways it addressed the several of
the core missions of the Jeux-was every bit as compelling as the
competition. This was evidenced in: (1)
its inclusion as a discipline, and the value afforded to cultural exchange through
wrestling; (2) the inauguration of Niger's National Museum of Traditional
Wrestling; and (3) the sportsmanship and hospitality expressed in wrestling.
brief sketch of the modernization of this indigenous sport will help to situate
its place in the Jeux. Wrestling matches are traditionally held on village
market days and to celebrate harvests throughout Niger. Wrestlers grappled for
honor in rural communities, their strength and confidence bolstered by magic,
music, clowns, and enthusiastic audiences.
wrestling in traditional contexts remains enormously popular, President Seyni
Kountché mobilized wrestling in the mid-1970s as a means of promoting Nigerien
nationalism. The Nigerien Federation for Traditional
Wrestling introduced formal written rules, professional referees, and prizes
that symbolize traditional power and ethnicity as well as modernity. The
national champion earns a beautifully harnessed horse in a style ridden by
traditional local chiefs; a grand boubou ("an
elaborately embroidered flowing gown"), a turban, and sandals as worn by
nobles; a Tuareg saber symbolizing both force and peace or security, now known
as the "National Saber"; and an envelope of money "allowing him to meet his
responsibilities as a king" (Koudizé 2005:26). Today the cash prize is about
$4,000. In addition, private supporters of the champion typically provide him
with an automobile, airline tickets for a pilgrimage to Mecca, money, land, and
first national championship was held in Tahoua in 1975. Since then, nationwide interest in wrestling
has exploded. Each of the eight
administrative regions of Niger has constructed beautiful wrestling-specific
arenas-each affording 5,000 to 10,000 spectators excellent, close-up views of
the combat-allowing them to rotate as hosts for the national
championships. Annual national
championships are now sponsored by national and multinational corporations, and
are broadcast live on local television and radio stations. Backed by sponsors
and now earning cash prizes at the national competitions and other important
periodic matches, some wrestlers hire professional trainers and devote
themselves as full-time professionals in the sport.
wrestling traditions are practiced throughout West Africa as well as parallel
professionalizations of the sport, particularly in Senegal where star grapplers
occasionally earn more than $100,000 per match performing before audiences of
60,000 people at Dakar's main football arena, Stade Léopold
Six African Championships-involving primarily Francophone West and
Central African nations-have been held since 1995. Niger and Senegal have
dominated, each winning thrice.
African wrestling is largely unknown outside the region. Though some football
fans disagree, wrestling is Niger's "national sport."
The very inclusion of African
wrestling in the Jeux was a source of great pride for Nigeriens. Nigeriens relished showing off their
wrestling spectacle; that is, their whole complex of wrestling accompanied by
music, song, dance, magic and entertainment.
enjoyed learning about traditional wrestling forms of peoples of Canada, Sudan,
France, and elsewhere through daily demonstrations almost as much as the formal
competition. Wrestling by indigenous Canadians drew the most attention. This
form of wrestling is seldom practiced today, though interest in it was
resuscitated at the recent Arctic Winter Games (Canada 2005). Four Inuit-Dennis Raddi and Lucky Pokiak from
the Northwest Territories and Tony Eetuk and Joseph Nakoolak from
Nunavut-attended the Jeux, proudly demonstrated their wrestling style, and
invited Nigerien and other African wrestlers to join them. Their coach, Steven
Baryluk explained, "as a former wrestler, I am interested to see other
wrestling traditions. These Games will bring many of them together in one
place. It's an incredible opportunity"
and the CNJF strategically chose the auspicious occasion of the Jeux to
inaugurate its National Museum of Traditional Wrestling. The Museum-filled with
pictures and artifacts of Niger's celebrated wrestlers, wrestling musicians,
singers, clowns, and wrestling broadcasters-was designed to commemorate
wrestling history, declare wrestling as a core element of Nigerien cultural
identity, celebrate the inclusion of African wrestling in the Jeux, and mark
Niger's affiliation with the International Federation of Wrestling Associations
celebration on 14 December was presided over by President Tandja who cut a
ceremonial ribbon, President of the National Assembly Mahamane Ousmane, Prime
Minister Hama Amadou, Minister of Youth and Sports Abdoulrahamane Seydo, and
many other important government members.
