Dinner with Moussa Aksar, the journalist watching over the soul of Niger

Moussa Aksar

Working as a journalist in most countries in Africa is an extreme sport. Especially working as an investigative journalist puts one in more precarious situations than can be imagined, and one of Niger’s journalists who has to face so many odds to just do the job of ensuring an equitable and just society through journalism is Moussa Aksar.

Unassuming and deeply reflective, he is literally the custodian of the soul of his country – Niger, the land of his birth.

Niger is one of West Africa’s landlocked countries, with a population of around 25 million. Designated as one of the Least Developed Countries in the world, Niger is largely a Muslim country and not rich. But its few elites, mostly the political class are stinking rich, while the majority of its people live in poverty.

The country’s largely subsistence farmer population, also does lots of trading. Even though the country is rich in uranium ore, which it exports, that wealth doesn’t reflect in the standard of living of the majority of the citizens. Niger is also the largest exporter of onions in Africa – a great feat, considering that the country is largely a desert. The country produces some one million metric tonnes of onions every year and Ghana has become its most important customer, importing more than 43 per cent of all onions produced in that country.

The issue of the needless poverty of Niger is what gnaws at people like Aksar, whose remarkable journalism has caught the eyes of the world and all who care to listen and ruffled many feathers. Aksar has consistently exposed corruption, money laundering and injustices in his beloved Niger. His keen eye for the news and dedication to telling truth to power, instead of endearing him to many, have set him off in a collision course with the powers that be. The political system and some business people have aimed at getting back at him for his service to his people and the only country he calls home.

Aksar set up a weekly newspaper L’Evenement in 2002. But due to rising production costs, he has halted printing and now only runs it online.

In his long career as an investigative journalist, Aksar has reported on security and terrorism in the Sahel, corruption, drug and fake medicine scandals and the trafficking of babies across West Africa.

Aksar and a handful of journalists once won a libel case brought against them by the former President of Libya, The Late Muammar Qaddafi in the face of great pressure.

Last Friday November 18, 2022, I had the honour of meeting and having dinner with Aksar in his home country. When I sent him a message that I had arrived in Niamey, he called to welcome me. Later that evening he sent someone to pick me up from my hotel for dinner. On the menu was steamed goat meat with vegetables. The goat was from Aksar’s livestock, one of his six friends gathered at the table told me. Aksar says he is rearing livestock as a back-up to journalism and for a rainy day. But I asked for chicken instead.

I’ve had dinner with him before, in Accra, about three years ago when he came to Ghana for a meeting. But having dinner with Aksar in Niamey was different – I was in his country. Aksar doesn’t speak much English, neither do I speak French, but we are able to communicate. Aksar exudes this deep sense of love for humanity and justice, the core values that drive the journalism that he does.

As I sat at dinner with him, the unmistakable confidence and courage he radiates in his many years of fearless and truth-seeking journalism can be felt, almost touched.

Aksar has faced multiple court cases for his journalism. In 2020 he was convicted for defamation and fined for exposing a financial scandal in a story published in September 2019. In the story he exposed how tens of millions of euros were misappropriated by senior officials in the army and people close to the government, who over-billed for military equipment, and eventually supplied faulty weapons and in unfulfilled contracts. 

He was intimidated and threatened with death in the course of his investigations, but he stood firm and true to the people of Niger and went ahead to publish the story.

The defamation suit was brought against him by a Niger citizen living in Belgium whom the investigation alleged had set up a shell company. 

He is currently in court again, for doing his job, for a country he loves intensely, and for a people he is seeking justice for, and proper use of their resources to their benefit.

As I sat at dinner with him, the unmistakable confidence and courage he radiates in his many years of fearless and truth-seeking journalism can be felt, almost touched.

Every journalist I have met in Niamey, and asked about him, knew Aksar and have deep respect and love for him. Indeed, one journalist said to me, “we support him.”

I had hoped to have dinner with Aksar one last time before leaving Niger, but he had to leave for a meeting in Dakar and couldn’t return on the original scheduled date. When I checked on him, he sent a message back saying, “I’m still in Dakar.”

But I’m leaving with the hope that the good people of Niger, would stand up for the man who has taken upon himself the unrequited burden of watching over the soul of their beloved country.

By Emmanuel K Dogbevi

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