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From Unfree Work to Working for Free: Labor, Aid, and Gender in the Nigerien Sahel, 1930–2000

  • Benedetta Rossi (a1)

Abstract

This article focuses on the consequences of twentieth-century developmentalism for labor practices in the Nigerien Sahel under French rule and in the postindependence period. It examines labor regime transformations at the desert's edge; the ways in which state-led developmentalism influenced labor relations; and gender disparities in the history of emancipation from slavery. Following the abolition of forced labor in 1946, the rhetoric of human investment was used to promote the “voluntary” participation of workers in colonial development initiatives. This continued under Niger's independent governments. Seyni Kountché’s dictatorship relabeled Niger “Development Society” and mobilized Nigeriens’ “voluntary” work in development projects. Concurrently, drought in the Sahel attracted unprecedented levels of international funding. In the Ader region this led to the establishment of a major antidesertification project that paid local labor on a food-for-work basis. Since most men migrated seasonally to West African cities, the majority of workers in the project's worksites were women who welcomed “project work” to avoid destitution. In the name of development, it continued to be possible to mobilize workers without remuneration beyond the cost of a meal.

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References

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NOTES

1. This article presents in a revised, updated, and condensed form findings and ideas published in my book From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Ecology in the Nigerien Sahel, 1800–2000 (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015). I wish to thank ILWCH’s senior editors, the anonymous reviewers, and the authors of the other articles in this special issue for their helpful comments. All remaining errors are my own.

2. Hama, Boubou, L'exode rural: un problème de fond (Niamey, 1969).

3. Cooper, Frederick, “Modernizing Bureaucrats, Backward Africans, and the Development Concept,” in International Development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge, ed. Cooper, F. and Packard, R. (Berkeley, CA, 1997), 6492 .

4. For a review of different waves of critique of developmentalism and its economic policies, see Hodge, Joseph Morgan, “Writing the History of Development (Part 1: The First Wave),” Humanity 6 (2015): 432437 .

5. Historians Frederick Cooper and Monica van Beusekom focused, respectively, on political negotiations and grassroots dynamics: Frederick Cooper, “Modernizing Bureaucrats,” 64; Cooper, Frederick, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge, 2002), 44 ; van Beusekom, Monika, Negotiating Development: African Farmers and Colonial Experts at the Office du Niger, 1920–1960 (Portsmouth, 2002). Political scientist Jean-Francois Bayart had advanced a similar argument, which focused primarily on the role of African political elites in the entrenchment of a discourse of dependence from which they could gain major benefits, Bayart, Jean-Francois, “Africa in the world: a strategy of extraversion,” African Affairs 99/30 (2000): 217267 . Anthropologists of development focused on the strategies of African villagers and aid workers and their attempts to attract and control aid revenues: Bierschenk, Thomas, Chauveau, Jean Pierre, de Sardan, Jean Pierre Olivier, eds., Courtiers en Développement: Les Villages Africains en Quête de Projets (Paris, 2000); Bierschenk, Thomas, “Development Projects as Arenas of Negotiation for Strategic Groups. A Case Study from Benin,” Sociologia Ruralis 28 (1988): 146160 ; Delville, Philippe Lavigne, Aide internationale et sociétés civiles au Niger (Paris, 2015).

6. Mortimore, Michael, Adapting to Drought: Farmers, Famine, and Desertification in West Africa (Cambridge, 1989), 218229 ; Painter, Thomas, Migrations, Social Reproduction and Development in Africa: Critical Notes from a Case Study in the West African Sahel (Milton Keynes, 1987), 2126 ; Charlick, Robert, Niger: Personal Rule and Survival in the Sahel (Boulder, 1991), 125127 .

7. Austin, Gareth, “Cash Crops and Freedom: Export Agriculture and the Decline of Slavery in Colonial West Africa,” International Review of Social History 54 (2009): 137 .