Seydo praised wrestling as Niger's national sport, highlighting the value
of "fair play" in wrestling. Niger's most famous wrestling singer, Elhadji
Sagolo, came out of retirement to perform with Mamane Sani Léko,
also known as Kourégué de Zinder, Niger's most prominent wrestling drummer.
Nigerien spectators were particularly thrilled by the attendance of the
majority of their national champions of the previous 30 years and a grand
champion Senegalese wrestler, Ambroise Sarr.
Daniel Robin, a delegate of FILA, commented on the global universality
of traditional wrestling, praised Niger's distinguished history of wrestling,
and presented a FILA plaque to Tandja.
Tandja seized the opportunity to present himself as a man of the
Nigerien people by recalling his experience as a wrestler in his youth. Tandja then officiated two symbolic demonstration matches
lasting just a few seconds each, one between Kadadé Zambo (a great Nigerien
wrestler of the 1970s) and Balla Kodo (Niger's national champion in 1981); and
one between Salma Dan Rani (Niger's national champion in 1976 and 1979) and
Ambroise Sarr (whose career peaked in the 1970s).
Jeux provided a spectacular forum to prove the
superiority of Nigerien wrestlers before a global Francophonie audience. Nigerien wrestlers outperformed a strong Senegalese
contingent at the Jeux, delighting local fans.
Niger earned the team gold medal as well as four individual medals (two
gold, one silver, and one bronze). Senegal secured the team silver medal, and
four individual medals (one gold, one silver, and two bronze). However, winning was not everything in the
the first day of the competition the French team led by their traditional
musicians, was graciously welcomed into the arena. In fact, they received more
sustained applause than any team, even the Nigeriens. The French experienced
the misfortune of drawing Niger in the first round. Within seconds of the first match in the
lowest weight category a Nigerien grappler lifted his French opponent high into
the air and threw him head first to the ground. A hush fell over the crowded
arena, as many people feared that he had broken his neck. To the relief of everyone, he arose and respectfully
congratulated his foe. The largely Nigerien audience
warmly greeted the brave French wrestler when he returned to compete the
single thrashing was perhaps the most discussed issue in the entire wrestling
tournament, rivaled only by Nigeriens' proud discourse on the superiority of
their wrestlers. Within hours, many private radio stations and street corner
discussion groups were commenting. They emphasized that it was extremely bad
form to treat guests so harshly-that the Nigerien wrestler should have shown
thrilled by the very fact that France chose to participate in African
wrestling. One avid fan's words captured
the feelings of many Nigeriens, "The Jeux helps people come together as
one. The gathering increases ties of
friendship and solidarity between different kinds of people. Francophonie creates knowledge, for example
seeing White, Christian Europeans wrestling.
This was very surprising; wrestling is not a European custom. We were
happy, we laughed, that Europeans wrestled." This was highly appreciated and
was interpreted as an unexpected demonstration of respect for African
tradition. For throughout the history of
contact between France and Africa, cultural diffusion has largely been
asymmetric. Frenchmen have assiduously avoided letting Africans see them
physically toil, but here they were courageous and sweating in an intimate
meeting of bare-chested bodies on dusty Nigerien sand.
CEREMONIES: REINVENTING TRADITION FOR THE NATION AND FRANCOPHONIE
the closing ceremonies, the CNJF chose to transform and adapt local pageantry
traditions to serve a particular construction of Nigerien nationalism and
Francophonie. Variations of this ritual complex involving noble cavalry
processions with music have been practiced on both sides of the Sahara for
centuries. French colonial explorers witnessed similar events, from North
Africa and the Sahara (where synchronized rifle shots are featured) to Sahelian
states such as Borno. They used the term "fantasia" to describe them. Thus, the
CNJF labeled the closing ceremonies of the Jeux a fantasia, rather than using a
local term, such as the Hausa hawan
dawaki ("the mounting of the horses"), the Arabic harqqa barooda ("moving gunpowder games"), or the Hindi-Urdu durbar ("royal gathering") as it is known in Northern Nigeria due
to British imperial history.
