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Old 11 Jun 2004
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Security in Niger

I have found this (very) long and (very) interresting post on the touareg forum .
Nice trip to Niger !

Robbery in the Dunes

Violence against Sahara –tourists, background information and strategies
for a pragmatic security management.

By Harald A. Friedl


Adventure tourism in Central Sahara is a young, fast-growing market. It
is a new and important source of income for the regional Tuareg
The enormous growth of travel markets- mainly without any regulations-
already shows its first negative social and ecological consequences.
Initiatives for sustainable tourism were stopped at the start by the
kidnapping of tourists in 2003.
Nevertheless, this crisis presented an opportunity to reform tourism in
the Sahara by stressing high-price tourism in order to achieve quality
According to experience, this well-informed clientele deals in a more
pragmatic way with security risks and contributes more to regional added
value. Therefore, it plays an important role in the long-term
stabilisation of the region. This is the most effective prevention of
social crises.

1. The first boom of Sahara tourism with the Tuareg

In economically, ecologically and socio-culturally fragile regions of
Central-Sahara, such as Southern Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Niger etc.,
desert tourism has developed in the last twenty years and has become an
alternative source of income.
The nomads’ need for money is growing because the traditional structure
of economy, such as nomadic breeding, trading with caravans and
horticulture, suffers due to the pressure of changing conditions and
growing problems.
Change of climate and desertification of soil, rapid population growth
and unemployment such as socio-political change are only some of these
severe alterations.
At the same time this new form of adventure-tourism which is close to
nature and authentic meets a growing demands (Popp H. 2001).
At the end of the 80ies the introduction of charter flights in the south
of Algeria, which was at that time the most important destination of
Sahara tourists, led to a boom in tourism of
15, 000 organized tourists per season (Grégoire 1999).
The other side of this success was a growing burden on protected nature
and cultural sites in the form of garbage, irreparable damage to
prehistoric cave-paintings and growing theft of artefacts by tourists.
The establishment of an international centre for responsible tourism was
decided on at the international conference for tourism about
“responsible alternative tourism” in Tamanrasset.
A short time afterwards, civil war in Algeria flared up and stopped
tourism in the Sahara of Algeria.
In the southern neighbouring country Niger, where the biggest part of
the population lives, the charismatic leader Mano Dayak (1996), who is
well-known in France, succeeded in initiating a similar dynamic.
Due to worse connections with European travel-markets and therefore
higher prices, tourism remained modest with approximately 3000 organized
tours in the Sahara of Niger.
Initiatives to increase the quality of this “adventure-tourism“ through
the expansion of educational structures were destroyed throughout
several years by the outbreak of the Tuareg rebellion in 1991 (Le Berre

2. New tourism in the Sahara- a rebellion with different means?

The Tuareg- rebellion which lasted from 1991 to 1997 was mainly
supported by “Ishomars“ .
These are nomads uprooted by draughts in the 70ies and 80ies, who had
followed Ghaddhafi’s call to Libya and had worked as mercenaries.
Experiences made there essentially coined the new self-image of this
young social class of Tuaregs, who tried to achieve their demand for a
bigger share of the national “development cake“ for the Tuareg
population. They accomplished this through organized force after their
return to Niger in 1990. It was typical that the relatively successful
rebellious movement split up in numerous front lines which even fought
each other (Grégoire 1999).
This inner discord of the fraction of rebels was an essential reason for
the achievement through of a generally acknowledged peace-treaty.
With the official ending of the rebellion in 1997 Rhissa ag Boula, the
most important leader of the rebels and former colleague of Mano Dayak,
was appointed minister of tourism.
At the same time many former rebels discovered tourism as their chance
to use for profit their all-wheel-drives, which had partly been acquired
as loot.
Soon numerous new foundations of agencies in the regional capital
Agadez followed, while Rhissa saw his most important job as presenting
Niger as safe country for travelling (Friedl 2000).
That is how a typical situation developed for tourism in Niger for the
following years:
Although the region Aïr-Ténéré is the most attractive Sahara area in
Niger, repeated isolated incidents on tourist groups were recorded and
the European clientele was presented with the picture of a peaceful
Sahara in which it was safe to travel.
On the one hand this strategy to make the risks taboo corresponded
totally with the topic of safety as promoted by European travel agencies
before the terrorist attack in New York (Romeiß-Stracke 2003, S. 151
On the other hand this strategy of veiling and playing it down resulted
from the complex relationships and dependencies between former rebels,
the new heads of agencies, the political Tuareg-elite and Tuareg
Mistrust between the Tuareg-population and security organisations mostly
coming from the South hampered the fighting against crime.
That is why people prevented any cooperation with the rebellious
military and defended “their“ bandits for a long time.
The government authorities were also suspicious of ex-rebels integrated
in security organisations.
Some hunts for bandits through the „FNISS“ , a Tuareg unity for safety
in the Sahara founded after the end of the rebellion, stopped because of
insufficient supply of vehicles and petrol.
Some ex-rebels wanted to see calculated tactics of the Tuareg-critical
army in this:
In this way inability can be imputed to integrated rebels.
Enforced military security of the region with regular troops faithful to
the government, can be imposed as a countermove.

