Anti-Corruption Efforts in Niger

As the crisis in Mali has unfolded, one reads periodic warnings in the press and the policy sphere that violence and instability could spill over into Niger. Meanwhile, analysts and scholars continue to examine the fall of former Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré’s government; many have identified regime corruption as a key factor in undermining the regime’s legitimacy and preparing the ground for its collapse. Given these two trends – concern about Niger, and analysis of corruption in Mali – it is important to track anti-corruption efforts in Niger.

In July 2011 (French), shortly after Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, his government created a High Authority for Fighting Corruption. Issoufou has stated that combating corruption is one of his top priorities. The High Authority has investigated allegations of misappropriation of funds during the regime of the country’s last civilian president, Mamadou Tandja. This body’s mission, as its President Issoufou Boureima explained in a December 2012 interview (French), is to identify and correct financial abuses in different sectors of government. The High Authority has experienced some turmoil; in May 2012 (French), its Vice President Mahamane Hamissou Moumouni resigned after protesting “opacity” in the institution’s management of resources.

All this is a preface to mentioning a story that a reader recently told me about. In February (French), Nigerien authorities (the article I found does not mention whether these officials came from the High Authority or not) arrested some twenty doctors on charges of embezzling funds at the NGO GAVI Alliance. The Alliance has reportedly suspended its programs in Niger. The Alliance’s website is here.

This story reminded me a little of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s decision to suspend several aid programs in Mali in March 2011 over concerns about corruption. This affair led to the June 2011 arrest of former Health Minister Ibrahim Oumar Toure.

I am not saying that the arrest of the doctors in Niger means that Niger is following Mali’s path. The paths of the two countries are different. But the story does highlight the fact that corruption can have far-reaching consequences, including undermining the confidence of external donors. How Niger handles cases like these will shape how domestic and foreign actors view the country and its government.

A Cross-Border Educational Venture in Nigeria/Niger

Daily Trust:

Kano State governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso said at the weekend that the state government is building a mega secondary school in Niger Republic to boast industrialization.

[...]

“We have so far built 400 houses for teachers in junior secondary schools, especially the [ones] outside the city of Kano to encourage them. As we are sitting here today (Saturday) the deputy governor is in Niger laying the foundation of the mega secondary school which we intend to run together with the government of Niger Republic, and our children who will go there will be trained in French so that when they graduate, they will stay there and complete their degree courses or go to other French speaking countries to do other programmes,” he said.

As the article and others detail, this initiative is part of a broader agenda on the governor’s part to strengthen education in Kano State. But the cross-border aspect of the school is particularly interesting to me. I have four initial reactions that may prove more or less relevant when and if more information emerges about the school:

  1. Assuming the school will be located in southern Niger (in Zinder or Maradi, perhaps?), this initiative could reinforce the shared Hausa cultural and linguistic zone that transcends the border. As William F.S. Miles’ Hausaland Divided shows, the border and the colonial legacies it reflects have separated Hausa in Niger and Nigeria in profound ways. Yet Nigerien and Nigerian Hausa communities have also remained tied to each other through migration, trade, religion, marriage, and, in this context, education and politics. It is significant to me that this partnership is not between Niger and Nigeria per se, but between a particular Nigerian governor and the government of Niger.
  2. The school’s emphasis on French is noteworthy. As Kwankwaso suggests, graduates of the school could work not only in Niger and Nigeria, but also throughout West Africa. More schools like these could strengthen regional integration efforts from the bottom up, by producing skilled workers capable of moving throughout the whole region.
  3. Is the school partly meant to retrain itinerant Qur’anic students? Various states in northern Nigeria have experimented with different models for absorbing these students into government-run schools, partly due to a fear that such boys and young men might otherwise become targets for recruitment by radical groups. Some in northern Nigeria also complain that many Qur’anic students are not Nigerian at all, but rather come from Niger, Chad, and elsewhere. Does the school represent an effort to train some of Kano’s Qur’anic students while simultaneously repatriating some of the students who come to northern Nigeria from Niger?
  4. Does some of the funding come from Niger’s oil profits? I have heard the complaint that despite Nigeria’s oil wealth, northern Nigerian localities sometimes import fuel from Niger. Perhaps this school represents an attempt by a northern Nigerian governor to benefit from Niger’s (mini) oil boom.

