I am a daughter of Niger’s Sahara, born and raised in Arlit (in northern Niger). I am currently a PhD candidate in Development Studies as a Cambridge-Africa Scholar at the University of Cambridge (UK). My doctoral research project aims to analyse the determinants of secondary school completion – studying individuals (‘outliers’) to capture trends and patterns that may explain how and why some succeed in furthering their education while others do not. I am interested in the intersection of research and public policy with the aim of contributing to improving the livelihoods of the most impoverished by giving people the means to empower themselves, particularly in rural areas.
For several years, my work took me to all regions of Niger. Working with over 100 villages and youth nationwide gave me a keen understanding of the potentialities and human wealth that Niger rested on. More importantly, it became evident that affecting/changing social institutions could unlock new practices that advance individual wellbeing (of women in particular) and collective progress. This was a discovery and rediscovery of my own country, its peoples and its realities, where beyond statistics development took a human form. As a trained economist, I have come to value numbers for their ability to paint a picture, channel policy efforts, and shift conversations, for better or for worse.
The unlikely journey that led me to Wellesley College (earning a Bachelor in Economics/International Relations and Africana Studies as an Albright Fellow) and later Harvard University (earning a Master in Public Policy, becoming the first Nigerien woman to do so) provided foundations that continue to define my engagements. Among my earliest schools in civic engagement have been the Youth Parliament (“Parlement des Jeunes du Niger“) and the United World College which were doors into seeing how interconnected, diverse and resilient people could be. What these opportunities have given me are new lenses to assess the world, tools to deconstruct assumptions and ask difficult questions, and a commitment to service rooted in a desire to lead a life of purpose and connected to a larger community of people. Now at Cambridge, I realise that seeking answers sometimes begins with asking questions differently and redefining agency and reclaiming voice. There is a shared responsibility in creating and nurturing spaces where a discourse (comfortable or not) can happen for its own sake but also for crafting and recreating a vision that betters the present and foretells an even better tomorrow.
This platform does not necessarily aim to provide answers – this is a space to analyse issues that pertain to Niger, the Sahel and Africa in general, exchange ideas and learn, and simply engage with a call every generation must answer to give meaning to its existence, that of the human’s perpetual quest for progress and for illimi, a Hausa word my great grandmother defined as a harmonious combination of knowledge humility and purpose.
© Halimatou Hima, 2016-17. All rights reserved. Written work may only be re-published with permission.