3. Safety in the Sahara- end of an illusion?

Today prevailing crime in Niger as well as in other regions of Central
Sahara cannot be concealed as a disappearing relict of the rebellion.
It is more an expression of a long-lasting and fundamental social change
within the population.
As a result, three types of culprits can roughly be distinguished:
1) criminal ex-rebels, who were excluded after the end of the
rebellion voluntarily or involuntarily from being accepted in regular
unities and who continue with their lucrative procurement technique as
“self-employed Sahara pirates“.
2) younger persons who are uprooted as a consequence of rapid,
general modernisation and decline of values due to the rebellion,
therefore tend toward crime. The rise of this form of delinquency is
worldwide, especially in social fringe areas, as a consequence of
unemployment, impoverishment and lack of perspective.
With this, tourism plays an important role as a creator of new desires.
3) People who neither profit from the result of the peace treaties
after the rebellion, nor
from blooming tourism therefore attack travel groups.
They are determined to cause damage or act out of revenge.
Old conflicts also fall into this category (Friedl 2001).
Another typical problem of modernisation of pre-industrial societies can
also be seen here where traditional methods of solving conflicts have
lost their function and are frowned upon.
New methods, however, are only developed in the beginning and are not
The prevailing insecurity can finally be felt by the population as
economic disadvantage and that is why they collaborate more and more
with the authorities.
This makes the arrests of some important criminals possible.
A fourth and completely new group of offenders became active for the
first time in February 2004.
Most likely this is the very group of people who is responsible for the
kidnapping of 32 European tourists in 2003 in the Algerian Sahara and
who kept the German tourist group imprisoned for 48 hours in January
2004 in Mali.
This group of culprits probably fled because of the recent anti-terror
measures of Algerian, Malinesian and American military from Mali through
Niger into the Chad, where they are said to have been put out of action
for the most part (Mounir 2004).
This listing shows that the Sahara, like most regions in the world, has
lost its “innocence” concerning absolute (travel) safety, due to basic
economic, socio-cultural and political changes (O.A.S. 1997).
It was not until the terror attack in New York that this social reality,
convincing but for the “dream “-industry unpleasant, came into the
consciousness of western tourists (Romeiß-Stracke 2003).
The period of grace for organizers of Sahara travels, however, ran out
of with last year’s kidnapping.