8. Braudel, Fernand, Les Ambitions de l'histoire (Paris, 1997), 60 .

9. Lydon, , Ghislaine, , On Trans-Saharan Trails (Cambridge, 2009), 47 ; Hall, Bruce, A History of Race in Muslim West Africa (Cambridge, 2011), 2769 ; Hunwick, John, “A Region of the Mind: Medieval Arab Views of African Geography and Ethnography and their Legacy,” Sudanic Africa 16 (2005): 103136 .

10. See, for example, Lecocq, , Baz, , Disputed Desert (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 8793 ; Bernus, Pierre, “Les Touaregs et les Autres,” in A la croisée des études libyco-berbères: mélanges offerts à P. Galand-Pernet et L. Galand, ed. Drouin, J. and Roth, A. (Paris, 1993).

11. Bonnecase, Vincent, La pauvreté au Sahel: du savoir colonial a la mesure international (Paris, 2011), 7 .

12. Mann, Gregory, From Empires to NGOs in the West African Sahel: The Road to Nongovernmentality (Cambridge, 2015), 11 .

13. Meillassoux, Claude, “Development or Exploitation: Is the Sahel Famine Good Business?Review of African Political Economy 1 (1974): 2733 ; Watts, Michael, Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria (Berkeley, CA, 1983).

14. Webb, James, Desert Frontier: Ecological and Economic Change along the Western Sahara, 1600–1850 (Madison, WI 1995).

15. See Monimart, Marie: “[M]ale migration is largely perceived as a direct consequence of desertification. Women are abandoned for months if not years. Above all, this is the most destructive phenomenon of desertification,” Femmes du Sahel. La Désertification au Quotidien (Paris, 1989), 11 ; see also David, Rosalind, Changing Places? Women, Resource Management and Migration in the Sahel (London, 1995), 6, 1820 .

16. Bourdieu, Pierre, “The Forms of Capital,” in Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, ed. Richardson, J. (New York, 1986), 241 .

17. I discuss reports, court cases, and witness testimonies in “Periodizing the End of Slavery: Colonial Law, the League of Nations, and Slave Resistance in the Nigerien Sahel, 1920s–1930s,” submitted to Les Annales.

18. Rossi, Benedetta, From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Ecology in the Nigerien Sahel, 1800–2000 (Cambridge, 2015), 142200 .

19. Circular 73, Gouverneur General du Niger a Commandants de Cercles, May 7, 1947, Archives Nationales du Niger (hereafter ANN) 381.1.

20. Ibid.

21. The Chef de Subdivision Nomade was the homologue of the Commandant de Cercle in territorial subdivisions classified as “nomad,” which followed different administrative structures and procedures.

22. Commandant de Cercle de Tahoua a Gouverneur Niger, Telegramme 491, 18 Aout 1947, ANN 381.1.

23. Capitain Delon, Rapport de tournée, February 11, 1948, ANN1E37.22.

24. Ibid.

25. Sarrault, Albert, La mise en valeur des colonies françaises (Paris, 1923); Deloncle, Pierre, L'Afrique Occidentale Française: découverte, pacification, mise en valeur (Paris, 1934). For more recent critical analyses, see Massa, Gabriel, “Le développement économique,” in La France d'Outre-Mer (1930–1960): témoignages d'administrateurs et de magistrats, ed. Cauzel, J. (Paris, 2003), 165 ; Conklin, Alice, A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, 1997), especially Introduction and Chapter 7.

26. Commandant de Cercle (Brouin), Rapport de tournée, Mai 1943, ANN 1E28.54.

27. Cooper, Frederick, Africa Since 1940: The Past of the Present (Cambridge, 2002), 3849 ; Cooper, “Modernizing Bureaucrats,” 64–92.

28. For example, Elève-administrateur Pujol, Rapport de tournée, 1947, ANN 1E35.32.

29. Cf. Commandant de Cercle (Vieroz), Télégramme-lettre à propos de l'aménagement des mares et des sources dans le Cercle de Tahoua, 10/27/1955, ANN 17.8.8.

