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Agadez in Niger

The Sands of Agadez: Where a Woman Knows More Than She Should About Gun Lords and Mercenaries

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by Carl Hancocks

For the past four years, the city of Agadez has been what could barely pass as home for a woman without a name. Nigerian, she fends for herself as a sex-worker, but that was not how she arrived in this place. Her story is that of a migrant, initially trying to make her way north. In her attempts she was misled by traffickers, and then left to navigate this new city on her own. The time spent in her new life has made her streetwise, with keen insight into the activities, both good and bad, that exist within the city.

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Agadez is a city in the Sahara desert, central Niger, located on one of the main travel routes running north to the borders of Algeria and Libya, and south to Nigeria.

The woman had tried to escape from her disadvantaged circumstances, which drove her to make her way north in search of a better life and ultimately to make her way to Europe. She had been duped by migrant traffickers, escaped from them, and was left behind in Agadez.

Life here is hard and dangerous. It was never supposed to be her home, but well-laid plans seldom work out in a place like this. 

“Those who were going to help me, they just abandoned me and now, I live like this to survive,” she says. “I have no other way, but I still hope to leave here one day, from this place and begin a new life.”

Her life on the streets, and in this profession, lends itself to information. Doing what she does, she hears what happens, sees who is around, and knows more than she should. Experience has taught her that this place isn’t like other cities. 

“There are a lot of bad things that go on,” she says. “Most of the time the police and security officials know of it but allow it and receive money to do so.”

Near the central market in Agadez

She identifies a building nearby. “It’s a workshop filled with tribesmen who do craft work there. They are nomads, Tuaregs. I have spoken to people in the city and they say some of these workers, they had gone to fight in Libya years ago at the time of the liberation there. They came to Agadez after that and got involved with a French mercenary.

“People say that these ex-fighters, they brought weapons with them from up there in Libya and that they still travel up there at times and bring weapons back with them.” 

This is what she hears people say, “people who know of these things,” and are involved in purchasing these weapons from them. They say that this foreigner, the Frenchman, has been involved with the Tuaregs for a long time, and is like a brother to them. 

The Frenchman is on very friendly terms with the police and city officials in Agadez; that is what she hears. He gets things right, things that most people don’t. In turn, the police allow him freedom of movement to the north, towards the border. This is usually not allowed, especially for foreigners. 

“Even I would not be allowed to travel that way, but I have been told that he does,” the woman says. “It is as if he has rights that other foreigners are not given here.”

He is the friend of all in Agadez. Whether he is a gun lord or a terrorist, she does not know. He is not driven just by money but also by the cause of the Tuareg people – he identifies himself with them. He has become like the sand in which they dwell.

Carl Hancocks is a military and law enforcement veteran from South Africa, who has operated in the domains of private security and intelligence for the past two decades. He owns a private intelligence and risk management firm, operating on the African continent. 

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