4. The Sahara kidnapping trauma: Culprit, victim and beneficiary of
a media spectacle.

In the Algerian South the renaissance of Sahara tourism started with the
political relaxation through the election of Bouteflika to the
presidency of Algeria in 1999.
In the following year, 160 Algerian tours were already offered in France
(Popp H. 2000).
With the establishment of direct charter flights the number of visitors
rose to 8000 all inclusive tourists in 2002. Numerous individual
travellers were not counted.
As a countermove, the number of travel agencies in Tamanrasset rose to
With this, massive competition for relatively few clients did not hold
back from methods which hurt the market like price dumping as in Agadez.
At the same time, problems which had already threatened the continued
existence of Sahara tourism in the 80ies, repeated themselves:
massive ecologic burdens of the most attractive sites, the destruction
of rock engravings and paintings and systematic theft of archaeological
artefacts (Meier 2002, Popp D. 2002).
In trying to find a political and organisational solution to sustain
Sahara tourism, the regional association of agencies, UNATA , set first
steps (Friedl 2003), which were destroyed by the second large crisis of
Algerian Sahara tourism:
Within the first months of 2003 many individual travel groups( 32 people
altogether) were independently kidnapped.
The first group, consisting mainly of Austrians, was “freed” on May
12th, the second group could only be found in Mali and brought to safety
after an officially demented pay of ransom by the German government.
According to official and in media- spread diction, the culprits were
adherents of the Algerian fundamentalist terror-cell ”GSPC” under the
leadership of a certain Abderrezak le Para alias Tarek Ibn Ziad, who was
blamed for threatening the rally Paris Dakar in January 2004 (Dakar
For a long time the media suspected a certain Mokhtar Belmokhtar as
would-be wirepuller of the tourist kidnappings and they called him an
ally of Osama Bin Laden and held him responsible for threatening the
rally Paris- Dakar in Niger in January 2000.
This smuggler, who is well-known to authorities, is surprisingly enough
a kind of “ Robin Hood of the desert” for the people as the German
Tuareg ethnologist Georg Klute reports (Johnson 2003).
It is a verified fact today that the kidnappers of both groups have been
in constant touch. Apart from this, numerous indications and
contradictions feed the urgent suspicion that adherents of the Algerian
military have staged both kidnappings.
This is why those Tuaregs who had participated in the search for the
kidnapped people, still cannot understand how it was possible to hide 32
people without any visible traces and how, on the other hand, it was
possible that they “surprisingly” were able to be found far away at the
Malinesian border.
This is especially surprising because of the fact that the kidnappers
always communicated with satellite telephones and thus could have easily
been found from the technical point of view.
The advantages which obviously come into being for the Algerian military
because of a growing insecurity, cannot be ignored:
1) The unpopular military gains legitimacy for its uncontrollable
action against the “inner enemies”.
2) The military leadership profits through moral and material
support from the side of the Americans, who are in an “anti- terror-
war”, e.g. through the delivery of satellite pictures.
3) Furthermore, it is known and in no way surprising that between
the different safety apparatus of Algeria (army, secret service etc.)
there are massive and hard conflicts over influence, power and financial
4) Mellah and Ruf (2003) wrote:
“The confusing game about the release of kidnapped persons on May 19th
(2003, ann. Friedl) illustrates the Algerian power relationships as if
in a burning mirror. Information is given, tracks are laid, and
connections are suggested- everything is demented again in order to make
it impossible to look behind the wall of deception, which organized this
information policy consciously and the clans of the military leadership
carry out their fights behind it.”

5. Systematic disinformation as recipe for success and threat.

For the media and tourist enterprises it would be high time to give up
the naive insane belief in clear dividing lines between “good” state
military and “bad” Islamic terror.
On the one hand, easy to grasp and threatening names of culprits such as
“Al Khaida” and “Osama bin Laden” fit better in short headlines for an
information overloaded media clientele, than a carefully balanced
analysis of complex and likely connections (Vester 2001).
On the other hand, disinformation plays an omnipresent,
democratic-politically highly problematic role for legitimizing dubious
measures in all political, economic and interpersonal areas.
Ø The second Gulf War was started on the pretext that there was
proof of the production of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Until
today, these deadly weapons have not been found.
Ø In the run-up to this campaign, the state of Niger was accused
of having delivered uranium enriched material. The presented documents
proved to be clumsy forgeries, as the US-Government later had to admit
(Koydl 2003).
Ø In January 2000, during the rally Paris-Dakar, the stage to
Agadez had to be cancelled because of an alleged threat by the GSPC; The
USA had interpreted in pictures of their spy satellites, convoys of
vehicles with armed men in the North of Niger as accumulation of
terrorists. Actually there was only the extensive hunting group of the
Prince Fahad El Houmaidi in the aforesaid area (Kaka 2000).
Right now the US is increasing their presence in the Sahara and in the
Sahel, because they consider this region to be new Al-Khaida area of
The US State Department finances the “Pan-Sahel-Initiative” to fight
terror and weapon smuggling for which training camps should also be
established in Niger and in Algeria.
The newly discovered interest of the USA is based on the fact that 15%
of the demand for oil is covered by this region. This value should rise
to 25% by 2015 (Pitman 2004).
Thus the extensive military measures to “restore” security take an
interest primarily in military and power- political matters, whereas the
social state of the population or also the consequences for tourism are
Tourism only plays a subordinate role as seen from the entire economic
point of view in the economically affected states of Algeria, Mali and
Tourism is “only” important for the prevailing group of the population
in these distant Sahara regions, the Tuareg nomads.

6. Subjective Safety and Travel Conduct of Sahara Travellers

How did these kidnappings and single incidents which were noted by the
media affect the number of visitors to Niger?

It would be naive to expect exact statistical information in African
If you get any dates you should keep it with Churchill’s maxim where
only forged numbers can be trusted.
This shows with the statements of the WTTC concerning the growth of
tourism after 11.9.2001, which do not correspond with reality at all
(WTTC 2003).
Plausible facts can be found with Manzo (2003), who states that the
number of all inclusive tourists in Agadez rose from 1999 to 2001 from
barely 900 to 4,300 tourists, but went down to 3,000 the following year.
The strong growth up to 2001 resulted on one hand from the stabilization
of peace, not in the least thanks to the extensive EU help project
“Echo” for integrating rebel refugees and ex-rebels, on the other hand
from the increased offer of Niger tours by European organizers.
The opening of direct charter flights from Paris to Agadez in December
1999 made possible the clearest growth.
This saved Sahara travellers in Niger the travel to the capital Niamey
and, thus, the additional way on the road of almost 1,000 km.
The other way round it was less the attack in New York which led to the
relatively small set-back concerning the numbers of visitors in the year
2002, but the closing of the airport in Agadez due to necessary repair
work toward the end of the season 2000- 2001.
Thus, arrivals again were only possible via Niamey.
The effects of this burden were shown in the example of the French
organizer Croq’Nature (2003), who counted only 188 Niger customers in
the season 2000/2001, in the following year only 38 and in season
2002/2003 only 7.
This clearly shows that security does not in any way play an important
role as a deciding factor for a trip to Niger.
The price of the journey and attainability are, however, far more
The French clientele had a big advantage through direct connections
concerning the arrivals via Paris and concerning the price because of
the omission of feeder services compared with German visitors.
It was exactly this clientele which reacted particularly sensitively to
additional difficulties concerning their arrivals. From this you can
draw the conclusion that travellers who are prepared to put up with
higher travel barriers like higher prices, longer and more tedious
arrivals and less comfort , react in a more tolerant way to “sudden”
security risks and other occurring inconveniences.

