Thursday, September 22, 2011

The dark, dangerous journey from Niger to Libya: Will civil war destabilize another country?

Dark shadows were lifting themselves off the sidewalk, slowly stretching, shaking the slumber from their limbs.

It was 6:15 a.m. in Niger's capital, Niamey, and I was setting off on a 12-hour drive, leaving its lush boulevards for Agadez, the sands of the Sahara, the desert trails to Libya, and the chaos Moammar Gadhafi's war there is causing.

The sun had yet to raise itself over the roofs but already the first hints of day were breaking the sleep of the destitute at the roadside.

I have seen poverty before, but even shrouded in the predawn gray, there is no mistaking it: People with little of anything save a public place to lay their heads.

Despite tough lives, the people here are warm, welcoming and hospitable.

"Bonjour," they say, hinting at their recent French colonial past. It seems to have overlaid, in part at least, their far earlier conversion to Islam. "As-Salaamu Aleikum," the Arabic greeting, is rarely used. Long French loaves -- not Arabic flatbread -- are on sale at tiny stalls.

We've already passed through the checkpoint on the outskirts of the capital before the countryside begins to take shape. more