Speech – Jennifer Yanco, WARA

AREN: L’Archive de la République du Niger

Opening Ceremony Speeches, April 3, 2015

The following speech was presented by Jennifer Yanco 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.

Jennifer Yanco is the US director of the West African Research Association (WARA).

Monsieur le President, Professeur l’Ambassadeur, and honored guests

I am thrilled to be here today at the inauguration of AREN at Boston University. This archive will be a key resource for current and future generations of researchers. During the many years I spent in Niger, I collected a wealth of materials that bear testimony to Niger’s trajectory during the latter part of the 20th century.

They are dear to me, but in my own private collection, not accessible to others who might benefit from them. How wonderful for all of us who have amassed these private collections to now have a place where these historic archival materials can be safely kept and made available to the wider research community.

I am here today not only as a contributor to the archive, but as the US director of the West African Research Association, or WARA. WARA has strong relationships with Niger and with our many Nigerien colleagues.

In 2011, together, we organized and hosted the third international Saharan Crossroads conference in Niger, a conference that brought together scholars from more than ten countries in West Africa, North Africa, and beyond. I see AREN as an opportunity to deepen relationships in the region through gathering and sharing our rich stores of materials on Niger.

I am also here today as someone with deep personal connections to Niger, a country that has had an enormous impact on my life. From the moment I set foot in Niger in 1975, I had a sense that I had arrived in a very special place. For more than 15 years, Niamey was my home.

During those 15 years, I served in many roles: I was a Peace Corps volunteer, teacher trainer and advisor, researcher, and university professor. I traveled by road—hanyar gardarda—to every city and town in Niger that had a secondary school; and in Niamey, I conducted my doctoral research on bilingualism in Hausa and Zarma.

I learned a great deal during those years, as everyday people generously made time to share their stories and experiences with me, as officials at the local and national level so kindly facilitated my work, and as elder scholars like the late Djioulde Laya and my students and colleagues at the university welcomed me into their vibrant intellectual circles.

Early on in this trajectory, I met two amazing young women who were my students in linguistics at the university of Niamey– Ousseina Alidou and Hassana Alidou. Later, we worked as colleagues in a Hausa summer language institute in Niamey. And it is a high point of my life that our paths have continued to intersect over the years. Both Ousseina and Hassana are here today.

Each of them has gone on to accomplish remarkable things; Professor Ousseina Alidou is the Director of the Center for African Studies at Rutgers University; she has published widely on women in Islamic societies in Africa, and provides critical guidance to the scholarly community of Africanists through her service on the board of the African Studies Association.

Her sister, Professor Hassana Alidou, has an equally impressive list of accomplishments, the most recent being her appointment as ambassador of the Republic of Niger to the US. It is my pleasure and great honor to introduce her today: Ambassador Alidou.

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