30. Plan de développement économique et social 1961–1963.

31. Note de service no. 1018/SGAHA, Niamey, Mai 27, 1968, 1, Archives Régionales de Tahoua (hereafter ART) 1W14.20.

32. Réflexions sur les options préalables à la mise en valeur de l'Ader Doutchi Majiya, 1964, N.A., 8, ART 1W6.56.

33. Conventions 28/C/66 and 41/C/66, see Opération intégrée Ader Doutchi Majiya, demande de financement FAC, 1967–1968, ART 1W13-bis; SMUH 1966, Schéma d'aménagement régional de l'Ader Doutchi Majiya, ART 1W10.30.

34. The Ader Doutchi Majiya region “derives its unity from a unique policy of economic development, hydro-agricultural intervention and concerted administrative action. It coincides neither with a natural region, nor with traditional or actual administrative sectors. It is only the existence of common problems and common development possibilities which has led to the creation of this new regional entity.” Bonte, “Structure de classe,” 1.

35. Réflexions sur les options préalables à la mise en valeur de l'Ader Doutchi Majiya, 1964, N.A., 1–2, ART 1W6.56.

36. Ibid., 3.

37. Ibid.

38. Réflexions sur les options préalables à la mise en valeur de l'Ader Doutchi Majiya, ART 1W6.56.

39. Ibid., 8–9. Cf. “The hours of forced inactivity [of peasants] due to climatic constraints are a potential, but should not be over-estimated. We found it necessary to establish that unpaid labor, or labour paid below market price, could only be employed for works of scarce technical complexity and [works] whose interest would be immediately evident to the workers, such as works carried out on the land or on … the hydraulic regime of waters that have a direct impact on their own lands,” UNCC Service de la Coopération, June 1968, L'expérience des coopératives cotonnières—bilan de la première année de fonctionnement, ART 1W25.20.

40. Ibid., emphasis in the original.

41. Ibid., 9

42. In an insightful article, Neubert talks of “supply-driven demand” for development. See Neubert, Dieter, “Le rôle des courtiers locaux dans le système du développement,” in Courtiers en développement: les villages africains en quête de projets, ed. Bierschenk, Thomas, Chauveau, Jean Pierre, de Sardan, Jean Pierre Olivier (Pariss, 2000), 243259 .

43. Ibid., 9, footnote 1.

44. Quatrième leçon: les Perspectives Décennales, 13, ART 1W7.18. The passage quoted is from the national Ten Years Perspectives, 348.

45. Proces verbal de la reunion du Comité de l'Ader Doutchi Majiya, Niamey, July 22, 1965, 4, ART 1W9.29.

46. Demandes complémentaires de financement, Programme FAC 1966–1967, Opération intégrée Ader Doutchi Majiya, 4 (ART 1W9.29); see also Demande de financement FAC 1968–1969, projet Ader Doutchi Majiya, 1 and 6 (ART 1W20.11); Demande de financement FAC, Tranche 1969–1970, Operation integré Ader Doutchi Majiya, 3 and 8 (ART 1W20.30); Demande de financement FAC 1969–1970, projet Ader Doutchi Majiya, appui aux collectivités villageoises, 1–2 (ART 1W20.30).

47. Demande de financement FAC 1969–1970, projet Ader Doutchi Majiya, appui aux collectivités villageoises, 2, ART 1W25.20.

48. Operation integré Ader Doutchi Majiya, tranche FAC 1967–1968, projet Ibohamane, ART 1W13.bis.

49. Interview with owners of perimeter lands, Ibohamane, March 1, 2005.

50. Aménagement de la plaine d'Ibohamane, demande FAC 1967–1968, fiche B2-1A, ART 1W13.bis.

51. Programme du stage de formation cadres paysans d'Ibohamane, 17–29 avril 1968, ART 1W14.20.

52. Ibid.

53. Ekaney Chimier, Enquête sur Ibohamane, 1970, ART 1W23.40.

54. Interview with Moussa Bukoci and other elders, Jiggina, December 1, 2008.

55. Benedetta Rossi, Physical and Social Mobility in Ader (Niger): Final Report for IRD-funded research project Mobilités Ouest-Africaines (MOBOUA), July 24, 2010.

