To the sound of patriotic reggae that makes the speakers vibrate, hundreds of young people, arms raised, jump to the rhythm and chant "Macron, get out of our house!": every day in Niamey, demonstrators hold the pavement to demand the departure of French soldiers from Niger.
For the past week, Nigeriens have found themselves in front of the gates of an air base which houses part of the French contingent near the airport of the capital Niamey.
Several tens of thousands of people have so far participated in these rallies against the presence of some 1,500 French soldiers in the country.
Nigerien generals who came to power in a coup on July 26 have denounced several cooperation agreements concluded with France, a former colonial power, and are demanding the withdrawal of its troops. But Paris does not recognize the legitimacy of their military regime.
So day and night, and almost without interruption, citizen "vigils" continue to occupy the so-called Escadrille roundabout, which has become the heart of a protest that refuses to run out of steam, and a place of festivities. in a city hardly known for its nightlife.
Along the metal barriers where an almost uninterrupted line of police and soldiers keep watch, Niamey parades in a Saturday evening atmosphere.
Old men, couples hand in hand, young people draped in national colors, groups of women, street children, street vendors, crowd between the stalls under the pale light of the street lamps.
An improvised market was created under an awning erected for the occasion. Grilled corn, rice, couscous, and the essential tea that allows watchmen to stay until late at night.
Hafizou, who says he is 16 but looks half his age, arrived with a friend from the neighborhood with a sleeping bag to sleep on the spot.
This schoolboy claims to have had permission from his parents to come on foot from his neighborhood and “stay until midnight, one hour”. “We go to the concert, and we dance a little,” he says.
"I am here to support my homeland," said Hafizou, in the middle of a crowd where the vuvuzelas resound.
Some stay until dawn, others come "from time to time", like Mariama Oumarou, manager in the private sector, wrapped in a purple veil.
“My husband gives me the right to come to show that I am a true patriot,” she says.
The vigil also offers a space for sociability and exchange in a conservative society which offers little of it.
“It does us good to be here. We meet people, we exchange ideas, we talk about the crises we have just experienced,” explains Mariama.
All participants nevertheless assure that they came to support the cause: to demand the departure of France, and not to fool around.
The French army is perceived by these demonstrators as an ineffective "occupying force" in the fight against the jihadists. President Emmanuel Macron is also castigated for his attitude and his policy, deemed "neocolonialist".
The organizations that oversee these vigils do their best to gather people of good will. A local association has promised to serve “1,000 meals a day” to watchmen, and its teams are working to distribute piles of meals in cardboard boxes.
On the platforms there are concerts, sermons and diatribes which resonate through the loudspeakers.
The festive atmosphere contrasts with the slogans that resonate there, starting with the main message, hammered out over and over: “Down with France”, its politics, its president and its soldiers.
The much-maligned French soldiers do not hear these messages from their enclave, guarded by a large network of security forces.
Nigerien civilians and soldiers take the opportunity to chat on either side of the barriers which protect access to the camp.
"We don't need the French, our army can do the job very well without them," says Oumar, a young man from the neighborhood, next to two soldiers on duty.
The watchmen also come to show their support for the army, threatened by a hypothetical military intervention by West African states and which enjoys great popularity in Niger.
10/09/2023 18:19:07 - Niamey (Niger) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP