Instrumentalizing religion: the economy of insecurity in Niger

Instrumentalizing religion: the economy of insecurity. Niger National Report
[ version française ]

Research managers
National Report
Dr. Amadou OUMAROU, socio-anthropologist, lecturer and researcher at the Abdou Moumouni University in Niamey; research fellow at LASDEL

Field survey
Dr. Kadidia ALI GAZIBO, political scientist, lecturer and researcher at the University of Tahoua


Study areas
The perceptions of insecurity collected for this study are representative of two main areas, namely Tchintabarden and Zinder. Perceptions were also collected in a third study site in northern Tillabéri as a control. It was in Tchintabaraden, capital of the Department and urban commune of the same name, that the first Tuareg rebellion broke out in 1990. The main communities are Tuareg, Arab, Fulani and Hausa. It was also in Tchintabaraden that, 15 years later, the « Flame of Peace1 », a symbol of national reconciliation, took place. Today, while the main activity remains farming, the area is also a place where various forms of trafficking (arms, drugs, cigarettes, etc.) are common. Finally, in addition to being a transit area for migration to the north, Tchintabaraden is the reception area for people who have returned or were sent back from Libya following the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. Initially chosen for its proximity to Nigeria (a country where different religious cults have been established and from which they have spread), Zinder is a city with strong religious currents which has ulemas who are renowned at the sub-regional level. The main communities in the study area are Hausa, Kanuri, Fulani, Toubou, Arab and Zarma, and their main activity is agriculture. Another equally important aspect found in Zinder is the presence of youth organisations – called « palaces » – which create a risk of insecurity in the city and in the general area. The palaces, far from being mere youth groups like the « Fadas2 », are centres which recruit the young who display a strategy of violent protest against the state, traditional authority and parents. Analysis of the issue of insecurity in Niger would be incomplete if the difficult question of the situation of northern Tillabéri was not considered. Indeed, in this region, the Fulani militia is becoming a violent force connected to Malian jihadist movements. A reconstruction of the evolution of insecurity in the area has been made from secondary sources and empirical data to put the issue of nationwide insecurity into a clearer context.

State and citizenship, religion and identity
The everyday behaviour of Niger’s politicians undermines the secularity of the state which is supposed to strictly separate politics and religion. Niger has many different Islamic organisations. Consequently, new figures in the production of Islamic knowledge have emerged, dissemination of this knowledge has devolved and new networks have developed to disperse religious messages. Religious claims, when they multiply and become the norm, set the stage for radicalization which contributes to depriving citizens of their sense of nationalism. The breakdown of traditional values, and the inability of the young to achieve even the smallest of their dreams, is a source of rebellion and violence. The abdication of the state from its public role to protect the people creates a sense of abandonment and frustration among individuals, and pushes them to find refuge in ethnic or regional identity.

Inter-communal and cross-border dynamics
Various forms of sociability (inter-ethnic exchanges) undermine the border’s official status and facilitate the mobility of people and goods. For many border residents, the community or religious identity they share with their neighbours on the other side of the border takes precedence over national identity. The border is an area for work opportunities for all social strata. It is a place where basic necessities are available and accessible, and thus, a space which contributes to the reduction of social inequality. This opportunity may also be transformed into a relative dependence, particularly from an economic point of view. Fluid mobility makes it difficult for defence and security forces to control the border and promotes the flow of weapons, drugs, diseases, etc. – which are all sources of insecurity. Cross-border exchange increases the risk of attacks, fraud and illegal trafficking.

Radicalization: clues and process
The absence of justice or, rather, perceptions of unequal justice, creates frustrations which lead to an individual response (‘armed banditry’) or a collective response (rebellion as protest, militias for self- protection). Economic and social instability predisposes people living on the border to radical and violent behaviour. Lack of regulation of religious expression, particularly in the media, and the use of religion for political and economic purposes encourage the development of radical behaviour. People feel an increase in insecurity and violence at the border, but almost never associate this increase with the presence of radical religious messages/practices/groups. As a cross-border phenomenon, insecurity benefits a chain of actors at the local, national and international levels.

The role of women and young people
Respondents highlighted that the fragility (physical and mental) of women and children makes them vulnerable to various forms of insecurity on the border. This vulnerability is the foundation for manipulation, both political (elections) and ideological (religious, ethnic and economic). Women and young people are vectors for lasting peace when involved in decision-making and in the implementation of actions to be taken against insecurity.

Avenues for reflection
Based on the perceptions collected during the study and observation in the field, as well as the analyses of, and discussions with, various relevant stakeholders, the following avenues for further reflection emerge:

For the state

  • Reinforce a sense of national identity through social investment;
  • Strengthen the credibility of debate in the public space.

For religious and tradition leaders

  • Work to strengthen social cohesion in a systematic and concerted manner;
  • Strengthen traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution.


1. The Nigerien state, between secular standards and practices
The proliferation of Islamic organisations
The relationship of government people with religion
The recurrence of protests related to religion
2. The state-citizen relationship and its impact on security issues
The impact of the weakening of the state…
… on building a new type of citizen

1. The border as opportunity
The transit of profitable consumer products and equipment
Attractive spaces for youth migration
The social and cultural mix which weakens the borders
2. The border as threat
A shared feeling of insecurity
The difficulties the FDS faces in terms of controlling the population
An economy more vulnerable to insecurity

1. Popular understanding of the key concepts in the study
2. Contributing factors
The almost permanent absence of the state
Socio-economic conditions
The effects of youth migration
3. Factors of radicalization
The exploitation of religion
The economy of insecurity
The lack of media regulation

1. Women, the potential beyond the vulnerability
2. From manipulation to the rehabilitation of young people




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