Plans for US Surveillance Drones in Niger

News outlets reported this week that the government of Niger has given the United States permission to base surveillance drones there. Reuters:

The U.S. ambassador to Niger, Bisa Williams, made the request at a meeting on Monday with President Mahamadou Issoufou, who immediately accepted it, [a government] source said.

“Niger has given the green light to accepting American surveillance drones on its soil to improve the collection of intelligence on Islamist movements,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The drones could be stationed in Niger’s northern desert region of Agadez, which borders Mali, Algeria and Libya, the source said.

The crisis in Mali seems to be one major factor in generating US interest in having a base in Niger.

More here from the AP, which says the agreement came “after months of negotiations.”

This passage from Stars and Stripes offers further insight into why the US military chose Niger:

U.S. officials have announced no details about basing plans in Niger, but acknowledge the ability to operate out of the country, which is developing increasingly close diplomatic and defense ties with the United States, would place military assets close to many hot spots.

“Just consider the neighborhood,” a U.S. military official speaking on the condition of anonymity said. “Libya to the north, where there’s been instability. Nigeria, and [Islamist militant group] Boko Haram directly south. Algeria, where there was just an attack, and Mali to the west.”

Establishing a base for drones in Niger would add to existing US military infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. The Washington Post reported last June on a “a network of [approximately one dozen] small air bases” that the US military had set up in Africa since 2007, with Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou constituting a “key hub” in this network. The Stars and Stripes article mentioned above quotes Dr. Peter Pham as saying that alleged complications surrounding the base in Burkina Faso may have limited US capacity to operate drones in and around Mali:

Insufficient infrastructure in western Africa could be one reason the U.S. is not engaged in drone strikes in places such as northern Mali, according to some experts.

[...]

“Part of this probably is linked to the reported withdrawal of country clearance by the embassy in Bamako for manned surveillance flights from the formerly clandestine program in Burkina Faso,” said the Atlantic Council’s Pham. “And yet another part might indeed be the reluctance of potential partners to allow operations from their territory after the way the program in Burkina Faso was exposed.”

Despite having some infrastructure in place in Africa, then, US military planners seem to be looking for greater flexibility and capacity.

US military cooperation with Niger is not new. Niger participated in the Pan Sahel Initiative, a counterterrorism program led by the State Department from 2002 to 2005 that included Niger, Mauritania, Mali, and Chad. Niger also participates in the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, a US government interagency program (State, Defense, USAID) that replaced and expanded the Pan Sahel Initiative. Niger receives assistance under the International Military Education and Training program as well.

For an official perspective on US-Nigerien relations, see here, and AFRICOM’s Niger page is here. I have not yet found much in the way of Nigerien reactions to the news, but President Issoufou’s site has a brief note (French) on his meeting with the American Ambassador, while a Nigerien news site has a story, seemingly based largely on information reported in the international media, here (French).

What do you think of this news? What are the possible benefits and risks?

Niger-Libya: Another Round of Struggle over Extraditing Saadi Qaddhafi

During his reign, Colonel Muammar Qaddhafi of Libya exercised substantial influence over neighboring Niger. Niger has working relations with the new Libyan government, but the presence of the Colonel’s son Saadi in Niger since September 2011 has been a source of dispute. Saadi Qaddhafi is not the only prominent Libyan in Niger – as of October 2011, “at least 32 Libyans, including three generals, had sought refuge in Niger.” Niger’s government has given permission for Libyan authorities to question the Colonel’s son – but has refused several demands to extradite him to Libya. Mauritania’s government was in a similar position for a time, as Libyan officials sought to extradite Col. Qaddhafi’s former intelligence chief Abdullah al Senussi. Mauritania handed Senussi over to Libya in September of this year.

This week, Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan visited Niger and again asked for the extradition of Saadi Qaddhafi and others. Uganda’s Daily Monitor reports that Niger has refused the request. That article contains a brief description of Qaddhafi’s life in Niger, writing that he remains under house arrest and that “it is alleged that the Niger authorities have also curtailed his access to communication gadgets as well as receiving guests due to his open criticism against the host government for restricting his movement.” Earlier reports had given a much different picture of his lifestyle in exile, suggesting that his “house arrest” involved a great deal of freedom. In September, one his lawyers told the press that Niger had given him the freedom to travel, despite a United Nations travel ban against him. Given these different reports it is hard to tell what restrictions Saadi Qaddhafi does or does not face.

