In Niger, a Divided Unity Government

On August 13, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou authorized a cabinet reshuffle in order to create a government of national unity. The new cabinet comprised thirty-seven ministers, up from twenty-six, and dismissed ten members while bringing on eighteen. Jeune Afrique (French) profiled Issoufou’s first cabinet here.

The unity cabinet includes members of opposition parties, but Issoufou retained key officials such as Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, Foreign Minister Bazoum Mohamed, and Defense Minister Karidjo Mahamadou. One source reports, “Among the prominent opposition leaders who joined the government are Albadé Abouba, who becomes senior minister assigned to the President’s office, Wassalké Boukary as minister of Water and the vociferous Alma Oumarou, now minister of Trade.” An official list of the new cabinet members can be found here (French). The government’s formation, in Issoufou’s words, responds to heightened regional and domestic insecurity, especially the crisis in neighboring Mali and the bombings of May 23 in northern Niger.

Division appeared swiftly. On August 17, seven ministers from the Nigerien Democratic Movement (French: Mouvement Démocratique Nigérien, or MODEN), a party allied with the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (French: Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme, PNDS) suspended their participation in the government, complaining that their party had received sub-optimal posts. Six posts (French) remain in the hands of new cabinet members from the opposition. On August 23, MODEN announced its withdrawal from the entire governing coalition, called the Movement for the Renaissance of Niger (MRN). In the wake of these disruptions, Issoufou on August 26 (French) gave some ministers additional portfolios and made several new appointments. What long-term effect MODEN’s withdrawal will have on Issoufou’s government I cannot predict, but in the short term the partial collapse of the unity government is a defeat for the president.

Niger and Libya on the Recent Bombings

(Somehow I goofed and didn’t post this on May 28th, the day I wrote it. It’s still relevant, so I thought I would post it today. – Alex)

Following the May 23 bombings in northern Niger, the country’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, charged that the attackers had come from southern Libya. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denied this claim.

I do not know who is right. But Issoufou and Zeidan’s statements interest me in large part because of the views they reflect on what post-Qaddhafi Libya has become.

Issoufou:

Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel…I had already warned from the beginning of the Libyan crisis…that it was necessary to avoid solutions after Kadhafi’s defeat that would be even worse, and I had said that if the Libyan state turned into a Somalia or fell into the hands of fundamentalists, the solution would be worse…Today the situation is very difficult, the Libyan authorities are doing their best to control it, but the fact is, Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel.

It’s noteworthy that Issoufou frames the problem as a regional one and not just as an issue for Libya and Niger.

Zeidan:

It was Gaddafi who exported terrorism…The new Libya will not tolerate that.

Issoufou depicts the bombings as the work of foreigners, Zeidan depicts Libya’s problems as being the fault of Qaddhafi.

Libya and Niger have had some tension since Qaddhafi’s fall. Niger was relatively slow to recognize the new Libyan government, and the two countries have not reached an agreement on the extradition of Qaddhafi family members and lieutenants from Niger back to Libya (Zeidan raised this issue again at his press conference). Issoufou calling Libya a “source of destabilization” is strong language, and suggests that he (and possibly other Sahelian leaders) are deeply unhappy with their northern neighbor’s trajectory. Issoufou’s concerns about Libya, in other words, go well beyond the latest bombing.

Information on Niger’s Food Crisis

Via Reuters, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (view the latest Niger report here, in French .pdf – I could not find the English version) says that around 800,000 people in Niger will need food aid between now and the summer. Niger faces cyclical food crises – famines in 2005 and 2011 were particularly bad – meaning that the challenges are both short- and long-term. This year, elevated cereals prices and Malian refugees are contributing to the crisis. From Reuters:

[OCHA] cited problems with supplying food to markets in some areas, such as the northern mining regixon of Arlit and Tahoua in central Niger and Tillabery in the west, which had driven up cereals prices.

Recurrent shortages in recent years have forced pastoralists to sell livestock, including valuable young females normally kept for breeding, reducing their resistance to food shocks.

The presence of some 60,000 refugees from Mali – where a French-led international mission has battled Islamist rebels since January – has exacerbated the food shortages in Tillabery [map] and Tahoua [map], OCHA has said.

The Famine Early Warning System Network’s Food Security Outlook (.pdf) for Niger gives further detail on the rise in cereals prices. From p. 1:

Increasing millet and maize prices, already well above average in April, will overshoot seasonal norms between now and the height of the lean season and the end of
Ramadan in late August due to market disruptions
triggered by last year’s floods in Nigeria. Central and
Eastern Niger will be most affected.

P. 7 of FEWS Net’s outlook, which lists factors that could affect food security, is worth reading. Notably, they list the elections in Mali (scheduled for July) and conflict in Nigeria as possible risks.

The World Food Programme has more (.pdf). An important paragraph from p. 2:

Close monitoring of food markets and the food security situation is necessary. There are indications of recent decreases in the terms of trade of pastoralists. In March, the terms of trade between goat and millet reached alert levels with a goat trading for much less than 100 kg of millet, a threshold indicative of inadequate purchasing power for pastoralists.

Available casual labour opportunities and incomes
generated by cash crops (horticulture and onions) so
far contain the deterioration of the purchasing power
among other livelihood groups. As the lean season
reaches its peak in July-September, further increases
in cereal prices will reduce vulnerable households’
economic access to food.

As far as the solutions that Niger and various aid agencies are seeking, readers may find the following resources helpful:

  • IRIN on President Mahamadou Issoufou’s $2 billion Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens initiative.
  • WFP on Norway’s donations.

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.

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, 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.

