Niamey — Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou gathered with members of his cabinet and the country's head imam under the shade of the neem trees outside Niamey's Grand Mosque on Saturday to hear the final prayers of Ramadan.
Although the prayers normally take place inside the Kadhafi-funded mosque, dignitaries made their way to prayer mats under the trees under a large coterie of heavily armed presidential guard in order to safeguard against the possibility of a Malian Islamist attack.
"As you see the atmosphere is, let's say, very interesting," Niger's Defence Minister Karidjo Mahamadou told RFI. "We know that there are threats, but we are prepared to fight against any kind of threat coming from anywhere."
Prime Minister Brigi Rafini was in attendance, along with Mamadou Tandja, the former president of Niger.
Security was a priority as four sharpshooters stationed on a roof outside the mosque gates observed the faithful at prayer. Undercover police stationed near the entrance to the mosque complex and national police surveyed the crowds entering the area. Nigerien faithful gathered behind a barrier flanked by police to listen to the imam.
After head Imam Ismael Djabiri's prayer in Arabic, the assistant imam translated some of the prayers into Djerma, the local language of the area around the capital.
In a country with major food shortages and insecurity, he wished for peace, a good harvest to deal with famine and lots of rain. He added that he hoped that the violence in neighbouring Mali will not happen in Niger.
At the end of prayers, dignitaries headed for the presidential palace and the prime minister's residence to offer their best wishes for Eid el-Fitr.
For once, the streets of Niamey were empty as people rushed home to wrap up food to take to visit the houses of friends and loved ones.
Something for everyone
Children, on the other hand, headed for the National Museum of Niger, which contains a zoo and several exhibits. Ouma Kali Momasan, aged 12, showed off her new clothes to her friends. Her father made her a brand-new black dress embroidered with gold thread. She was looking forward to eating cake, chocolate and above all, meat. Her hands and feet were decorated in black henna. "My neighbour created the designs for me," she said.
Others came for different reasons. "I'm here just for the show. There are acts, and a theatre. I'm here to see the animals too," said Ibrahim, a 16-year-old.
While many children were accompanied by their big brother or sister, some came with their family. Basil Ibrahim, in a new white suit, spoke to RFI with his four children in tow.
"Nigeriens are patriotic, on festival days, we bring our children here to visit the zoo," he said. "You know, some children have never seen the animals. So, this is a time to visit the National Museum - they can see the animals."
One of the most impressive displays on hand was perhaps the most ignored. The complete skeleton of a gigantic dinosaur is proudly displayed outdoors, but it is one of the few animals here that is not alive.
Children seemed particularly interested in the hippopotamus pit. Other large groups were gathered around the lion and lioness, as well as the pit of pythons.
The children's celebrations take place both on Saturday and Sunday. Although police were present, they were not in the way of the children having fun.