I could not find the Libyan Prime Minister’s statement requesting Qaddhafi’s extradition, but Arabic readers may be interested in:

  • the PM’s office’s statement after his trip to Niger, which emphasizes themes of cooperation against terrorism and touches on the situation in Mali, and
  • his office’s approvingly worded statement concerning remarks Chadian President Idriss Deby made on Chadian-Libyan relations during the PM’s stop in Chad (after his visit to Niger).

Niger Holds Conference to Examine Problems in the Country’s Legal System

From November 26 to 30, Niger is holding a conference on the country’s legal system. President Mahamdou Issoufou opened the meeting (French) on Monday. The conference will address themes like “justice and institutions” and “justice and society.” It brings together some 500 participants, including officials from the country’s justice system as well as “traditional and religious leaders” and “technical and financial partners.”

The event, called the “General Estates of the Legal System,”* is largely meant to “rectify” the image of the country’s judicial system, according to the President (French). A recent poll, he continued, showed a lack of confidence in the system and a widespread feeling that it is corrupt and insufficiently independent.

The Ministry of Justice’s statement on the broader framework for judicial reform is here (French), and this interview with the Minister (French) is well worth reading. He discusses the preparations for the meeting, which included consultations in each of Niger’s eight provinces. He also details the difficulties the legal system faces, such as outmoded colonial statutes and a shortage of personnel. The administration, it seems to me, seeks not to transform the fundamental character of the legal system but to make the existing system more effective and less corrupt.

The meeting is important as part of Issoufou’s broader anti-corruption efforts and as an occasion to consider the problems in the country’s legal system, which have huge ramifications for the larger issue of state-society relations. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the conference.

*”General Estates” is a term often associated with the Old Regime in France. I think – though I am not sure, and I welcome readers’ input – that the Issoufou administration is using the term now simply in the sense of a national congress/forum.

Niger Secures $4.8 Billion for Security and Development – Is This a Regional Model?

On November 13-14, Niger held a roundtable in Paris where it “secured pledges of $4.8 billion from international donors” including “South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, Turkey and the Arab League.” These funds go to support Niger’s 2012-2015 Program for Economic and Social Development (PDES). Here at the blog I have been following the Nigerien government’s $2.5 billion, five-year Strategy for Development and Security (SDS), which is, as I understand the situation, a part (French) of PDES. While early news reports about the launch of SDS speculated that the Nigerien government might itself shoulder much of the financial burden for the program, commenter Ibrahim correctly predicted that external donors would ultimately provide the funds. The donations promised this week will allow Niger to push ahead with SDS and the larger PDES framework.

As Reuters hints, the donations reflect foreign powers’ concerns about the conflicts in Niger’s neighbors and the hopes that Niger, through political and financial outreach, can continue to prevent violent conflict within its own borders. You can read a speech on PDES by the European Union’s Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response here. Meanwhile, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, looking beyond his borders, told attendees at the roundtable that “Only economic and social development will allow the Sahel region to eventually live in peace.”

To learn more about PDES, you can read this statement on the roundtable from the Nigerien government (French). As the statement explains, PDES comprises five pillars: rule of law; inclusive development; food security; and social development. I also recommend looking at the site for SDS (French). Finally, the World Bank recently held discussions in Niger on its Country Partnership Strategy, “a roadmap for engagement with the country over the next four years. The goal, according to organizers, was to solicit the views of Niger’s citizens in how best to support the country’s development agenda of faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth,  as defined in [PDES].” You can read more about those meetings, and the World Bank’s approach, here.

What do you think? What are Niger’s prospects for success with these initiatives and development plans? Is Niger a model for the region?

Niger, Areva, China, Imouraren, and SDS

I’ve been following the launch of the Nigerien government’s $2.5 billion, five-year “Strategy for Development and Security” (SDS). As part of that story I’ve been wondering how the program, which partly aims to address political and economic grievances in the northern part of Niger, will interact with private firms that work in resource extraction, namely in uranium mining and oil drilling. On the one hand, the funding sources for SDS remain partly unclear, and the government may hope to use revenues from resource extraction to fund the program. On the other hand, some firms have themselves been the targets of popular anger and protests, meaning SDS’ administrators could face choices about whether to push for reforms or find alternative ways to reduce anger.

One part of the story that I originally missed is that the Nigerien government has begun voicing some dissatisfaction with French-owned uranium mining giant Areva. Reuters:

Niger warned French nuclear giant Areva on [October 11] against any further delays to its Imouraren uranium mining project, saying it could not support a company that is unable to meet its commitments.

The mine is meant to boost Niger’s uranium output by 5,000 and make it the world’s second-largest exporter of the nuclear fuel, but the planned startup of production was delayed to 2013 or 2014 from 2012 after seven Areva workers were kidnapped in Niger’s north two years ago.

Construction work has also been hampered by labour disputes that triggered strikes earlier this year.

[...]

[Mines Minister Omar Hamidou Tchiana] did not specify what action Niger might take against Areva if it failed to live up to the government’s expectations.

Areva’s official webpage for Imouraren is here, and a map of its location is here.

Much is at stake. Al Qarra (French) wrote yesterday,

Last week, rumors mentioned the resale of Areva’s stake to a Chinese enterprise, behind the back of Nigerien authorities. Despite the French firm’s denial, the Nigerien government seized this opportunity to denounce the firm’s practices. In the authorities’ sights: the economic benefits of the Imouraren site. The government desires more of the benefits for the population, at the same time that it demands that production begins earlier.

The rumors about a sale to a Chinese firm are apparently true. China Daily reported on October 26 that Areva, which currently has a 57% stake in Imouraren (with the Nigerien government holding a 43% stake), is “expected to reach agreement soon on the sale of a 13 percent stake in [Imouraren] to China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co Ltd.”

We will see whether the sale goes through, and whether the Nigerien government is able to pressure its fellow stakeholders into opening the mine sooner and re-configuring how its profits are shared out. And then we will see what consequences all of this has for SDS and for political stability in the north. In any case the struggles surrounding Imouraren are a reminder of the complicated intersections between resource extraction and politics in Niger.

Niger, Nigeria, Boko Haram, AQIM, and Border Security

The border between the Nigeria and Niger divides a zone with many cultural, religious, ethnic, and linguistic linkages, and under normal circumstances many people cross back and forth on a frequent basis. The uprising in Northern Nigeria by the Boko Haram sect has brought attention to the porousness of the border and its regional security implications: for example, some suspected Boko Haram members were arrested in Diffa, Niger in January/February 2012. Around the beginning of the year, Nigerian authorities imposed a state of emergency in the Northeastern states of Yobe and Borno that included international border closures. The closures have had a substantial economic impact, hurting agricultural and livestock trade between Nigeria and its neighbors, elevating food prices in southern Nigerien towns like Diffa, reducing trade to Cameroon and Chad, and contributing to economic devastation in Nigerian cities like Maiduguri and Potiskum.

Earlier this month, Niger’s government announced its desire to form joint border patrols with Nigeria, mentioning its concern not only about Boko Haram but also about Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Yesterday, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Niamey for the meeting of the High Authority of the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation, he and his counterpart President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed that joint patrols should begin immediately. As Vanguard writes, they took several other steps as well:

The two  countries also agreed to equip their National Boundary Commissions with requisite logistics to ensure fast re-demarcation of the Nigeria-Niger International boundary.

[...]

President Jonathan also signed bilateral agreement on Defence and Security with the Nigerien government.

In a communique issued at the end of the session yesterday, the two Heads of States expressed worries over the danger of terrorism in the region and emphasised the need to jointly tackle the security challenge in the sub region  which is a big  threat to peace and stability in the West African sub-region.

Vanguard quotes from the communique at length.

The border issue concerns not only the national governments of Niger and Nigeria but state and local authorities as well. Accompanying Jonathan to Niamey were the governors of Jigawa, Katsina, and Borno states, all of which lie along the northern border (map of Nigeria’s states here). Borno State has been the epicenter of Boko Haram.

The details of how the governments implement these patrols will matter greatly, of course. This Day notes that authorities have not yet specified which portions of the border they will patrol, and that the border is some 930 miles. This Day also reports that the US State Department may provide some technical assistance for closer border control.

The issue of borders goes beyond just Nigeria and Niger. The rest of Jonathan’s itinerary for this brief trip through the region is a reminder that Nigeria has more than just its immediate neighbors on its mind. Vanguard (see link above) also discusses Niger and Nigeria’s support, as expressed at the meeting yesterday, for the deployment of foreign soldiers to Mali in order to reunite that country. Jonathan is supposed to stop in Mali today an Economic Community of West African States/African Union/European Union/United Nations meeting on Mali.

For Niger, meanwhile, the issue of border security has multiple complicated components: not only is there the threat of Boko Haram to the south, there is Mali to the west and Libya to the north. Border security for northern Niger falls under the rubric of its recently announced Security and Development Strategy; between the new joint border patrols with Nigeria and the new Strategy program, Niger has plans in place for improving security along much of its border. We’ll see how effectively those plans are implemented, and how security developments in Mali and Nigeria affect Niger.

Niger, Resources, Budgets, and Security

I’ve been following Niger’s recently launched five-year, $2.5 billion Security and Development Strategy (SDS). The program aims to address economic grievances in the north and across the country while bolstering security, all in the hopes of avoiding the chaos that plague Mali currently and avoiding a repeat of rebellions Niger has faced in the past.

One of the key questions facing SDS is how to fund it. The European Union has pledged $118 and other foreign partners will presumably contribute. Yet much of the funding, it seems, is expected to come from the Nigerien government itself. Some of that funding, in turn, is expected to come from rents derived from oil production and uranium mining.

That’s why the headline “Niger Cuts Budget by 7% on Oil Revenue Shortfall” caught my eye:

Niger, one of the world’s newest oil-producing nations, has reduced its 2012 budget by nearly 7 percent to 1.35 trillion CFA francs in response to lower government income.

The revision is the third since the budget was adopted late last year and is due largely to projected shortfalls in customs duties and revenues from its energy sector.

The government increased spending by 10 percent in July to cope with drought and conflicts along its porous borders, including an Islamist occupation of northern Mali.

[...]

According to [a televised government] statement, state oil profits for the year were expected to reach 4 billion CFA francs, far short of an earlier projection of 33.5 billion CFA francs.

According to this converter, the revised budget comes out at around $2.7 billion. For comparison’s sake, a fifth of SDS’ projected budget (i.e., the rough amount the government would spend on the program each year for five years) is $0.5 billion. That’s a big expenditure in this context. And if oil revenues fall short of expectations, it may be hard for the government to fund SDS on the scale of its ambitions – great though the need for the program is – without making sacrifices in other areas or securing more outside assistance.

More on Security and Development in Niger

Last week I wrote about Niger’s new $2.5 billion, five-year program (“SDS”) for security and development in its northern regions. Yesterday I went up at World Politics Review with a piece that looks more closely at SDS and also discusses past (and hopefully future) efforts at security and development in northern Mali.

There are two additional points worth making here:

First, to amplify what I said in the article, it is unclear where much of SDS’ budget will come from. Niger’s government may hope that profits from uranium and oil will help fund SDS. Yet these industries are themselves partly the cause of dissatisfaction in some communities in Niger. This dissatisfaction has taken the form of strikes at uranium mines and, this week, a strike by fuel truck drivers.

Witnesses in Zinder, where the refinery is located, said there were hundreds of trucks parked around the town in observance of the strike call.

Niger inaugurated the 20,000 barrel-per-day Soraz refinery in November 2011 hoping it would make Niger fuel self-sufficient and bring down prices.

But the refinery, 60 percent owned by Chinese state oil company CNPC and 40 percent by Niger, has been plagued by problems, including violent demonstrations by protesters complaining that fuel remains unaffordable.

Zinder (map) is, of course, in southern Niger, but the Zinder Region is one of six targeted by SDS.* Major uranium mines also lie within the targeted regions. If Niger’s government does not address complaints about working conditions, revenue flows, and other problems in the uranium and oil industries, those complaints may undermine the program’s overall goal of reducing grievances in the north and elsewhere.

The second point is that Niger is not just worried about instability in the far north, but is also concerned about a spillover of violence from neighboring Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues to launch attacks. In advance of an upcoming visit by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to Niger later this month, Nigerien authorities are calling for joint border patrols. Even as Niger keeps one eye on Mali and the north, then, the other watches Nigeria and the south.

*News reports have emphasized the idea of SDS as a program targeting the north, but the program is virtually national in scope. I am still making up my mind about how to characterize its geographical focus. Comments welcome.