Niger will spend nearly $2.5 billion to develop and secure its vast northern desert zones over the next five years, according to a new plan aimed at preventing the spillover of a conflict that has split neighbouring Mali in two.
The money is due to be spent on strengthening law and enforcement and border controls in an area where government authority is weak and traffickers and gunmen, some with links to al Qaeda, operate.
Funds will also target improving basic social services and infrastructure in the six most northern regions, where underdevelopment has led to previous rebellions.
The new plan, known as SDS/Sahel-Niger, will cost 1.266 trillion CFA francs ($2.49 billion), according to Prime Minister Brigi Raffini, himself a Tuareg, who launched the initiative late on Monday.
At least half of the programme will be funded by the government in Niamey while the European Union has pledged a further 91.6 million euros ($118 million), according to documents seen by Reuters. It was not immediately clear where the rest of the money would come from.
Niger 24 (French) has more on the launch event for the program. “SDS” stands for “Strategy for Development and Security.” Rafael Aguirre of the EU delegation to Niger emphasized both sides of the program, speaking of maintaining order and securing borders but also of creating employment opportunities and strengthening social services in areas like health and education. The website Niger Diaspora (French) has even more on the event.
Niger Diaspora also conducted an interview (French) with the program’s Executive Secretary, Mr. Najim Elhadj Mohamed, last week. In the interview Mohamed gives more details on the program: it will cover the regions of Tillabéry, Tahoua, Agadez, Maradi, Zinder, and Diffa (map of Niger here). The interview also discusses the program’s relationship to other national strategy plans in Niger, and I recommend reading it in full. Unfortunately I was not able to find any information on Mohamed’s professional background.
Many people have wondered how Niger, which borders Mali and has experienced Tuareg-led rebellions in the past, has avoided sharing Mali’s fate this year. Various factors seem to be at work, including the different styles and strategies of former Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure and current Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou. The Nigerien government has made significant efforts at reaching out to Tuaregs in its own territory, including by appointing a Tuareg prime minister (note the symbolism, too, of having Raffini launch SDS). The existence of SDS, however, indicates that authorities in Niamey are still nervous about the north, nervous about Niger’s borders with Mali and Libya, and anxious to prevent dissension and unrest. It is significant too that the plan is nearly nationwide in scope.
Readers may recall that Mali launched its own northern development and security initiative in 2011 – too little, too late, to prevent a rebellion, as it turned out. That program, however, had a much smaller budget than SDS ($69 million in Mali versus $2.5 billion for SDS). And from what experts on Mali now say about corruption and the hollowing out of institutions under Toure, it seems that Niger starts now from a much better place, politically, than Mali did last year. We’ll see how SDS turns out.