Niger: New Civilian Government Takes Shape

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:

4 thoughts on “Niger: New Civilian Government Takes Shape

  1. Alex,

    I was wondering if you could comment on Issoufou’s recent remarks about seeking Western counterterrorism help (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jDf0shiW01r79rWwDb3hvZ9lmCrQ?docId=CNG.1eba7b9c6a49dd1740b439ff354ea2e3.9a1). His approach seems to be taking a similar line to that of Algeria, which lately appears to be ramping up its cooperation with the West in the fight against Sahara-Sahel terror networks (http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/features/awi/features/2011/03/07/feature-05). It’s interesting that Issoufou would take such an approach so early into his presidency. How do you think this will this affect Niger’s relations with regional partners such as Mali and Mauritania, which seem to be less inclined to call for Western counterterror support? Thanks.

    • Hi Canyen, I’m sorry it took me so long to get this. It’s a great question. My impression is that Issoufou wants to communicate that he will be pro-active on a number of issues. I imagine he sees good reasons to build the strongest relations with the West that he can, which may explain his openness to outside help. He is also continuing the junta’s policy in many respects on this issue.

      I don’t think this will damage his relations with Mauritania, which has a different rhetorical stance on outside help but which has accepted US training, participated in the Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, etc. As for Mali, it seems that it has mostly been other countries criticizing Mali, and not the other way around, though I recall hearing a little bit of Malian discontent about having Mauritanian troops chase AQIM into Malian territory. Still, I would be surprised to hear Malian authorities criticize Issoufou over the approach he’s taking.

      What do you think?

      • I agree with you that it seems he is trying to be proactive about the issue of counterterrorism. Definitely an understandable goal for any new president.

        I also considered the possibility that he could be trying to allay the concerns of some European nations (namely France), who are targeted for kidnappings by groups such as AQIM. For example, by saying he wants to cooperate with Western nations in the future, Issoufou may be trying to reduce the possibility of a unilateral French military action the next time a French citizen is taken hostage in Niger. It may be a stretch, but I thought it could be an alternate motive for Issoufou’s statements.

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