7. The effect of progressive travel information on high-price

The experiences of the author as organizer and leader of travels to
Niger for the Austrian firm “Kneissl Touristik” seem to confirm the
formerly mentioned hypothesis.
One has to mention first that the costs of the 3 day tour which was
offered includes visa and arrival costs run up to 4 000 Euro.
The arrival usually takes place in Niamey, because places for late
bookers can only be guaranteed in this flight connection.
An essential successful recipe is the extensive care of the groups
through the author, who has achieved qualified knowledge through his
many years of studies of tourism in the region as well as his many years
of working as international travel guide.
Special attention concerning individual advice which was carried through
per e-mail, telephone and direct contact, is put on all fields of
Risks are discussed as realistically as possible and stressed according
to the personal profile of the customer.
Instead of a general proposal to take the malaria remedy “Malarone”, as
is suggested by the tropical institute out of jurisdictional reasons,
the advantages and disadvantages of a prophylactic are revealed, the
realistic probability of infection explained and alternative deterrents
are introduced.
The customers get extensive informational material concerning travel
security as well as background reports and continued recommendation of
literature such as the ones concerning the effects on tourism and, of
course, also crime.
It was always emphasized that the number of criminal attacks on travel
groups in Niger is on the verge of decreasing but that no absolute
security can be guaranteed and that, therefore, the purchase of a
baggage insurance always makes sense.
In addition, measures for minimizing the risk are recommended e.g., not
telling a stranger about time and place of travel, not wearing
unnecessary valuable things (Friedl 2002; Friedl 2002a) and, in case of
attack, not resisting or fleeing.
Furthermore, the customers were informed about measures taken by the
Austrian travel organisation and by the partner enterprise in Niger to
minimize the risks.
The partner “Tchimizar Voyages”, a small enterprise, was deliberately
chosen because the people belong to one of the biggest families there
and have mostly taken part in the rebellion.
Therefore, there is a great solidarity attachment between the local
“staff” and the population and through this traditional flow of
information people can be warned when risks suddenly occur.
This Tuareg agency follows the strategy of economic integration of the
population along travel routes by buying crops from farmers, meat stock
from nomads and artefacts from smiths.
In oases they demonstratively use community owned camping sites instead
of private gardens in order to let the whole community profit from
That is how envy and resentment can be met and the risk of attacks can
be reduced.
The broad scattering of income through tourism encourages socio-economic
stability, which contributes substantially to a general acceptance of
tourism and therefore prevents crime.
Thanks to this strategy, no Niger customer has cancelled his booking
because of security –relevant reasons.
An Austrian travel group was attacked along the planned travel route in
2001 and a tourist vehicle drove onto a mine not too far from the
planned travel route in 2003.
It is also noticeable that those interested people who decided against
the journey gave reasons for their decision exclusively based on the
high prices, the long journey there or lack of vacation, but never
because of lack of security.

8. Exclusive customers for exclusive destinations?

The observation shows that, under certain circumstances, massive breaks
in booking as they are at present typical after a sudden impairment of
the subjectively felt travel security as consequence of massive negative
media reports, can be limited by an information policy of punctual,
specific and honest information.
As a countermove all those enterprises whose marketing consistently uses
the clichés of an intact world in the paradisiacal South could be
punished by panic-stricken cancellations after the next attack.

Therefore, we can sum up the following hypotheses for Niger:

1) Niger is an exclusive destination coined
a- by relatively intact traditional nomad culture (salt caravans)
b- extraordinarily scenic and prehistoric attractions (such as lonely
dunes and the biggest dinosaur discovery sites)
c- by high travel barriers, such as high travel costs, tiring journeys
there and little comfort during the tour.

2) All this adds to it that an exclusive, travel and desert
experienced clientele is interested in the country. They know the
specific circumstances of the travel goal and are willing to put up with
particular hurdles, as is confirmed by inquiries by the author.

3) Because of this filter this clientele is also more open towards
the political and social reality in the country and more likely to be
prepared not to dramatise any risks as a “sudden” crisis, but to
estimate risks realistically as problematic consequences of
modernisation and globalisation.

4) Because of their understanding and their travel experience they
are more prepared to take risks which are conveyed in a transparent way
and can therefore be calculated and controlled.
Therefore they are able to contribute actively to the diminishing of
risks (Lepp/Gibson 2003).

5) The imparting of background information about political, social
and cultural connections in the region helps to evoke deeper interest in
the region and the population and, therefore, a readiness to take more
responsibility towards country and people in ecological, economic and
social respects.

6) By this cooperative attitude, those customers contribute
directly to the support of personal security and therefore wellbeing.
Indirectly they contribute to the stability of the region and thus also
to the prevention of regional crises.

