A storage warehouse is currently under construction in Arkis, a village in Kousseri, in the Far North, thanks to funding from the French Development Agency, through the Minka Peace and resilience fund. It is built by 150 young people per the labor-intensive framework (HIMO) applied by the National Participatory Development Program (PNDP). The young people working on the project are all “Arab Choa” from Arkis.
According to some of the project managers, youth located within a 5-kilometer radius of the storage warehouse were hired, including members of the Mousgoum ethnic group. However, the latter no longer come to the site.
"The Mousgoum were there when construction works started, but they left,” explains Abdoulaye Abdouramane, a young Arab Choa laborer on the project. He says he does not know why the young Mousgoum left, but he doesn't seem to care. Other project managers play down the absence of young Mousgoum on the construction site, arguing that Arkis is an Arab Choa village so, it is normal to see only young people from the community working on the project.
Things are not like they are presented, according to Eric Didier Nyemeck, the focal point of the PNDP’s HIMO in Kousseri. "The Mousgoum were there at the start of the project. They left because they didn't feel safe. During the latest intercommunity clashes, the Mousgoum destroyed this village and killed some of the inhabitants. You'll notice that the huts have recently been rebuilt because the people returned not long ago,” he explains. He believes that the Mousgoum feared further reprisals should they part in the construction.
Indeed, Arkis still bears the scars of the violent clashes between Arab Choas and Mousgoum in 2021. That year, the two communities clashed in August and December in disputes over water points. The Mousgoum are farmers who dig ponds in the rainy season to collect water to irrigate their crops in the dry season. These ponds become traps for the cattle of the Arab Chao community, which is mainly a livestock-breeding community. According to several local sources, the disputes escalated when an Arab Choa killed a Mousgoum because one of his cattle had died in a pond dug by the latter. The Mousgoum retaliated by attacking Arab Choa villages and killing their inhabitants. They were backed in the killing by fishermen, mostly Mousgoum, who also benefit from the fish bred in the ponds. In Arkis, for example, the village chief was killed along with his elders, and one of his sons is employed at the construction site.
An artificial pond is under construction in Arkis. Another is under construction in Ngamadja (a few kilometers apart from Arkis) and yet another in the Logone Birni district, the site of the 2021 clashes, where road rehabilitation projects are underway. "On the Arkis and Ngamadja worksites and even on the other two sites in Logone Birni, such problems were experienced," adds Eric Didier Nyemeck.
In Logone Birni, tensions arose at the start of the projects. As the PNDP's HIMO focal point explains: "At the beginning, when we launched the project, we had instructions from the administrative authorities not to put them together and to separate them. In other words, to create a separate group for the Arab Choas and another for the Mousgoum. It was in early May 2022 and the conflict was still fresh. Some villages had been devastated, while in others the entire population left. When we arrived, we followed the instructions of the authorities, but we realized that mistrust was even greater."
End youth poverty
In order not to affect the projects, which had already fallen behind the deadline, those in charge decided to agree to the two communities’ requests. “They started asking us to change the way the site was organized because they were not feeling safe working in particular places. One community would say it is vulnerable to attacks from the other and vice-versa. So they required us to organize them in mixed groups to keep eyes on each other. So, we created mixed groups rather than separating the groups by ethnic affiliation,” our contact says.
More than a year after the December 2021 clashes, which officially left 44 people dead and many more wounded, the two communities are still defiant of each other. But for some, projects like those implemented in the area through the PNDP's Himo approach help young people focus on finding subsistence means. Under that approach, each young person is paid CFAF3,000 per day. A third of that amount is withheld and paid back at the end of the project to let them develop income-generating activities.
"The tensions caused [...] untold misery. So, young people saw the project as an opportunity to make money and rebuild their lives. This [somehow compelled] them to put up with each other to earn the daily wage they are looking for,” Didier Nyemeck indicates.
For Abadam Djibrin, General Secretary of the Commune of Kousseri, this is the reason the Arab Choa and Mousgoum agreed to work together. The official celebrates the social cohesion achieved with the projects and, according to him, there is no glaring mistrust.
"Every ethnic group is represented. There is social cohesion between communities. Ethnic affiliation does not count here. They are all represented on the sites,” he says.