appreciate the ways by which the CNJF reworked the fantasia requires an
understanding of its traditional functions and practices in Niger and Northern
Nigeria. Fantasias are designed to
celebrate Islam, to demonstrate allegiance to Emirs, and to foster community
solidarity (Apter 2005:173). Fantasias undoubtedly incorporated some elements
of the equestrian and pageantry traditions of local pre-Islamic and non-Islamic
communities, but for centuries have been organized primarily to mark the
culmination of the great Muslim festivals, Eid
al Fitr and Eid al Kabir (or Karamar Salla and Babbar Salla, respectively, in Hausa-the
lingua franca of the region). Local chiefs and nobles symbolically proclaim
their loyalty to Emirs during fantasias through saluting them with raised
swords, praise singing, and the circulation of symbolic capital. Gifts are
offered to the Emir who may reciprocate by bestowing titles or with larger or
smaller gifts to express his relative favor. This tradition of well-staged
statecraft also serves to unite different local ethnic groups within an
Salla days begin
with early morning prayers at communal grounds on the outskirts of town,
followed by processions of splendidly adorned horsemen, camel jockeys,
warriors, dancers, musicians, praise singers, body guards, jesters, and
standard bearers to the public square in front of the Emir's palace. Here each village takes their assigned place
before the Emir arrives last of all with his magnificent retinue. Then the
action begins as groups of horsemen and camel riders race across the square at
full gallop, swords drawn, polished and glinting. They charge to within a few
feet of the Emir before pulling up their mounts abruptly to salute him with
raised swords. Dancing, drumming, singing, and feasting continue throughout the
day and into the night.
traditional fantasias remain important, during the past century various actors have
reworked them to serve other functions. Colonial powers, heads of secular
states, and various imagined communities reinvented tradition by replacing Emirs
with their own representatives in the position of power while keeping the
script intact. The British Raj modified durbars-court rituals of Mughal emperors
roughly analogous to fantasias-by inserting English officials as Indian rulers
in what became "the colonial ritual par
excellence" (Apter 1996:457-58). The term "durbar" was "transplanted from
India to Africa through none other than Lord Lugard himself" (Apter 1996:458)
who grew up in British Colonial India.
Soon after witnessing the fantasia, "Lugard staged his first African
durbar [in 1900] to inaugurate the Protectorate of Northern
Nigeria.[and].Thirteen years later, a durbar held in Kano marked Lugard's
appointment as Governor-General of Nigeria" (Apter 1996:458). Later, durbars were staged to honor British
royalty, including a durbars in 1925
in Kano in honor of Edward, Prince of Wales, and another in 1956 in Kaduna to pay
homage to Queen Elizabeth. Independent Nigeria has continued to stage durbar to honor visiting heads of state,
including Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, and Mu'ammar
al-Qadhafi of Libya.
Obasanjo and the modern, independent, capitalist, petro-state of Nigeria
mobilized the durbar in 1977 to serve
the interests of Pan-Africanism and the Nigerian state by using it project
pride in indigenous culture and an image of "national unity out of 'ethnic'
diversity" (Apter 1996:457). He hosted a grand durbar, including participants representing most ethnic groups of
Northern Nigeria, 4,000 horses, 500 camels, and 2,000 dancers and musicians
that functioned as the closing ceremony of the second World Black and African
Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). In addition, a huge durbar was performed in 2004 to celebrate the 200th
anniversary of the Sokoto Caliphate, and attended by many heads of state,
including Tandja of Niger. Finally, a number of nations, particularly Morocco
and Cameroon, have marketed fantasias to attract international tourists.
fantasia is not as widely performed in Niger as it is in Northern Nigeria or
the Maghreb. For example, fantasias have
not previously been staged in Niamey, as it is a new city that is not part of a
traditional Emirate. In contrast,
Damagaram-Tandja's home-enjoys the historical reputation of hosting the largest
fantasias in Niger. Furthermore, unlike
other nations, Niger has little history of mobilizing the fantasia for
nation-building or tourism promotion. One
exception is the performance of fantasias during Cure Salée-a traditional festival that has, in some respects, been
nationalized by the Nigerien government, and marketed to international tourists.