9. Preventive measures for people in the Sahara tourist business:
Transparency instead of disinformation.

What is the consequence for those in the Sahara tourist industry?
Numerous Sahara travel customers reacted with cancellation which caused
enormous loss to German and Swiss agencies offering Niger tours.
Frequent news from the latest US-engagement in North- and West Africa
additionally contributed to the insecurity of Sahara-travellers.
The publication of a detailed analysis of the security situation in
Niger by the author in the frequently visited internet forum
www.sahara-info.ch (Friedl 2004) contributed essentially to the
relaxation of the situation. As people confirmed to the author in
numerous positive reactions- it was the first time that the conflicts in
Niger were presented to the organizers of travels in a transparent and
understandable way.
Thus, it became possible to interpret the fear-causing picture of a
vague, omnipresent and uncontrollable threat as a socially structured,
regionally limitable and realistically controllable risk.
In the future, those in the Sahara tourist industry won’t be able to
help acquaint their customers with the problem of security through
progressive information by breaking up the “media truth” of wild
threatening scenarios and scrutinize them as chimeras.
They will have to point out the fundamental omnipresence of terrorist
risk as well as the utopia of absolute safety.
“Madrid” can happen everywhere again.
Agencies can provide the most important contribution for a medium-term
improvement of travel security by taking as many concrete measures as
possible for active participation in tourist enterprises of the
population there.
It was clearly shown in Niger that whoever profits from tourism denies
support to those who endanger it.

10. Conclusion: The clearing out of the jungle instead of head into
the sand

Despite the US fight against terror, all GSPC-propaganda and seemingly
growing crime, Sahara tourism will develop further even if not in the
form of linear growth (Kuschel/Schröder 2002).
The travel market of the “post-modern tourist” (Uriely 1997) is so
highly differentiated that the thrill of the risk or atmosphere of
former terror and the sites of death already lure visitors in the form
of “dark tourism” (Lennon/Foley 2000).
On the other hand, the globalisation of terror contributes to the fact
that today neither skyscrapers and aeroplanes (New York 2001), nor
synagogues (Djerba 2002), nor cafes (Casablanca 2002), nor stations
(Madrid 2004) are safe from terror and it is only a question of time
until the first virtual world of an adventure-centre, the “cathedrals of
the 21st century” (Opaschowski 2000) will also be pulled back into the
reality of danger.
This also shows that when ignoring these criteria a tourism policy on
management as well as on marketing level will fail in the long run
because of the resistance of the population.
Then not only travelling but also life will generally be as dangerous as
it was 200 years ago.
“The Chinese word for crisis “ wie-chi” consists of the words “ danger
and chance” (Capra/Exner/Königswieser 1992, p. 118).
Thus the present crisis of Sahara tourism also opens a chance to break
out of the vicious circle “More of the same”-more tourism, more gain,
more freedom- in favour of a lasting development in tourism.
Finally, there will be no way past a high-price-policy in favour of
quality tourism like in Bhutan for “critical regions”.
Niger could be a model for the Sahara.

Harald A. Friedl is teaching tourism at the University of Applied
Science in Bad Gleichenberg und wrote his doctoral thesis about
sustainable tourism development in the central Sahara.


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-----Ursprüngliche Nachricht-----
Von: jean-paul labourdette [mailto:labourdette@h...]
Gesendet: Dienstag, 16. März 2004 20:18
An: touaregs@y...
Betreff: RE: [touaregs] Le renforcement des relations algéro-nigériennes
au centre des débats


Il faut remonter à près de 30 ans pour trouver trace d'un guide
consacré à l'Algérie.

Le Petit Futé comble enfin cette lacune en publiant le premier guide
entièrement dédié à l'Algérie et notamment au sud algérien.
Le Hoggar, le Tassili N'Ajjer et toute la région saharienne y sont

Pour plus d'informations voir le site www.petitfute.com

__________________________________________________ _______________
Trouvez l'âme soeur sur MSN Rencontres http://g.msn.fr/FR1000/9551

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Old 11 Jun 2004
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Definitely worth the read!

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Old 11 Jun 2004
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Most interesting. There's a report on Sahara News of an ambush last week on the Agadez-Air road which some think could be the start (or return) of something bigger.

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