Give and Take in Niger’s Relationship with China

Yesterday, Reuters reported that Niger had “succeeded in renegotiating the terms of a $980 million loan from China’s Export-Import Bank that covered the cost of building an oil refinery in the east of the West African nation.” In contrast to the standard image of China as predator and Africa as prey, the article suggests some give-and-take:

The government called for an audit of the cost of the 20,000 barrel-per-day Soraz plant just days before it opened in November after the price tag rose to $980 million from the $600 million agreed at signing.

[...]

Niger signed a $5 billion joint venture deal with Chinese oil company CNPC in 2008 to build the refinery and develop crude oil from the Agadem field a further 700 km east.

China’s Exim Bank initially made the loan at an interest rate of 3.5 percent reimbursable over 10 year, but lowered the rate to 3.1 during negotiations last year.

Now the interest rate on the loan will be capped at 2%.

It is also noteworthy that China’s investments in Niger are starting to go beyond oil and uranium. In March, China’s Sinolight announced plans to build a sugar refinery there. President Mahamadou Issoufou has stated his desire for China to invest in Nigerien agriculture and infrastructure.

This is not to say that China’s presence in Niger is problem-free or benevolent. The 2008 oil deal drew protest from trade unions and civil society groups, who said the deal-making had lacked transparency, and who voiced concerns about whether the oil wealth would reach ordinary citizens. China has been accused of backing President Mamadou Tandja (who was overthrown in a coup in 2010), even when Tandja was attempting to consolidate power extra-constitutionally. In 2010, workers in northern Niger decried conditions at a Chinese mining site, describing it as a “colony” and nicknaming it “Guantanamo.”

The relationship, then, is not simple. As the renegotiation of the loan reminds us, though, neither is it unidirectional.

For more, see Jamestown’s valuable, although dated (2007) piece on Niger-China relations.

Niger: President Issoufou, in Europe, Stresses Regional Security and Economic Possibility

Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou traveled to France and the UK this week. He has continued to voice concerns about the rebellion in neighboring Mali and to urge an international intervention. Issoufou made headlines last week for claiming that Afghans and Pakistanis are present in northern Mali, training terrorists (this claim has circulated before). Issoufou said, “I see the necessity for a U.N. Security Council resolution on the Mali situation to allow the use of force to restore integrity of Mali’s territory. I am optimistic because Western powers are aware of the danger that threatens them in the Sahel.”

Issoufou has reiterated these themes in Europe this week. European leaders certainly seem to take the problems in Mali seriously, although they are stating their preference for regional powers to take the lead. French President Francois Hollande, after meeting with Issoufou, told journalists, “This threat exists, it’s for the Africans to avert it, for them to decide. [The Economic Community of West African States] is at once the judicial instrument for that and the possible military instrument…It’s for the Africans to go to the Security Council, we will back the resolution that will be put forward by ECOWAS.” Niger, from what I can tell, is the most hawkish member of ECOWAS when it comes to the Malian crisis.

In London, Issoufou touted Niger’s economic growth, promoting the country as an investment destination, noting its uranium and oil resources. The audio of his speech at Chatham House (with simultaneous translation) is here.

Readers may also be interested in this interview Issoufou did with Al Jazeera a few weeks ago, where he talks about Mali and Libya.

A Look at Relations between Niger and Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou traveled to Saudi Arabia (French) accompanied by his wife and several major cabinet ministers. On the trip he has been meeting with Saudi royalty, including King Abdullah, as well as religious leaders, government officials, and businessmen. The trip focuses broadly on improving bilateral relations and in particular on encouraging Arab investment in Niger. Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, has attracted investors from different parts of the world – most notably, French companies in the uranium sector and Chinese participation in the petroleum sector.

In his remarks to Saudi Arabian businessmen Issoufou stressed agriculture, natural resources, and infrastructure as major investment opportunities. Talk of Arab investment in sub-Saharan African agriculture will sound alarm bells for some, who warn of an Arab “land grab” on the continent, but there are other ways to understand relations between Niger and Saudi Arabia.

It was interesting to read about Council of Saudi Chambers Chairman Abdullah Al-Mobty’s emphasis on historical linkages between Niger and Saudi Arabia:

Earlier in his opening remarks, Al-Mobty said the two countries enjoy friendly relations based on common understanding and feelings of fraternity. He recalled the historical visit of the late King Faisal, who went to open the first Arabic school in Niger in 1962. He said that the current ambassador of Niger in the Kingdom is a graduate of that school.

I have not found documentation of the 1962 visit but Faisal, as King, did make a high-profile visit to Niger, Chad, Uganda, Senegal, and Mauritania in 1972, a period when Saudi Arabia’s international leadership, especially in the Muslim world, was growing. Israel had defeated Egypt in 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abd al Nasser (a rival of the Saudis for leadership in the Arab world) had died in 1970, and Saudi oil wealth was growing. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the resulting oil embargo, many sub-Saharan African states strengthened relations with the Arab world even more, and in most cases broke relations with Israel as well. Niger was one such country. After the 1974 coup, Niger strengthened its ties to the Arab world and its self-presentation as an Islamic country (for more, especially about how graduates of Arab universities played a role as diplomatic links between Niger and Arab countries, see Abdoulaye Niandou Souley’s article in the 1993 collection that bears the somewhat misleading title Le radicalisme islamique au sud du Sahara).

This does not mean that Nigerien-Arab relations, or Nigerien-Israeli relations (restored in 1996, but broken again in 2002), have been static since the 1970s. Nor am I suggesting that either side is operating without calculation – now as in the 1970s, Niger needs investment, and Saudi Arabia wants political allies as well as investment opportunities. But I am saying that the Nigerien-Saudi Arabian relationship is a multi-dimensional one with a significant history. It will be interesting to see what comes of Issoufou’s visit.