56. This process is analyzed in Edmond Bernus and Pierre Bonte's 1970s ethnographic studies: Bernus, Edmond, “L'Evolution Récente des Relations Entre Eleveurs et Agriculteurs en Afrique Tropicale: L'Exemple du Sahel Nigérien,” Cahiers ORSTOM 11 (1974), 137143, 31; Bonte, Pierre, “Structure de Classe et Structures Sociales Chez les Kel Gress,” Revue de l'Occident Musulman et de la Méditerranée 21 (1976): 142 .

57. In 1972 the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm recommended that a new specialized agency be created to deal with global environmental issues, backed by the financial support of donor countries. Later that same year, the General Assembly established the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). In 1973 the Office to Combat Desertification and Drought, or United Nations Special Sahel Office (UNSO) of the UNDP, was created in response to drought in the Sahel region. The first major international forum to discuss the topic was the United Nations Conference on Desertification (UNCOD) convened in Nairobi in 1977, which resulted in the adoption of the Plan of Action to Combat Desertification, and in the establishment of UNEP's Desertification Branch. Sahelian states affected by the 1968–1973 drought formed the CILSS (Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel). Macdonald, Lee, Natural Resources Development in the Sahel: The Role of the United Nations System (Tokyo, 1986).

58. Kountché died of illness on  November 10, 1987, and was replaced without disruption by Colonel Ali Saibou, his closest collaborator and head of the armed forces since 1974.

59. “On this day, April 15, 1974, the Army decided to assume its responsibilities by putting an end to the regime that you know. After 15 years of rule marked by injustice, corruption, egotism and indifference toward the people whose well-being it pretended to ensure, we could not tolerate any longer the permanence of this oligarchy.” Speech of April 15, 1974, Kountché, Seyni, Discours et messages 15 Avril 1974–1915 Avril 1975 (Niamey, 1975).

60. Message à la Nation du 3 Aout 1974, in Kountché, Discours et messages, 55–56.

61. Formed by Decision No. 79–165 of  October 29, 1979.

62. Kountché quoted in Robinson, Pearl, “Grassroots Legitimation of Military Governance in Burkina Faso and Niger: The Core Contradictions,” in Governance and Politics in Africa, ed. Hyden, G. and Bratton, M. (Boulder, CO, 1992), 160 .

63. “From the concept of democracy the Development Society retained the necessity of participation. This participatory democracy, this grassroots democracy (démocratie à la base), follows the framework of the Development Councils, the supreme organ of which is the National Development Council … When it turns its back to formal liberalism and facade pluralism, and becomes a regime of real participation, democracy can operate in the interest of the political party.” Mamadou Dagra “La démocratie participative au Niger: allier l'idéal au fonctionnel,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement, No. 16 (September 1985), 13. See also Démocratie participative, liberté d'expression et responsabilité,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement, No. 3 (1984), 14 .

64. “Justice sociale et participation,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement, No. 4 (Special issue, 1984), 5.

65. Genèse: la Société de Développement,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement, No. 1 (1984), 21 . These ideas are reiterated and expanded in Section II of the Charte Nationale on the Conceptual Framework of the Development Society, see Charte Nationale (Niamey, 1987), 13.

66. ‘Que mille cuvettes se remplissent’—le président du CRD de Tahoua le lieutenant colonel Tandja Mamadou reçoit le Bulletin du CND,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement 26 (1987), 20 .

67. CRD Tahoua,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement 1 (1984), 18 .

68. CRD Tahoua: présent radieux pour un mouvement coopératif éprouvé,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement 4 (1984), 47 .

