On Safari With An Army-For-Hire In Niger

You’ve heard all about my safari successes and trials and tribulations. It’s time to step it up a notch… from spotting big game like a capable Maasai man to dodging Boko Haram while mixing and mingling with giant giraffes.

For this I’ll need to hire my own army. Welcome to Niger!

Getting to Know Niger

I had just come from Burkina Faso, and I was ready to travel onward to the neighboring country of Niger. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, and according to the United Nations, it is also the least developed country. It is very difficult to travel by land or even fly directly between some African countries, so I had to take the long route from Burkina Faso to Niger. First I had to stop back in Bamako before finally arriving in Niger. All in all, it was a pretty short trip, as I just spent two nights in Niger.

My trip was too short to shop for any souvenirs, although opportunities were plentiful 😂

There’s not much to do in Niger because it’s very dangerous, not to mention expensive, to leave the capital. There are currently many terrorists there working under Boko Haram, so it’s not advisable to leave the capital city. If you do, you are required to take a private army with no fewer than eight soldiers (kind of like in Mogadishu, Somalia), which is the part that gets expensive. 💸

The price of traveling with your own private army is about $600-$700 per day. I ordered a private army one day, just for fun, to visit the giraffes of Kouré, but generally, traveling in Niger is restricted to the capital.

It wasn’t cheap, but it was nice to get out of the capital for a day.

From Capital to Capital

I flew from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and had some short layovers along the way, so I basically lost the whole day in transit. I arrived in the early evening in Niamey, the capital of Niger. I had gotten my visa arranged already at the embassy in Bamako, which made things very easy.

Despite hearing horror stories about detentions of Western tourists at the airport, I’d never experienced a more efficient or easy immigration process in all of Africa. I took a PCR test upon arrival, then was whisked away to the hotel where I would stay for the next two nights.

Niamey has some very fancy hotels because they recently hosted a big African Union Congress.

My fancy hotel in the world’s poorest country 😎

I went to the five-star Bravia Hotel which was pretty new and very nice. I think it was probably one of the nicest hotels that I stayed at in Africa. Needless to say, I was extremely impressed.

It’s not exactly what I expected from a Nigerien hotel, but I’ll take it!

The NGO crowd has to stay somewhere, I guess, so why not make it nice. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the hotel.

Cowabunga! 💦

A Man with a Plan

That same evening, I had plans to meet a distant friend or acquaintance who I still know from back in my student days in Constance. He’s a Swiss guy that I know from some Libertarian club in Zurich, and he actually emigrated to Niger. You don’t meet many Swiss guys moving to Africa, let alone to Niger, but he came for business. He isn’t working for an NGO or as a diplomat. He’s an entrepreneur trying to make use of Niger’s market, which actually makes complete sense.

This isn’t really where you imagine a Swiss guy ending up…

Niger is the country with the highest birth rate in the world. Each woman tends to have around eight or nine kids. It’s projected that the population will grow from around 100 million in 2022 to about 500 million by 2050. It has the youngest average population in the world, and of course, all those people need to be fed. So, at the moment, this guy is selling sandwiches, but he has an even more glorious idea in the works. 💡

There are many hungry mouths to feed in this country.

The population of Niger is primarily Muslim, although there is a substantial Christian minority, especially in the Sahel zone. In the more arid, dry, desert areas there are more Muslims, and the Christians typically live in the more rainy, wet areas. Alcohol is tolerated for Christians, so it’s not completely banned, but it has very high taxes.

Alcohol is not such an uncommon sight here in Niger

So this guy had the idea to import vodka over 80% because all vodka below 80% comes with import taxes, but all alcohol above 80% has no taxes at all. So, he brings the vodka into the country completely tax-free. He has a filtration system which he then uses to lower the alcohol content. So, he has a nice alcohol business that he’s getting started now. 🤑

This guy also ended up in Niger for love, as he’s married to a local lady. When he came to pick me up, I expected that he would have a bodyguard, but Niamey was perfectly safe. We got in his car and drove to some nice Italian restaurant. Not only are there nice hotels in Niamey, but there are also quite nice restaurants for the expat crowd.

Enjoying a nice night out on the town

I had some raw meat (always a risk in Africa) but my raw beef carpaccio was actually pretty tasty at that restaurant. We had some drinks, and then he brought me back to the hotel. It was curious how the next day, my only full day in Niger, would turn out.

Even though raw meat seems risky, I seem to only ever get food poisoning from salad.

My Personal Army

The next day we left early for Kouré, where the last remaining Kouré West African giraffes still live. The safari began after about a two-hour drive away from Niamey.

