Pay, convert or flee: the dilemma of Christian communities

Below is an article from Agenzia Fides written by Mauro Armanino.  It describes the situation in Niger where SMA Fathers have worked. 

It happens about a hundred kilometers from the capital Niamey. They come with some motorcycles, armed, and offer to choose between the following options: either pay a tax of 50,000 CFA (76 E) per male person aged 15 or over or convert to Islam. If both are rejected, the only thing left is to give the village and everything you own into their hands. They are described by locals as “bandits” and by observers as armed terrorist groups from the nebulous “jihadist” universe, which operate primarily in the ‘Three Borders’ area.

These are Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. All three countries are currently ruled by military regimes and have decided to merge into a new entity called the ‘Alliance of Sahel States’ (AES). Since the kidnapping of Father Pierluigi Maccalli in 2018 (see Fides, 9/10/2020), thelives of farmers in the border region with Burkina Faso have continued to deteriorate. Threats, kidnappings, targeted killings, abandoned and closed schools, intimidation and a climate of fear characterize the everyday life of the residents. The presence of the Nigerien military does nothing to stop these practices that have become established in the area. Complaints and cries for help seem to fall on deaf ears, or at least the rhetoric of the much-touted abolition of foreign military presence on Nigerien soil (apart from the Russians). All this does not deter the “bandits” or armed groups who, in the meantime, are occupying the country and, thanks to a scorched earth policy, are recruiting young people who are being driven into poverty with the promise of an easy income and a new social identity.

Since March last year, the demands have been the same from the village of Tiboandi to the villages of Kiloubiga, Torsé and Koutougou. Sometimes Christians are willing to pay and are often forced to flee to more sheltered places such as Makalondi and Torodi. The “bandits” give them a week to give an answer. It seems clear that if the “conversion” is refused, the only option left is to flee, since paying the requested sum this year means that it will be doubled next year. The mayor of the capital has been informed and the authorities are aware of the drama unfolding not far from the capital.

The impotence of the authorities, the inability, the difficulty in taking responsibility for the safety of the people and the occasional raids have not produced the hoped-for results.

Not only Christians are affected by the rackets of armed groups, but all residents of the Three Border area. They all have one characteristic in common. They are poor farmers who join the long list of “invisibles” who are neither economically nor geopolitically important. This last factor perhaps helps to better explain the reasons for the ongoing violence against civilians in this part of the Sahel.    (SOURCE: Agenzia Fides, 3/5/2024)

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