After eleven years of partnership, the Dutch NGO OXFAM Novib decided, on March 22, 2017 to cut off all partnership relationship with the Nigerien Association Alternative Citizens’ Spaces (Alternative Espaces Citoyens). This decision was taken by the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib, Mrs. Farah Karimi, to sanction a call to chase from his office the President of the Republic of Niger that was allegedly made by the Secretary General of Alternative Citizens Spaces during a citizen demonstration held in Niamey on December 21, 2016. In perfect English, the head of OXFAM Novib in The Hague writes: “it is my understanding that during the gathering of Niger citizens you made a call for chasing the President of the Republic of Niger away from his office “.
According to Mrs. Karimi, who holds this information from a source she did not find useful to reveal in her letter, such a call is not a simple opinion; it is a deviant behavior that she must absolutely sanction in the most energetic way to show that the organization she runs clearly stands out. “Such a call is not acceptable to Oxfam Novib, which stands for democratic values as the only viable way of solving societal issues and meaningful solutions”, she argues; not without expressing her deepest indignation by this beautiful formula: “A call for overthrowing the government or the President is deemed irreconcilable with Oxfam’s mandate and not to be expected from a partner with whom we have maintained a cordial relationship for over 8 years’’.
In this way, while completely severing the partnership with Alternative Espaces Citoyens, the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib poses as a defender of democracy in Niger; totally sure it can never come to the mind of any democrat in Niger, as in the Netherlands and elsewhere, to condemn her stand against the deviance of a partner whom she also believed acquired to the cause of democracy. The only problem is that Mrs. Farah Karimi did not confirm the veracity of this accusation which was probably whispered to her during her visit to Niamey last February by the Minister of the Interior, Mohamed Bazoum. It is not the first time that such accusations against Alternative Espaces Citoyens and other civil society organizations, whose involvement and activism particularly disturbs him, were made by the Minister of the Interior, who had already complained to the Director of OXFAM in Niger on the very day of the demonstration of December 21, 2016.
Convinced that a Minister of the Republic cannot tell stories to a great lady like her, who heads one of the most powerful NGOs in the world, Mrs. Karimi did not seek to know the version of Alternative, neither during her stay In Niger, nor after her return to The Hague. She therefore considered that what she heard from such an official source did not need to be verified with the partner in question; because trying to verify these allegations amounts in a way to committing a real lèse-majesté crime against the “democratic authorities” of Niger. In any case, it should be noted that the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib preferred to leave Niamey without saying anything about this story to the partner of eleven (11) years, probably not to have to hear a formal denial likely to embarrass her.
Indeed, it was only on March 22 that the patroness of OXFAM Novib emerged with her wizardly argument to justify a break off that she had probably already shaped the idea in the office of the Minister of the Interior of Niger; so for almost three (3) weeks she must have hesitated, trying to see if it is not possible to find another more wizardly argument to move towards this “liberating break off.” That day, it is a letter of complaint from the Association Alternative Espaces Citoyens that will provide her with a good reason to put an end to her hesitations and procrastination. This letter is an additional irreverence on the part of this subversive organization, which believed to be entitled to protest against the wishes of OXFAM to deny its rights in the framework of two joint projects, one financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the other by an organization linked to the World Bank called GPSA.
Thus, the break off with the Association Alternative Espaces Citoyens has become, from this day onwards, a particularly interesting case in the eyes of Farah Karimi; because besides satisfying the Nigerien Minister of the Interior, it also allows her to find a clever way out of two important joint projects: first, to exclude Alternative from the implementation of a program called Strategic Partnership-Conflict and Fragility, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to which Alternative has contributed widely since the beginning of the process of its elaboration until its revision just a few days before the announcement of the break off; and then, not to give a follow up to the prospect of signing a contract for the implementation of the project “Strengthening the social contract in Niger, Budgets are more than money in money out’’ , an important project for the association in the framework of its work of critical analysis and citizen mobilization around the allocation of public resources to Niger.
However, the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib has not, probably as a precautionary measure, put an end to the project called “Culture for Change, Citizen Participation of Women and Young People”, which is the only joint initiative being in implementation; because this is a project that has almost come to an end and which is financed mainly by the European Union, a donor against whom even the all powerful OXFAM Novib cannot afford to break a contract on such fallacious basis. The fallacious character of the reason invoked by the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib cannot obviously be missed by anyone; but it is important to stress that at no time during the demonstration on December 21, 2016 or during any other public or private event, a call to overthrow the President was made by an official of Alternative Espaces Citoyens, or even by any member of the organization.
Of course, it is not necessary to stress here that Alternative Espaces Citoyens, like OXFAM Novib or other civil society organizations, is committed to the principles and values ??of democracy and democratic State. The struggle of this association has always been within the framework of legality; and never, even when it was the victim of various injustices because of its fight for a more just Niger, it has given in to the temptation to break out of the democratic path and embrace other options. OXFAM Novib should not fail to recognize Alternative’s commitment to democracy; even though the Executive Director, Mrs. Farah Karimi, seriously questioned the spirit of responsibility of the association in its letter of break off. It was the commitment, the critical spirit and combativeness of Alternative that had guided OXFAM Novib to have a partnership with this organization.
