Surrounded by chaos, Niger is a nation on the edge

The West African country, a crossroads for trade and transit in one of the world's roughest regions, is clinging to stability. But for how long?

A convoy of pickups packed with Nigeriens and other Africans begins a three-day trek from Agadez, Niger, through the Sahara to Libya. Many migrants intend to work there; others hope to reach Europe.

Just before dusk, the first pickup trucks roll past the checkpoint and array themselves across the desert on the outskirts of Agadez, Niger.

Passengers pile in, as many as 25 per vehicle, each carrying no more than a knapsack. They wear sunglasses and scarves to fend off the sand, along with heavy coats for the biting-cold nights on the three-day journey to Libya.

Their youth is palpable. Squeezed together among strangers, they fidget and stare listlessly at the empty landscape awaiting them. Vendors with rusty pushcarts hawk thirdhand coats, sugarcane, plastic bags of water, cigarettes, and wooden poles to use as braces against the possibility of falling out and becoming stranded in the lawless, desolate Sahara as the unpitying motorcade recedes.

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