fantasia for the Jeux was held at the old Hippodrome on the outskirts of
Niamey. A highly animated audience of about 60,000 people stood four hours in
the blazing mid-afternoon sun in an enormous flat field, while a few hundred
dignitaries-Tandja, visiting heads of state, OIF, CIJF, and CNJF
officials-enjoyed seating on plush couches under a small, tiered, shaded
pavilion. The prelude featured a amplified
music performed by Mamar Kassey, currently Niger's most internationally famous
Afro-Pop-Jazz band. They were an ideal choice given the CNJF's desire to
emphasize a Nigerien nationalism rooted in harmony through diversity as Mamar
Kassey fuses Hausa, Zarma, Fulani, and Songhai performers, rhythms, and
instruments as well as electric bass guitars with western jazz, Moroccan, and
and artists led the Fantasia's processions-funneled through a ceremonial gate
with Nigerien and Francophonie symbols. They received loud, sustained cheers
before taking comfortable seats under the pavilion. In contrast to the opening
ceremonies that included the full contingents of all countries, only about 250
performers representing a dozen nations participated. Then, Tandja
declared the official closing of the Jeux in a very brief speech.
Fantasia continued with the entrance of 200 Tuareg men from Tahoua wearing
elaborate costumes, carrying Nigerien flags, and riding splendidly adorned
camels. More than 500 dancers, musicians, and clowns-typically in troupes of
one to three dozen-representing all ethnic groups of Niger, followed them. Among the highlights were a contingent of
fifty beautifully dressed Tuareg women who rode in on decked-out donkeys, and a
group of Wodaabe women who carried painted calabashes overflowing with cooking
utensils and grain-a traditional symbol of bounty-atop their heads. Herds of
goats and sheep decorated with colorful cloth and mirrors dangling from their
horns joined the festivities. Next, 300
mounted horsemen-led by a Kanuri contingent from Diffa and a Hausa group from
Northern Nigeria-entered the main arena.
Many men and their horses were adorned from head to toe in silver armor,
while others in sported vibrant, colorful, traditional clothing. Many equestrians doubled as musicians,
playing a wide variety of drums and horns. The ceremony concluded with camel and horse charges toward President Tandja,
CNJF modified three core elements of the fantasia while retaining its essential
script and vibrant pageantry. First, the fantasia was secularized. The procession moved from a vacant field to
the hippodrome's pavilion, not from Muslim prayer grounds to the Emir's
palace. Second, representing a secular
republic, Tandja occupied the position of power rather than an Emir. Third,
this modern fantasia addressed national and global Francophonie communities,
instead of a local Emirate. Like the opening ceremonies, the fantasia
represented the honoring of cultural diversity as the heart of Nigerien
nationalism and the value of cultural relativism for Francophonie.
the opening and closing ceremonies shared a multicultural vision, they differed
in important ways. In contrast to the opening ceremony's limited seating,
amplified music, jumbo video screen, fireworks, and emphasis on OIF scripted
speeches staged in a modern stadium in the city center; the closing ceremony
featured unlimited standing room, traditional music, and dust in an old, not
particularly well maintained, hippodrome in a poor, outlying neighborhood. Furthermore, the audiences were very
different. Whereas virtually all foreign athletes, artists, coaches, and
visitors attended the opening ceremonies, only about ten percent made their way
to the fantasia. Indeed, it seemed that the CNJF anticipated that foreign
guests might avoid standing in an open field in the midday sun or would have
begun returning to their homes before the closing ceremonies, and therefore
designed the fantasia, with Tandja at the center,
primarily for Nigerien consumption. In any case, Nigerien spectators were
thrilled, and Niamey buzzed with excitement for weeks afterwards as people
reflected on the fantasia and watched televised reruns. The fantasia clearly
emerged as the most popular event of the Jeux among Nigeriens.