69. L'heure de l'autocritique,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement 8 (1984), 28 .

70. Ibid., 19.

71. Politique de développement du CRD de Tahoua: la récupération des eaux pluviales,” Bulletin du Comité National de Développement 25 (1986), 20 .

72. PDR/ADM, Programme de coopération FAO/gouvernement italien. PDR/ADM: plan d'opérations, 1984a.

73. PDR/ADM, Rapport de la mission d’évaluation tripartite, 13; Cremona, Lucia, Etude du Milieu: Résultats Partiels des Enquêtes VillageoisesRapport (Rome, 1985), 37 ; Tiemogo, Ibrahim and Boubacar, Ibrahim, L'Approche Participative du Projet Intégré Keita. Keita: Rapport Provisoire FAO (Rome, 1994), 15 .

74. Smart, Michael, Rapport sur le Futur Rôle du PAM dans la IV Phase du Projet PDR/ADM NER 6106 (ex Projet Keita), NigerRapport PAM (Rome, 2000), 2 .

75. Interview with Souley Midou (former Project National Director), Niamey, March 7, 2010.

76. The standard ration distributed in Keita in the first two Project phases consisted of the following, with equivalent values in FCFA (PDR/ADM 1997):

77. I am grateful to Dr. Dario Tricoli for this information. Dr Tricoli is the hydraulic engineer who oversaw the development and construction techniques of the Keita Project's water management structures.

78. Cremona, Lucia, Aperçu sur les Activités Socio-économiques des Femmes de l'Arrondissement de KeitaRapport FAO (Rome, 1986).

79. Smart, Michael, Rapport sur le Futur Rôle du PAM dans la IV Phase du Projet PDR/ADM NER 6106 (ex Projet Keita), NigerRapport PAM (Rome, 2000), 2.

80. Le Sahel, June 13–15, 1986, 3. Vivid commentaries on the femme de Keita were common in the press; see Le Sahel, June 16, 1986, 5; Sahel Dimanche, August 3, 1986, 7; Afrique-Asie, August 10, 1986, 16.

81. Villagers referred to food-for-work in Hausa as “taimakon abinci,” literally “help in food.”

82. Fieldnotes, September 7, 2005; September 8, 2005; October 8, 2005; October 27, 2005; November 26, 2008. Some persons I talked to, mostly slave descendants who had paid ransom themselves or knew of others who had paid ransom, mentioned a substantially higher ransom price. The value I recorded on November 26, 2008, for example, was 200,000 FCFA cited as the monetary value of a head of cattle, which was what the former slave owner requested to issue a ransom certificate.

83. Toggock is a pseudonym. All the names mentioned in this section are pseudonyms, too. I use pseudonyms because slave descent carries derogatory connotations in Ader's society today.

84. Interview with Mohamed and his father, March 3, 2005.

85. Mohammed and Mousa's perspectives on their status were, however, not identical. I published their testimonies verbatim and discussed intergenerational differences in (removed for the purpose of anonymization).

86. David Rain studied cin rani in Niger, but in Maradi, where he worked, this expression referred to long-distance migration, too; see Rain, David, Eaters of the Dry Season: Circular Labor Migration in the West African Sahel (Boulder, 1999).

87. Garba, Abderrahmane, Les transferts d'argent des migrants dans la région de Tahoua: modes, organisation et utilisation. Maîtrise de géographie, University Abdou Moumouni of Niamey (Niger), 2009 .

88. These are, respectively, the smallest and largest amount received in (roughly) the previous six months by the three comptoirs together. Field notes, Keita, 2010.

89. Programme d'Activités de la Phase Transitoire January 1, 2000–September 30, 2000, Coopération Niger-Italie. The pay of international consultants, not reported in this report, would have been substantially higher.

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From Unfree Work to Working for Free: Labor, Aid, and Gender in the Nigerien Sahel, 1930–2000

  • Benedetta Rossi (a1)

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