- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

NIAMEY, Niger — Opposition supporters, gearing up for this past Tuesday’s presidential election, thumped their drums, danced and brought in storytellers to boost their chances against the incumbent, Mamadou Tandja.

Amid the red dust of the streets of Niamey, activists in the tunics of the Niger Party for Democracy and Socialism-Tarayya (PNDS), the main opposition, danced outside the residence of Mahamadou Issoufou, chief challenger in the contest.

Drums made of cowhide stretched over large steel barrels accompanied the performance.

Standing atop a battered Peugeot automobile, microphone in hand, a young woman sang the praises of Mr. Issoufou, “Lion of the PNDS.”

She was no routine cheerleader, but a “griotte” — one of the traditional storytellers who form part of an ancient tradition.

In the annals of West African history, “griot” (pronounced gree-oh) was the name bestowed on wise and knowledgeable storytellers entrusted with memorizing and disseminating tribal histories and genealogies.

Abouba Mahamane, the party’s official griot, likewise intoned the praises of the lion of the opposition.

Mr. Tandja was widely expected to defeat his five challengers.

In the courtyard of the Issoufou residence, a procession of men and women awaited their chance to wish their leader good luck and receive last-minute instructions.

Turbaned women in long, sweeping dresses, handbag on arm, waited their turn for the honor.

The men included a cross-section of the country’s main ethnic groups — the Djermas, Hausas and Touaregs. The white headgear of the Touaregs vied with the long robes and caps of the bearded clerics.

Inside the house, the party leader in immaculate white bubu or long robe and white headgear received his fans, seated in a deep sofa.

Meanwhile, some miles away, at the headquarters of the government party, the National Movement For the Society in Development (MNSD), the prime minister and party chairman, Hama Amadou, sat in a large room whose hot, heavy air was churned by large overhead fans.

In the sandy courtyard outside, local and foreign journalists stood around near bodyguards in plainclothes and a soldier armed with a pistol. After a long wait, a party spokesman read a statement.

The prime minister then received French journalists and reporters from the BBC French and Hausa language services, answering questions with professional skill in clear, precise sentences.

Mr. Amadou said he was sure Mr. Tandja would clear the hurdle of the first voting round, and was ready to meet all contingencies should opposition supporters take to the streets with accusations of vote-rigging.

Then he stepped into a huge four-wheel-drive vehicle while his supporters dispersed toward the city, sweltering in the heat.

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