Yesterday, the military junta that took power in Niger in February 2010 completed a transition to civilian rule by handing the reins to a civilian regime headed by Mahamadou Issoufou, the country’s newly elected president. The transition ceremony, a national holiday, drew congratulations from the UN and the US. Several African heads of state from nearby countries, including Mali, Senegal, and Benin, attended. With the formal transition concluded and strong international and regional support in place, the Issoufou administration can begin confronting the serious challenges Niger faces. How the new government takes shape will give us some indication of its direction and its priorities.
Issoufou’s first major move was to appoint a prime minister. This move stresses ethnic and regional inclusion and signals that the coalition that elected Issoufou will continue to have a say in his government. AFP:
Niger’s newly elected president Mahamadou Issoufou appointed a member of the Tuareg community as prime minister, just hours after being sworn in and ending the period of military transition.
Brigi Rafini, a Tuareg from Agadez in the north of the country, will lead the government, state radio announced.
“I will be the president of all the Nigeriens,” said Issoufou during the ceremony at a stadium in the capital Niamey.
His prime minister Rafini is a former deputy for the region with the Rally for Democracy and Progree party (RDP) of former president Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, assassinated in 1999 by members of his own bodyguard.
From a civil service background, he served as a minister under Mainassara and served several terms as mayor of the Iferouane district, where there was fierce fighting between Tuareg rebels and the army between 2007 and 2009.
AFP also reports that Issoufou promised in his speech to fight hunger, corruption, and terrorism in Niger. All of these themes likely played into the choice of a Tuareg from the northern part of Niger as prime minister. The north has been a zone of famine, concerns over corporate exploitation, and conflict for years.
Appointing Rafini seems wise to me. Issoufou has sent a signal that he takes the country’s problems seriously and that he will consult different groups as he crafts solutions. Next, Issoufou will be pressured to confront what IRIN calls the “chasm between the people of rural Niger and the policy-makers and implementers in Niamey…, [a] gap that needs to be bridged if the nation’s development goals are to be achieved, but which keeps getting wider because the country constantly has to tackle emergencies.”
CCTV News (China) has some footage from the transition ceremony: