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Educational spotlight on

Université de Diffa

New specialist university in Niger aims to tackle environmental issues


Speech of the Chancellor Professor Ali Mahamane at the International Symposium of the culture of peace in the Lake Chad Basin at the University of Diffa, 2 to 4 November 2015.

Niger, located north of Nigeria in West Africa, is a country in flux. Located north of Nigeria, east of Mali, and west of Chad, it has been the subject of many political upheavals and coups since declaring its independence from France in 1960. The country has settled into a period of relative political stability since reframing its constitution in 2010, and has embarked on a number of reforms and infrastructure projects to bolster human development.

A recent initiative of the country has been to strategically expand its public higher education system. Until recently, there were only five universities in the country, and before 2008, there were only two. Between them only one was public, Abdou Moumini University in Niamey. But things are changing. In 2010, three universities were announced, one in Maradi, one in Tahoua and one in Zinder, respectively, dramatically expanding access to higher education for a large swath of the population.

In August of 2014, the government signaled a shift of strategy in the expansion of higher education when it announced the creation of four new specialist universities, each doubling as a research foundation in a critical area of study. Each named for their location, The University of Agadez specializes in renewable energy, the University of Dosso focuses on information technology, the University of Tillabéri on agriculture, and the University of Diffa was created to work in environmental studies.

The importance of this new University in Diffa, which in Niger’s official French is called Université de Diffa, is difficult to understate. Niger is a country that has found itself extremely susceptible to environmental problems over the years. While over 80 percent of Niger’s land area consists of a vast swath of Sahara Desert cutting through the north part of the country, the livelihood of Nigeriens relies heavily on subsistence farming, fishing, and herding. This requires water, but Lake Chad, a major drainage basin for the surrounding areas located in the southeast corner of the country has been steadily drying. The lake was estimated to have shrunk 95% between 1963 and 1998.

Diffa is the region that borders Nigeria and Lake Chad, making it a strategic location for addressing the most pressing environmental issues of the country. The area, a center of agriculture, faces major environmental problems, including ecosystem degradation, the shrinking lake Chad, and the threat of desertification. The whole of the Sahalia region, The University of Diffa is in a prime location to study these issues and implement much needed solutions in the area.

The Professor Ali Mahamane, Chancellor of the University of Diffa (Niger) and Professor Aliyu Shugaba, Vice-Chancellor of the Maiduguri University (Nigeria) signed an agreement in presence of the Governor of Diffa, General Abdou Kaza, Professor Babagana Gambo, University of Maiduguri, Dr. Gréma Moustapha, Vice-Chancellor and Dr. Youssoufa Issiaka, Director of the Higher Institute for Environment and Ecology of the University of Diffa.

2015-2016 marked the first academic year at the University, with attending students working towards degrees in two available faculties of study, the faculty of Agricultural Sciences and the Higher Institute for Environment and Ecology. The University offers Bachelor’s degrees (licences) in several specializations falling under these two faculties.

In order to address the problems that arise from over-farming, over-population of marginal lands, and natural soil erosion, it has also developed a Master’s program in Environmental Assessment and Sustainable Development, with specializations including environmental auditing, environmental impact, and more. Professionals emerging with this program will be equipped to direct development in a way that will lessen the threat of desertification in ecologically fragile areas.

One of the main functions of the University of Diffa will be to direct research and coordinate international academic efforts at studying and solving the environmental problems that face Diffa, Niger, and the Sahel region as a whole. One way that the University will accomplish this is by establishing environmental data collection systems and databases, giving scientists the world over a dependable source of information to work with.

The addition of the new Universities, in decentralized locations, has undoubtedly improved overall access to higher education in the country. In years past, it was not uncommon for bright and talented students to have to suspend their studies due to the financial difficulties of living far from home. Now, with the additional research contributions of the new specialist universities, Niger has taken the next step towards increasing human development and quality of life. There are few places in the world where the environment and quality of life are as closely tied as Diffa, so the University has an immense opportunity to change lives and contribute to the economic, cultural, and academic vitality of its region.

Official visit at the University of Diffa by the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, His Excellency Asmane Abdou. During the visit the Minister was accompanied by the Chancellor of the University, Professor Ali Mahamane, the Governor of the Region, General Abdou Kaza and the President of the Regional Council Mr. Mahirou Ligari. In answering the question of Sahel TV journalists the Minister brings the support of the High Authority of Niger at the University of Diffa which is facing many environmental challenges including desertification, degradation of the environment of Lake Chad.

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