The document ‘’Analysis of opportunities and risks Analysis,’’ developed in October 2006 by OXFAM, describes in detail the qualities of Alternative Espaces Citoyens, as well as the risks associated with a partnership with a activist organization that was not appreciated by the government authorities of that time; but at that time, Novib was far from what Farah Karimi wants to do today, that is, an organization more attentive to the solicitations of the authorities than to legitimate struggles led by its partners. In other times, OXFAM Novib would certainly have sought to understand why thousands of people took to the streets of Niamey, one day in December 2016, at the call of the civil society organizations; and in regard to the points contained in the platform of these organizations, she would at least have expressed her surprise to hear an authority to present this citizen demonstration as an anti-democratic action.
In any case, Alternative Espaces Citoyens knows how to do, even under these sad circumstances, to decipher things; the association knows that the positions defended by Mrs. Karimi are not necessarily those of the organization she runs and has always been at its side. It is time to mention here that several people within OXFAM Novib were surprised by the decision of break off taken by the patroness; some were even deeply indignant at the fallacious nature of the reasons she invoked. “How can OXFAM Novib index and endanger its own partners in the context of a country where only a few days ago several civilians who languished for more than a year in prisons on charges of conspiracy against the President of the Republic, were able to recover their freedom only through a dismissal of their case by a judge for lack of tangible proof?’’, wondered a former official of the organization.
This is a question that deserves to be asked, considering that such accusations have often served as an alibi for imprisoning civil society actors; as it was the case in March 2005 in the aftermath of the demonstrations against the high cost of living and in May 2015 following the publication by Alternative of a report denouncing the forced evacuation of the populations bordering the Lake Chad. Between 2001 and today, it is important to recall that the Secretary General of the Association Alternative Espaces Citoyens has made several stays in prison and other places of detention under various charges; but he has never been the subject of any condemnation by the Nigerien justice which, on each occasion, has released him to allow him to continue his activities. In May 2015, accused by the Ministry of the Interior of criminal association in connection with a terrorist enterprise, in this case Boko Haram, he was provisionally released after ten (10) days’ detention at the Anti-Terrorist Unit in Niamey; even if the prosecutor has retained against him, without any solid element, the charge of attacking the national defense, a crime punishable by death penalty according to the Nigerien penal code.
It is important to note that this plot followed the publication by the association Alternative Espaces Citoyens of a critical report on the forced evacuation of thousands of people living in the bed of the Lake Chad in Niger. This monitoring report, which denounced this evacuation as a major violation of human rights, had irritated some Nigerien government circles; but no one in the government or any other institution has indicated that the information contained in this report was false or truncated. The unfair treatment of Alternative Espaces Citoyens in this case was strongly condemned both in Niger and outside the country; and in Niamey, several thousands of people demonstrated on June 6, 2015 to support Alternative Espaces Citoyens, but also the Movement for Responsible Citizenship (MPCR), whose leader had also been arrested following a statement on the same subject. It is an occasion to remember that at that time OXFAM in Niger did not fail in its duty of solidarity with the Alternative Espaces Citoyens; because the report for which the association was harassed was part of a citizen watch in a time of conflict that it supported in the Diffa region.
Be that as it may, it is important to note that if the Executive Director of OXFAM Novib, Ms. Farah Karimi, could act in this way; it is undoubtedly because she is very sure that there is no risk for herself or for her organization. The power balance is clearly in her favor, since Alternative Spaces Citoyens has very little chance to make its voice heard. Certainly, Alternative can always deplore, on all the roofs and in all the authorities, an iniquitous and unjust decision; but, it does not certainly have the means of treating to the services of a lawyer in Europe, of going to the Netherlands and of seizing the court of the Hague, only qualified to arbitrate the conflicts between OXFAM Novib and its partners. The only means in possession of Alternative is the favorable reputation of the association amongst many people in Niger and elsewhere who know that its work, which has been supported for eleven (11) years by OXFAM, and wich has enabled progress in many domains.
Mrs.Farah Karimi is perfectly conscientious of this unbalanced enough power struggle in certain regards; it is also very well known that there is only one small chance out of one thousand that the Dutch people be informed about her machinations. The only thing which she is unaware of, is that the Association Alternative Espaces Citoyens can judiciously use this single small chance out of one thousand to sound the alarm towards all those who, within and outside OXFAM Novib, are concerned with the reputation of this beautiful organization and who are animated by the sense of justice. This is the aim of this article which, we hope, will be considered and treated by the Dutch colleagues; but, we also have to point out that this article is addressed especially to all those who, even in Niger fight so that their country does not sink into injustice. That is the thousands of people who, on December 21st, 2016, demonstrated peacefully in Niamey against bad governance, corruption and the violations of human rights; the thousands of people who want anything else, but only to see their country leaving the last world rank as regards human development, and their State to assume its obligations as regards education, health, food and employment.
In conclusion, and for those who will not have seized all the gravity of this decision against which Alternative Espaces Citoyens will give itself the means of fighting until the end, it is not superfluous to make the comparison with a very current situation in Niger, namely repudiation, which makes unhappy many women. Repudiation in a life of a couple is a unilateral and irrevocable decision of a husband consisting in separating from a woman with whom he lived sometimes for long years and with which he may have even had many children. The break off decided by Farah Karimi merely amounts to a repudiation, in its form as well as in its content; because, it is about a unilateral and irrevocable decision made by only one party for reasons which were not preliminarily discussed with the other party. The partner, unilaterally repudiated, loses all his rights on all the joint projects; but, we thank God, OXFAM Novib does not have in Niger, the authority and capacity to throw into prison or to dissolve unorthodox partners.
A.T. Moussa Tchangari is Secretary General of Alternative Espaces Citoyens