Once a busy layover for the Paris-Dakar rally and a base for expensive Saharan tours, Agadez went through rapid changes in the last decades. Two armed rebellions and the conflagration of the Libyan conflict, in 2011, turned this ancient caravan city into a platform for human smuggling across the desert, to Libya and Algeria. Transforming Niger, by extension, in one of Europe’s main partners to counter migration flows from Western Africa to the Mediterranean shores. Hundreds of “migration actors”, from drivers to managers of ghettos and transit houses, to middlemen, were arrested and their vehicles confiscated. While a whole economic sector, that according to estimates was worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, crumbled quickly, efforts to offer alternatives to local youth – through EU funds – had to come to terms with the dire economic situation of the world poorest country. In the space of two years, Agadez went from being a busy transit town to an uncertain destination for migrants faced with a dead end.
Among them, a growing number of people expelled from Algeria to Niger, dumped in the city’s suburbs, and others looking for a safe place after experiencing violence and detention in Libya.
The city’s future is linked to turmoils in Libya, US and French military operations and decisions in Niamey, Niger’s capital 900 km to the South-West.
Tuaregs say, in local tamasheq language, Agadez needs a “tanakra”, a reawakening, however, unhealed scars from past rebellions and rising insecurity further complicate the city’s struggle to find a new identity.