Speech – John Hutchison, Boston University

AREN: L’Archive de la République du Niger

Opening Ceremony Speeches, April 3, 2015

The following speech was presented by John Hutchison at the opening of the Archive de la République du Niger (AREN) at Boston University. President Issoufou Mahamadou of Niger honored us with his presence at the opening ceremony.

Dr. Hutchison is Professor Emeritus at the African Studies Center at Boston University.

The Story of AREN

[Hausa language] Welcome to Boston University to see the opening of the Archive of the Republic of Niger. My name is John Hutchison, or Malam Tijani. I am extremely grateful for the arrival here of S.E.M. the Pres. of Niger, Issoufou Mahamadou. Welcome! I also want to greet the new Ambassador from Niger Prof. Hassana Alidou. We at Boston University are extremely happy to receive all of you who have gathered here today.

[French language] Why an archive of Niger in the US at BU? I will explain. In 2012 we established AREN at BU together with Maman Sidikou, Ambassador, Beth Restrick, Librarian, the Friends of Niger, and the BU African Studies Center. This archive is still in its infancy, and it is evolving. It is little. The space can be small and the archive large. There is a Kanuri proverb that I often cite which says: “No matter how small it is, sit down on your seat!”

There is a relationship which dates to the 1960s between Niger and the US, thanks to the Peace Corps, and dating back to the 1980s between our two universities, due to our BU study abroad linkage. We have a history together, and we have, above all, partners that have grown out of our history; partners who work with and for Niger.

If possible, through AREN, we envisage with Niger, collaborative projects of archiving and digitization. Our librarians can help facilitate the acquisition of inter-institutional funding with the possibility of shared open access. We could, for example, propose such a collaboration in digitization between our two libraries, between our African Studies Center, the West African Research Association, FLSH (Faculté de Lettres et Sciences Humaines), IRSH (Institut de Recherche en Sciences Humaines), and CELHTO (Centre d’Etudes Linguistiques et Historiques par la Tradition Orale), among others. We all have documents and recordings endangered by time and climate.

• Let me introduce you to some of AREN’s partners. One of the most important is the Embassy and the Ambassador, who facilitate our collaboration with Niger and our contact with Nigeriens in the diaspora.

• Also the Friends of Niger, the former Peace Corps Volunteers. I invite the former Peace Corps volunteers present among us to please stand up. Please hold your applause.

• Meet a group of BU students who studied in Niger between 1987-2011.

• CONUSA, the Council of Nigeriens in the USA, was established by Professor Hassana Alidou in the 90s – she served as president as well. Please meet Saley Tahirou, current President of CONUSA and Rabiou Yari in charge of investments and education on the Board of Directors. Both Saley and Rabiou also serve on the Board of the Friends of Niger.

• From BU, Mark Lewis, Director and Frank Antonelli of the Geddes Language Center at BU. Extraordinatry archivistes who help to preserve documents in Nigerien languages, recordings and even films of the Yazi Dogo Theater Troop. Their knowledge will be vital as we consider collaborative archiving projects.

• Meet Bess Palmisciano, Founder of the non-profit RAIN for the Sahel and the Sahara. Agadez Learning Center for educating children from rural areas.

• Lifebox is organizing a project that will outfit every government hospital operating room in Niger with essential monitoring equipment, with training for all Nigerien anesthesia providers. Please meet Janet DeWan who is an RPCV from Niger and is working with Dr. Alex Hannenberg, Lifebox Board member, anesthesiologist at Newton Wellesley, and past President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists; Dan Flatley, Trustee of the Flatley Foundation. The Flatley Foundation has provided the funds to support the Lifebox project in Niger, including 270 pulse oximeters, and training for the anesthesia providers.

• Myself I work with John Ashworth, Architect et Jon Rothendler, Electronic Engineer from Engineers without borders. On a voluntary pro bono basis they have designed a computer lab classroom with 42 work stations to be built on to a Nigerien primary school, and powered by solar energy. The classroom serves the community in the evenings and on weekends, functioning also as a community technology and archiving center for the village or town. We are working in collaboration with the Nigerien NGO Fille Femme et Développement.

• Also, I want to introduce my colleague/friend, the Ambassador from Gabon, a graduate of BU who also taught Hausa here at the ASC, Ambassador Michael Moussa-Adamo.

• A new partner, Sani Mahamadou Abba, student at the Fletcher School at Tufts and son of S.E.M. le Président.

There are other AREN partners. We add new ones regularly. For your information, the Nigerien NGOs with which we cooperate are shown in the AREN brochure distributed today.

Myself, today I am professor emeritus of African Languages & Linguistics at BU where I taught for nearly 30 years.

50 years ago in 1965, I arrived in Niamey with Operation Crossroads Africa, organization founded by Pastor James Robinson; his exchange organization apparently gave John Kennedy the idea for the Peace Corps. As one of 10 university students, we worked as volunteer manual workers on the construction of a reception building in a Youth Center in Niamey. After university, my Peace Corps service then led me to a doctorate in linguistics and a dissertation on the Kanuri language.

I met Yazi Dogo in 1978. He was teaching in the first Hausa language school of Niger in Zinder. I was inspired. In the 70s and 80s I worked in educational reform and on the documentation of Nigerien languages to prepare them for use as medium in the education system. Many of the documents I gathered from this work are now part of AREN.

On leave of absence from BU in 1984-85, I worked as a Fulbright Prof. in the Letters & Human Sciences Fac. of the University of Niamey (Abdou Moumouni) in linguistics and the Kanuri language. Among my students in linguistics were two women, twins, by the names of Hassana and Ousseina Alidou. They are of course here with us today. They represent extraordinary role models for girls and women of Africa. Together they have their own NGO working in girls and women’s education and leadership.

After that year in Niger, a 3-year program of exchange of professors between our 2 universities in linguistics and education ensued. Prof. Karen Boatman, from our School of Education (who couldn’t be here today) is the one who had the vision and foresight to propose Niger as a site for a professional international linkage program. She brought the first BU students to Niger to the CFCA in 1987, and the program lasted until 2011.

Today we are pleased to congratulate S.E.M. le Président Issoufou Mahamadou and the government of Niger on the choice of Prof. Hassana as ambassador. Her remarkable path and her career fall directly in the domain of education, language and culture. Her contribution to literature in African languages as an international functionary and academic is enormous. We hope that the story of this family may one day be part of AREN.

While a PC volunteer, I had a small tape recorder with me, and I recorded various storytellers. One day in my village, a child, Ali Abdoui, had heard the tape recorder and approached me to say: “Monsieur John, I would like to get inside of your radio!” I recorded him. He was happy.

This is what we wish for the future of AREN – we want everyone to get inside of the radio and we want their voices to resonate. AREN is an archive that will tell our stories and inspire our hopes. We are together!

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Website of the Friends of Niger