AREN: L’Archive de la République du Niger
Opening Ceremony Speeches, April 3, 2015
The following speech was presented by Pearl Robinson 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. Robinson is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Tufts University.
Mr. President, Honored Guests, Colleagues, and Friends of Niger:
We are defined by the PEOPLE in our lives. For me, many hundreds of those people are Nigeriens.
In 1968, I arrived in Niger as a Peace Corps public health educator. Attached to a rural clinic in Madaoua, I worked closely with the medical staff, and did monthly home visits. My caseload was 204 babies. And I got to know each and every one of their mothers.
Three years later, fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation on the Role of Traditional Chiefs in Nigerien Politics served as my entrée into the political life of the country. I was welcomed by the research community at IRSH, developed life-long relationships with Djermakoye Abdou Aouta of Dosso and Sarkin Gobir Agada Nagogogo of Tibiri. And for 13 months I observed and interviewed the politicians, citizens and subjects of President Diori Hamani’s one-party state.
I returned in subsequent years to study political participation under the military regime of General Seyni Kountché – when he set up the Société de Développement. With the notable exception of Colonel Adamou Moumounie Djermakoye – who would eventually serve with distinction as Niger’s ambassador to the United States – the soldier-politicians posed MANY research challenges.
In 1991 I had the privilege of being designated an International Observer at Niger’s Sovereign National Conference. As an American, and as a scholar of political interest representation, being there as Nigeriens discovered and debated the meaning of citizenship was, and remains, a highpoint of my intellectual life.
In 2003, after an 8-year absence, I returned to Niger for a new research project: Islam and Female Empowerment among the Tidjaniyya. The Jamiyat Nassirat Dine is a mass Muslim women’s movement led by the charismatic Saïda Oumul Khairi Niass, who is affectionately known as “Mama Kiota.” The JND has 200,000 members in Niger, with branches in 6 other West African countries.
In addition to religious education, the association promotes female literacy, fights poverty, addresses public policy issues, and advocates peace as the route to sustainable development.
Working with the Nigerien filmmaker Moustapha Alassane, I have produced a Hausa-language documentary about Mama Kiota – with the aim of making the movement and its goals widely known in West Africa. I invite all who are present to assist with the dissemination of these women’s message.