AFRICA/NIGER - "We will stay as long as we have food" say villagers subjected to violence by jihadists

Tuesday, 8 February 2022 jihadists   missionaries   violence  

Niamey (Agenzia Fides) - "We will stay as long as we have something to eat", with these words the Italian missionary Father Mauro Armanino of the Society for Africa Missions quotes farmers from the area of Bomoanga, on the border with Burkina Faso, with regard to the current situation in the region where his confrere Father Pierluigi Maccalli was kidnapped on the night of September 17-18, 2018 and was only released in Mali in October 2020.
"Even before Father Pierluigi Maccalli was kidnapped, the region was partially occupied by jihadist groups, most of whom belong to the Peul (Fulani) ethnic group", explains Father Armanino.
Since last year, the besiegers have banned residents from holding markets and imposed a ban on farmers and traders moving about. In addition, improvised explosive devices were planted in some areas to prevent people from leaving the villages. In the region around Ngoula, which originally consisted of 45 villages, there are only 21 inhabited settlements. Residents of 24 villages have fled to towns better protected by government forces: Makalondi, Torodi and the town of Ngoula itself, which now has twice the population. "Everyone, whether Christian or non-Christian, is obliged today to obey the Salafist Sharia", said the missionary. "They have introduced the wearing of cropped black trousers and beards for men and full veils for women, and impose the Islamic 'zakat' tax on goods since their money has long since run out".
Christians are strictly forbidden to pray in the chapel and carry crosses", continued Father Armanino, "cultivation in the fields is made impossible by the difficulty of moving due to the threats. The millet crop, a staple for the region's population, was virtually nil when the new "masters" arrived at harvest time." "Families with school-age children have also migrated to relatively more sheltered centers to continue schooling, which has long been closed in the villages", he affirms. "We are fighting back out of fear because we don't want to leave our land and what's left of our homes", say the remaining farmers. To communicate with cell phones, people use the cell phone network in neighboring Burkina Faso, which is about 60 kilometers away. "They pray together in their homes as often as possible", the missionary concludes. "They came to the city to ask politicians and religious leaders for food aid pleading and hoping that the military will be able to bring supplies to the village. 'This is our last hope', the peasants say, and we will stay as long as they have food". (M.A.) (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 8/2/2022)