This story, a portrait of the mayor of Agadez, Rhissa Feltou a Tuareg, concerns his and the European Union’s desire to curb the ever increasing and problematic migration of central and west Africans onto the shores of Europe. Agadez, a once sleepy town at the junction of the Sahel and southern Sahara is a major trafficking route of migrants attempting the dangerous desert journey up through Libya and onto European soil. For the west it has become a strategic battleground to curb the trafficking of arms, drugs and people. Our story follows Rhissa Feltou as he directs the morning shift of the city’s new street sweepers brigade – the European Union has pumped hundreds of millions of euros into the region. Its main task consists less in cleaning the old city around its 14th century minaret, but rather in injecting urgently needed money into the pockets of the poor. Some observers fear the outbreak of social and political unrest in a town harshly impoverished by the imprisonment of many traffickers – a business that had a huge economic trickle down effect for most in the town and now confronted by a population growth that keeps on exploding has left the situation in a precarious state. We accompany the mayor on his visits to the “ghettos”, houses inside Agadez where stranded migrants from Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast wait for new loopholes to continue their journey north. Feltou tries to convince them to give up their dream of reaching Europe and instead takes advantage of a local job training program before returning to their home countries or staying on to live and work in Niger. Nobody shows any interest.
On the outskirts of Agadez, close to the domestic airport is an almost invisible build-up of an American drone base, under construction, where the Pentagon admitted to the existence of the camp, becoming its second largest base in Africa after Djibouti. It will be equipped with “Reapers”, the new drone generation succeeding the “Predator”. It also means that Agadez will be the main US launch pad to take on terrorist jihadist forces (Aqmi, Boko Haram, Ansar Dine, Al Qaida) encompassing a huge area reaching from Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean.
With mayor Feltou we travel into the Aïr Mountains, north of Agadez, the harsh, unforgiving terrain where the nomadic Tuareg live and raise their herds of camel, goats and sheep. We visit some members of the mayor’s tribe, his ailing father and the crash and burial site of the legendary Tuareg leader Mano Dayak – whom was an uncle to the current mayor. He had him educated in Strasbourg, before returning to Agadez. The Aïr Mountains are strategically important in the region, as mayor Feltou has gotten word that Islamists from neighbouring Mali, tribally related to the Tuareg of Niger are trying to infiltrate the Aïr in order to build a foothold in the country that has remained till now, immune to jihadist groups. As Rhissa Feltou points out if these jihadist groups where to succeed it would be the beginning of the end for northern Niger and Agadez.