The military coup in Niger has now entered its third week. Four days after the July 26 putsch, the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened military action if democratic rule was not restored within seven days.
Many people associate Christians with Westerners, and once again, we see the burning of French flags. So it’s raising alarm..
How do Christians fit into the social fabric of Niger?.
They are a tiny minority: 1 percent of the population, against the 99. And though Niger is a secular country with freedom of religion protected by the constitution, Christians often face challenges. We have records of Nigeriens who have been denied scholarships to university because of their Christian names, for example.Catholic Christianity came in the 19th century with French colonialism, but the Protestant church was planted largely by American missionaries. The largest denomination—today’s Evangelical Church of Niger—stemmed from the work of SIM, coming up from Nigeria. .There is also a Baptist presence mainly in the western region. And in the 1980s, Pentecostal groups from various part of the world—France, the US, Nigeria, Burkina, and Ivory Coast—came to Niger, and created the Assemblies of God denomination, among others..
But by and large, Christians share the same poverty as everyone else..
What is your story of faith?.
I was raised in the evangelical church. My parents went to a Christian school and eventually converted. My extended family includes Muslims and members of traditional religions, and we live in peace together..
In middle school, however, I became aware that I was different. Classmates asked, I began to wonder if my faith was something wrong..
But by high school, I had developed strong convictions not only to defend my faith but to challenge others. My friends called me “the pope,” after John Paul II, because I was not afraid to face a crowd. One needs to be strong to be a Christian in Niger, and when I reflect upon my current position as an advocate, this is probably how it started..
What is next for Nigerien Christians?.
We don’t know—the context is very fragile. But just as I said our nation is in better shape than our neighbors, so also the situation of Christians has been improving. After 2015, the government reacted against the riots to strengthen religious relations, and the church joined in the successful national campaign to promote social cohesion. Today, Christians are present in the public sphere, employed in the civil service. We have the freedom to preach—even to hold large open meetings..
When I last lived in Niger, I was the national leader of our youth fellowship, and we organized summer camps in churches and our Protestant schools. But today the camps take place in public settings with high officials in attendance, and are broadcast by public TV and radio services..
The military coup is a setback. But so far there are no indications of rhetoric against Christians. We fear instability and are praying for peace. God willing, this period of uncertainty will come to an end.