her opening address to Canadian athletes and artists, Chef de Mission Madeline
clearly articulated the core aims of global, national, and local participants
in the Jeux:
Jeux are also a symbol of fraternity and solidarity between people. This goal
is particularly significant this year, as Niger is recovering from a food
crisis. In the current circumstances, it
is important to show solidarity with this country and to participate in the
Jeux in the spirit of the founders. Apart from the challenges and how important
it is for Niger to host this international event, the experience has allowed
this country to acquire the infrastructure necessary for hosting the Jeux. The
5th Jeux should also serve as a springboard for the
country's development. If for no other purpose than to put Niger on the map and
to allow Nigeriens to rise to the challenge with dignity and pride, the 5th
Jeux are worth the experience. If the only thing we accomplish is to
participate in this gathering with Sahelian Africa and to become better
citizens of the world, then these Jeux will have achieved their goal Duchesne
Duchesne's benchmarks, the Jeux was successful in
many ways. Remarkably, the world's least
developed nation hosted more than 4,000 visitors from 44 nations in a
well-organized gala promoting Francophonie cultural dialogue and unity through
the superlative performances of world-class athletes and artists who
demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and tremendous respect for the aesthetic
expressions of extraordinarily diverse cultures. During the Jeux a transformed
Niamey buzzed with excitement and movement. Most Nigeriens
were honored to host guests, and were pleased that the Jeux offered their
nation the opportunity to be recognized as a vibrant culture and place in the
modern global imaginary. If nothing else, for two weeks the global Francophonie
community joyously celebrated being together and their most noble values,
setting aside often strained or ambivalent relations between the French
metropole and former colonies, as well as divisions between Muslims and
Christians. Nigerien hospitality highly impressed
international visitors. Virtually all foreign nationals (interviewed by me or
quoted by the Nigerien or international media) expressed only effusive praise
for Niger and Nigeriens. This achievement should not be underestimated, even if
it is unclear whether the Jeux contributed to long-term Francophonie
cooperation and solidarity or sustainable development in Niger.
provided Nigeriens a key space for creative
reflection, engagement, debate, and response to: the Francophonie
concept and its value for Nigeriens; competing
definitions of Niger's national identity; the political economy of global and
local inequality; and the nature of articulations between tradition and
modernity. While the first three sets of concerns continue to be negotiated,
the interests of the Nigerien state and Nigerien citizens converged in the celebration of
traditional Nigerien cultures - proudly asserting
their validity in global modernity. The CNJF did not privilege popular Nigerien rappers, Niger's burgeoning mobile phone industry,
or another marker of modernity. Rather, they chose - to the delight of most Nigeriens - to highlight traditional pageantry, music,
dance, and wrestling.
sincerely thank the West African Research Association (WARA) for generously
granting me a Post-Doctoral Fellowship for this project. I gratefully acknowledge the extensive,
critical suggestions offered by the Editorial Committee of African Studies Quarterly and two external reviewers. I thank
colleagues Ousseina D. Alidou,
Susann Baller, Bruce
Deacon, Djibrilla Garba,
and Cheiffou Idrissa for
their very helpful comments. I am also
indebted to Saginaw Valley State University students Sarah Holdwick
and Terry Coffey for help with translating interviews and statistically
analyzing them, respectively.
Nigeriens and French speakers
around the world continue to grapple with Francophonie. Since the Jeux,
divisions have reached a boiling point as a multinational group of famous
authors who write in French published a manifesto in Le Monde in 2007 declaring that their proposal to "Uncouple the language
from France and turn French literature into 'world literature' written in
French" will serve as "death certificate for Francophonie"
(Riding 2007). Nicolas Sarkozy, who shortly thereafter became the President of
France, responded in Le Figaro by declaring
"Francophonie is not dead" and that the global
prestige of the French language is "intact" (Riding 2007). Abdou Diouf, former President of Senegal and now the Secretary
General of the OIF, meanwhile accuses France of lacking interest in Francophonie and of perpetuating condescension toward Francophones. In a
similar vein, author Laila Lalami
(2008) wonders "how many native-born Frenchmen identify themselves as 'francophones.' We
all know it's a term for The Others."
include: an exploitative colonial regime that intentionally manipulated ethnic
rivalry, three decades of one party or military rule, recurring droughts, a
long series of ineffectual and sometimes damaging development programs
implemented by international donors, grinding poverty exacerbated by Structural
Adjustment Programs, and a valuable natural resource-uranium.
and directed by the world famous Nigerien fashion
designer, Alpahdi, FIMA "was supported by the United
Nations Development Program as an effort to support the fashion industry and artisanal workshops in Niger.the festival's stated
intention was to create jobs, attract tourism by televising Niger's exotic
landscape globally, and to raise money for Niger's development" (Cooper
Soumaila was selected as the
CNJF Directeur Général in
2000. He was contracted to remain in
this post until the completion of the Jeux. In July
2005, the CNJF was printing advertisements in Le Sahel, the daily newspaper of the
state, asking private citizens to volunteer to rent rooms in their homes to
earning his Ph.D. in Sports from the Université de
Clermont-Ferrand (France), Sériba
worked for Niger's Ministry of Youth and Sports. He has
produced and directed two films on wrestling: 20 Ans de Lutte Traditionnelle au Niger (1997) and The Kings of Arena (2000).