Passing by some locals on the way to Kouré

You can only leave the capital city if you are accompanied by soldiers, as I mentioned, so we picked up eight of them at the checkpoint. The soldiers drove a bit ahead of or behind us while we searched for giraffes along the way. 🔍

Crossing paths with a gentle giant

Driving from the checkpoint where we picked up the soldiers, it was still around an hour until we got to where the giraffes live. There are many small villages there, but otherwise, it was very dry with just some trees that the giraffes like to eat. We drove through the area, trying to spot some giraffes.

Apparently a couple of weeks before, my guide was there with the same soldiers and they saw no giraffes at all after searching for four hours. So, we were quite lucky to spot our first giraffe within the first three minutes upon our arrival. We saw over eight giraffes in the next hour. 🦒

It was nice to get so close to them!

The soldiers were pretty happy as well to see some giraffes this time, after their fruitless journey a few weeks prior. They all happily pulled out their smartphones, which everyone in Africa seems to have nowadays, and they took photos of the giraffes while still securing the area very professionally. They were so professional, in fact, that it was difficult to find a place to pee there without them watching me. 🤣

Imagine trying to pee with this giraffe and an army watching you 😂

You might wonder, why did we need so much protection with so many soldiers? Well, Kouré got some bad publicity two years ago when some local French NGO humanitarians went to watch the giraffes at this same National Park. That day, six French aid workers and their two Nigerien guides were brutally murdered by radical Islamic terrorists, who filmed and published the footage of this execution. Unfortunately, these things can and do happen, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. I felt pretty safe there with all of the soldiers, and in the end, I asked to take a nice photo with them.

Normally those tough guys are out hunting Boko Haram terrorists, but this day they had the pleasure of escorting me to see some giraffes.

Exploring Niamey

Then we were driving back from Kouré to Niamey, and took a little city tour of Niamey. We went to the Niger River, which I had seen already in Mali, but it was nice to see it here as well. The area was very dusty and foggy with desert dust, so we were on the river but couldn’t see the city through the haze. 😶‍🌫️

The desert dust gets everywhere and mixes with the smog. It gets so bad that the sun is barely visible.

We spent almost two hours on the river with a guide driving us all around. We could admire both sides of the river. There wasn’t that much to see, but once in a while, we could spot the Presidential Palace or some other big buildings by the side of the river, as well as the very basic homes of the local people. It was very nice cruising along the river. Our itinerary said that we might see some hippos, but apparently, they’re all gone now and have settled much farther away from the river.

Enjoying the ride

Besides that, we visited the main sites of the city, much as I had in Burkina Faso. There wasn’t that much to see, but I took some pictures of the typical landmarks you find in a West African capital.

Some nice architecture in the capital

We also visited the outskirts of town to see how the local people live. It’s a very dirty country with rubbish everywhere. People are very, very poor, and there are so many of them because, as I mentioned, Niger is the fastest-growing country in the world.

Animals grazing among the rubbish

It’s growing even faster than Nigeria, which currently has a larger population than Niger but not for much longer as their population rapidly multiplies. Between Niger and Nigeria, the combined population will soon reach over a billion inhabitants. 🤯

Nigeriens doing laundry at the river’s edge

Another thing we saw around Niamey is that they have a bunch of rice fields because there is so much water there, thanks to the Niger River.

Some locals at the rice paddy

I went back to the hotel in the early afternoon to chill a bit before going in the early evening to meet up with the same guy I had seen the night before. We went to another restaurant which was also pretty nice.

Impressions of Niger

My impression overall was that Niamey is a pretty nice city to live in. It’s very safe there, and you can drive around without running into any sort of issues. However, you shouldn’t leave Niamey without protection. That’s a pity because some of the main attractions of Niger would be the Sahara Desert, the Ténéré Desert, and some old desert towns such as Agadez and Zinder.

At least I got to see some interesting local towns along the way

You can still go visit those places, but only with soldiers as guards, which gets very expensive. So, even though I am not fond of group travel, I am thinking about returning to Niger with a group to see more of the country, when I find some people brave enough to go with me.

At least the food was affordable and pretty tasty. This huge plate of rice and beef cost less than €2.

So, that was Niger, in a nutshell. I saw just about everything there was to see, and I traveled from Niamey to Kouré with my own private army.

Now I was ready to go to the neighboring country of Benin. It’s impossible to drive there because the area is extremely dangerous, especially for foreigners. There’s a national park along the way that I had wanted to see, but apparently, it’s very dangerous on the Niger side, although the Benin side is supposed to be nice.

The problem was that I had to fly over coastal Benin, and from there, it would be a very very long drive back to the national park. Benin was quite surprising, and I liked the country a lot, but I will tell you all about that next time.