From unfree work to working for free: labor, aid, and gender in the Nigerien Sahel, 1930-2000

Benedetta Rossi

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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This article focuses on the consequences of twentieth century developmentalism for labor practices in the Nigerien Sahel under French rule and in the post-independence period. It examines labor regime transformations at the desert’s edge; the ways in which state-led developmentalism influenced labor relations; and gender disparities in the history of emancipation from slavery. Following the abolition of forced labor in 1946, the rhetoric of human investment was used to promote the ‘voluntary’ participation of workers in colonial development initiatives. This continued under Niger’s independent governments. Seyni Kountché’s dictatorship relabelled Niger ‘Development Society’ and mobilised Nigeriens’ ‘voluntary’ work in development projects. Concurrently, drought in the Sahel attracted unprecedented levels of international funding. In the Ader region this led to the establishment of a major anti-desertification project that paid local labor on a food-for-work basis. Since most men migrated seasonally to West African cities, the majority of workers in the project’s worksites were women who welcomed ‘project work’ to avoid destitution. In the name of development, it continued to be possible to mobilize workers without remuneration beyond the cost of a meal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-182
JournalInternational Labor and Working-class History
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2017


  • labor
  • development
  • gender
  • ecology
  • Niger
  • Sahara
  • West Africa


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