The closure of the borders - decided first by the military who took power in Niamey, then by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to sanction them - has not only cut off this 38-year-old Nigerien from his country and his family, but has also ruined it.

"We are tired and sick. We released our apprentices because we start by running out of food," said the driver stranded in Malanville, a Beninese town on the border with Niger.

For him, the losses amount to millions of CFA francs (thousands of euros) because the perishable goods he carries "destroy" before his eyes, he says.

Long lines of trucks stuck in Malanville, Benin, on the border with Niger, on September 18, 2023 © - / AFP

And to survive while waiting for a hypothetical reopening, he began selling diesel in his tank.

In the wake of the coup that overthrew elected President Mohamed Bazoum on 26 July, ECOWAS imposed very heavy sanctions against the military regime in Niamey, including a ban on all commercial transactions between its member countries (including Benin) and Niger.

Bridge blocked

Negotiations between the military and the West African bloc, which has threatened military intervention if they fail, appear to have stalled. The military announces a three-year transition period, ECOWAS calls for the restoration of President Bazoum.

Stranded passengers wait to cross the river into Niger in Malanville, Benin, on September 18, 2023 © - / AFP

Meanwhile, Niger, which is already one of the poorest countries in the world, is being hit very hard by these sanctions.

Food prices have soared by about 21% in the landlocked country, which is almost totally dependent on its neighbours for imports and truck drivers like Mahamat Kabirou Amado.

In Malanville, these transporters keep busy as they can, playing endless games of cards on the tarmac, nerves flush with skin or looking dejected.

Truck drivers rest in the shade of their stranded trucks in Malanville, Benin, on the border with Niger, on September 18, 2023 © - / AFP

Koudjegah Justin, an 18-year-old Togolese apprentice, can't take it anymore.

"Our bosses' money is finished. Hunger strikes us. We ask the Beninese government to help us by opening the border. We want to cross," implored the young boy.

All look at the hills and green lands on the other side of the Niger River that materializes the border between the two West African countries.

On the Niger side, the bridge is cut by four large trucks and containers, as well as sandbags.

Crossing the Niger River

For those who do not have a truck to transit, another solution exists...

Traders wait to cross into Niger in their trucks loaded with cattle in Malanville, Benin, September 18, 2023 © - / AFP

A few kilometers away, on the banks of the river, Hima Tourey adjusts her hijab and her long dress holding with a firm hand her suitcase on her head as she lands on dry land.

This 35-year-old Nigerien trader, who has five mouths to feed, had always made the crossing by bus to collect the debts of her customers living in Benin.

But now, it is on a makeshift boat, "at the risk of her life" that she is forced to cross the border.

"There is too much suffering here," said Chabi Nourou a 33-year-old baggage handler, who said river transport was now "the only way" to get through.

The price of the thirty-minute crossing has been multiplied by ten, from 500 CFA francs (less than one euro) to 5,000 CFA francs (7.5 euros).

Stranded passengers wait to cross the river into Niger in Malanville, Benin, on September 18, 2023 © - / AFP

"Only a few passengers were passing through the water. The river was more intended for the trafficking (illegal, editor's note) of petroleum products, "says Aminou Hassan, 56, manager of boatmen.

Traffic now at a standstill, he continues, because of the almost permanent presence of police officers who crisscross the river and its surroundings to the juxtaposed checkpoint.

In the absence of gasoline, everything is good to be transported on boats that start and unload at regular intervals: livestock, motorcycles, travelers, food ...

The police turn a blind eye, aided by bribes and a certain pragmatism mixed with compassion, in the face of the despair of these women and men for whom exchanges between the two countries are of vital necessity.

© 2023 AFP