After the 5th Jeux he was named Directeur des Jeux de la Francophonie by the OIF.
cross of Agadez was used by French colonial
officials, as the badge of UN military observers in Western Sahara, and today
"the government of the Republic of Niger uses the cross of Agadez
as the centerpiece for the National Order of Niger pendant.as part of insignia
for government projects, on postage stamps, and in currency designs" (Loughran and Seligman 2006:259). Its presence in Niger is ubiquitous;
appearing on sculpture in traffic circles and public parks, as an ornamental
motif on walls and wrought iron fences, and as the design on state manufactured
soap bars. Furthermore, the cross of Agadez enjoys fame as one of the most recognizable symbols
of Africa, as it is available for sale in hundreds of markets in West and North
Africa, Paris, Florence, and New York as well as more than 100 websites (Loughran and Seligman 2006:261).
Tele-Sahel, Niger's state channel, and two private stations-Tal and Ténéré-provided extensive
television coverage. In Niger and in Europe, French channels TV5 and Canal+
also provided television coverage; while Radio France International and the BBC
offered radio broadcasts.
Nigeriens have recounted
various versions of this history to me.
On 26 May 2006 Niger's Ministère de la
Culture, des Arts et de la Communication submitted an application to UNESCO
seeking recognition of Lougou as a World Heritage
Centre (UNESCO 2006). They proposed to
include sacred monuments and sites, the cemetery of queens, the site of the
battle of 1899, and the residence of the current Sarauniya.
there are several ways of defining "national sport," I argue the wrestling is
Niger's given its indigenous status, mass audience appeal, and Nigeriens' recognition of their superiority in the
discipline-even though many more Nigeriens
participate in football.
Cure Salée literally means, "Salt Cure." Once a year, toward the end of the rainy season,
thousands of nomadic Tuareg and Bororo
gather in the region of Ingal and Teguidda
N'Tessoumt-famous for its rich salt and mineral
deposits that are crucial to the health of their livestock. The gathering is one of the few occasions
where so many nomads meet in one place to celebrate community identity and
discuss social and political concerns.
The Nigerien government recently began
determining the exact date of the festival-though this is not always respected
by nomads-in order exert its power and facilitate the attendance of tourists.
Ager, Dennis. Francophonie in the
1990's: Problems and Opportunities. Bristol,
PA: Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1996.
Ait-Hartit, Said. "Les hoteliers nigeriens
enragent après les Jeux de
la Francophone." www.afrik.com/article9381html,
26 January 2006.
Apter, Andrew. "The
Pan-African Nation: Oil-Money and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria." Public
Culture 8, 3 (1996):441-66.
Apter, Andrew. The
Pan-African Nation: Oil and the Spectacle of Culture in Nigeria. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Apter, Emily. "Theorizing 'Francophonie'."
Comparative Literature Studies 42,
Beeman, William O. "The
Anthropology of Theater and Spectacle." Annual Review of Anthropology 22,
Canada. "Traditional Wrestling-Canadian Style," Canada
at the Games: Team Canada Newsletter, 7 December 2005.
Carrard, Francois. "The
Olympic Message in Ceremonies: The Vision of the IOC." In Olympic Ceremonies: Historical Continuity and Cultural Exchange,
ed. Miquel de Moragas, John
MacAloon, and Montserrat Llines
(Barcelona-Lausanne: International Symposium on Olympic Ceremonies, 1995), pp.
Charlick, Robert B. "ASR
Focus: Islamism in West Africa, Niger." African Studies Review 47, no. 2,
(CIJF) "Site Officiel du Comité International des Jeux de
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Scott M. Youngstedt is Professor of Anthropology at Saginaw Valley State University. His work in Niger explores the ways by which migrant Hausa create modernities, construct communities in diaspora, and negotiate personal identities in the context of neoliberal globalization. Youngstedt is examining similar dynamics in the new Nigerien diaspora in the U.S. He has also focused his attention on tourism and festivals in West and North Africa, considering issues such as cultural representation, authenticity, development, and intercultural communication.
Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article: Scott M. Youngstedt, "The 5th Francophonie Sports and Arts Festival: Niamey, Niger Hosts a Global Community," African Studies Quarterly 10, nos. 2 & 3: (Fall 2008) [online] URL: http://africa.ufl.edu/asq/v10/v10i2a6.htm