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Public Information Officer
Before joining WFP, Vigno Hounkanli worked for many years as a journalist in Africa.
The villages of Gattawani Beri and Gattawani Kaina in southwestern Niger had been locked in a bitter dispute over land and religion for 50 years. But during the hunger crisis this summer, they finally managed to put aside their differences and come together for a day of soccer and food.
NIAMEY—NIAMEY—Though the villages of Gattawana Beri and Gattawana Kaina are just a stone’s throw apart, a wall of ill-feeling has stood between them for over half a century since Niger declared independence in 1960.
“The two villages were like brothers that didn’t want to live in peace. I worked day and night to make them see that their fight was bad for everyone, but it was no use,” he said.
It took this summer’s hunger crisis, an emergency food operation by WFP and a soccer match to bring the two villages together.
A bitter rivalry
When the food crisis struck, WFP set up a food distribution between the two towns for families who risked going hungry. But tempers flared again as the villagers refused to be served together.
“Our aim was to give food assistance to the population. But we also had time and logistical constraints,” explained Gianluca Ferrera, WFP Deputy Country Director in Niger.
“Clearly the way forward was to get the village leaders to talk to each other and find a way for the distribution to go ahead.
Getting the two sides to bury the hatchet after 50 years was no easy task and took several rounds of heated debates moderated by WFP and its NGO partners.
Burrying the hatchet
Eventually, however, the village leaders found common ground in their mutual need for food and struck an agreement.
To celebrate the end of a decades-long feud, WFP and its partners organised a soccer game alongside the food distribution, with women of both villages preparing a collective meal together.
In the soccer match, the players of Gattawani Beri came out on top after a hard-fought contest that ended with handshakes and the promise of a rematch.
“We’re extremely pleased that in addition to getting food to these people and curbing malnutrition, we were also able to help reconcile a conflict which had gone on for far too long,” said Ferrera.