Niger delegation members pose with one of their wrestlers, center, who won a bout at the 9th Francophone Games in Kinshasa, on July 30, 2023. Because of the July 26 military coup in Niamey, some members of the Niger delegation were unable to reach Kinshasa.

The bustling city of Kinshasa, the heart of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the world’s largest French-speaking metropolis, is currently abuzz with the spirit of the Francophone Games. This grand event draws athletes and artists from predominantly French-speaking nations, providing a platform for athletic prowess and cultural exchange. However, beneath the surface of excitement lies a tale of challenges and unpredictability.

For the Nigerien participants, the journey to Kinshasa has been far from smooth sailing. The recent putsch that rocked their homeland left them grappling with unforeseen hurdles. Just days before the inauguration of the Games, the people of Niger were confronted with startling televised images of army officers announcing the overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum and the sealing of their borders with the Sahel state.

Caught in the aftermath of the coup, the Nigerien delegation to the Francophone Games found itself thrown into disarray. Plans for their arrival were disrupted, leaving some unable to embark on their journey as scheduled. Among those affected was talented sculptor Adamou Tchiombiano, whose intricate giraffe sculpture made from recycled flip-flops was stranded in Niger. Despite the setback, Tchiombiano remained undeterred, sculpting a new masterpiece from tropical wood with determination and resilience.

The Nigerien presence in Kinshasa also faced other poignant absences. Some of their artwork arrived at the Games without the accompanying artists, and members of a musical group set to compete were nowhere to be found.

Despite the challenges, the Nigerien delegation, comprised of a remarkable 100-strong team, stood tall during the Games’ opening ceremony, waving their flags with pride. Nevertheless, the weight of recent events lingered in their hearts, reminding them of the turmoil back home. Despite the substandard conditions they endured in the so-called Games Village, with its intermittent electricity and water supply and far-off location from the event facilities, the Nigerien spirit remained resolute. They remained determined to represent their nation despite the odds.

Safety concerns and infrastructural standards have been persistent issues plaguing the Games in Kinshasa, causing some delegations to withdraw or send reduced teams. The Canadian province of Quebec, for instance, chose not to participate. In contrast, the Nigeriens, demonstrating true fortitude, stood unfazed and persevered even in the face of adversity.

Despite minor letdowns, such as missing the captivating sound and light show during the opening ceremony due to an abrupt bus schedule, the spirit of unity and determination among the Nigerian participants prevailed. Their desire for success and their pride in representing their country fueled their ambitions.

As the Games unfolded, a resounding cheer erupted from the Nigerien building in the Games Village when the water finally returned, bringing relief to one of the wrestlers who had endured two days without a shower. It was a testament to their unyielding spirit and the ability to find joy in even the smallest victories.

The journey of the Nigerien delegation to the Francophone Games in Kinshasa has been an emotional rollercoaster, marked by uncertainty and challenges at every turn. Yet, their story exemplifies the resilience of the human spirit and the power of unity in the face of adversity. As the Games progress, their presence serves as a reminder that even in the darkest times, hope, determination, and the pursuit of a greater purpose can transcend all obstacles.

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