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Policing the FrontierAn Ethnography of Two Worlds in Niger$
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Mirco Göpfert

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501747212

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501747212.001.0001

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A History of the Gendarmerie in Niger

A History of the Gendarmerie in Niger

(p.19) Chapter 2 A History of the Gendarmerie in Niger
Policing the Frontier

Mirco Göpfert

Cornell University Press

This chapter traces the history of the Nigerien gendarmerie. The gendarmes and their colonial predecessors—the tirailleurs, méharistes, gardes de cercle, and colonial gendarmes—have always worked in vast rural Niger, populated almost exclusively by subsistence farmers and pastoralists. Since the early twentieth century, these “strangers” have disciplined the rural population, managed the French colonial, later Nigerien national territory, spread French as the national language, established bureaucratic procedures, and imposed French colonial, then Nigerien national law. They have been advancing into a sphere they perceived as an “institutional vacuum” open to legitimate intrusion and in need of a new social order. Working between the known and the unknown, the familiar and the unfamiliar, rural police forces tried to make society legible to govern it and turn a social hieroglyph into an administratively more convenient format of numbers and texts. At the same time, they attempted to impose a normative order on what they perceive as a savage and chaotic illegitimate sphere. The gendarmes have been pushing this frontier ever since; yet it cannot be crossed—it is the bureaucratic horizon that moves with them.

Keywords:   Nigerien gendarmerie, gendarmes, tirailleurs, méharistes, gardes de cercle, colonial gendarmes, Niger, bureaucratic procedures, rural police, bureaucracy

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