In January and March, Niger held elections to choose civilian leaders as the country transitions from military rule back to democracy. Yesterday Niger’s new parliament took office, minus six disputed seats for which re-run elections will occur on May 16. President-elect Mahamadou Issoufou’s inauguration will take place April 6. As I argued here, Niger’s transition is an occasion for celebration but also for sober reflection on the challenges Niger will face both at home and abroad. This post gives a little more context on the situation.
Domestically, two problems the new regime will confront immediately have to do with food security and addressing the actions of the Tandja regime, which was ousted in the February 2010 military coup. Regarding food, IRIN writes that sustained government involvement (along with international assistance) will be essential to solving a crisis that has become chronic. This week the outgoing military regime has organized the Conférence Internationale sur la Sécurité Alimentaire et Nutritionnelle au Niger (International Conference on Food and Nutritional Security in Niger, or CISAN), but that’s only one step. Attendees have said that trust between the government and NGOs, lacking during previous regimes, will have to increase.
Regarding accountability for the Tandja regime, the military junta has stated that some 3,000 persons connected to Tandja collectively embezzled around $184 million. According to the junta’s Committee to Combat Economic and Financial Crime, “65 cases of embezzlement had been dealt with and more than 6.5 billion CFA francs [around $14 million – Alex] recovered.” Still, with the legal fate of Tandja and other key politicians yet to be determined, and with a great deal of money still missing, the new government will have to decide how it wants to proceed. Its decisions will set important precedents on issues related to accountability and justice.
Regionally, there is good news and bad for the new government. On the positive side, the transition in Niger has already generated enthusiasm from Niger’s neighbors. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has removed sanctions on Niger, joining the EU in initiating a process of resuming aid and partnership with the country. On the negative side – or at least the complicated side – the Issoufou regime will have to navigate the rapidly shifting political storms in the Sahel, where many eyes are watching what happens in Libya. Outspoken Nigerien supporters of Qadhafi have put the incoming regime in a potentially awkward position, raising the political stakes for the government no matter what stance it takes, even neutrality. Ripple effects from the crisis in Libya, including the potential sale of Libyan assets in the Sahel and an influx of refugees into northern Niger, will also challenge Niger’s new regime. Whatever happens in Libya – a de facto partition, Qadhafi’s fall, or another scenario – will seriously affect Niger.
I believe Nigeriens have a lot of reasons to be optimistic about their new government. But that doesn’t mean the road ahead will be easy.
The World Bank discusses the food crisis in Niger: