Two articles on Niger recently caught my eye. One is Jeune Afrique‘s interview (French) with civil society activist Moussa Tchangari (or Tchangary); the other is an article (French) by a professional civil administrator, Soumaila Abdou Sadou. Readers of this blog may be familiar with Tchangari, whose 2015 arrest I briefly covered.
In the recent interview, Tchangari makes some interesting comments about Nigerien democracy, the role of political parties, and the role of civil society. An excerpt:
Tchangari: Power is more and more captured by only one man! [i.e., President Mahamadou Issoufou]
Jeune Afrique: But there are free elections, an opposition?
Tchangari: Niger is still a very superficial democracy, which is not completed. The opposition is struggling, it tries to fight, but the regime tries to divide it.
Jeune Afrique: So the opposition is civil society?
Tchangari: No. We just have a role of vigilance. We are not there to replace the political parties with ourselves, but to propose ideas and to defend human rights.
Later in the interview, Tchangari rejects the idea that he himself become the head of the opposition. At least for now, he seems keenly interested in a real division of labor between political parties and civil society. At the same time, he alludes to a key problem for opposition parties: ruling regimes (in the Sahel and elsewhere) are often able to divide and rule, offering incentives to some opposition members while marginalizing others.
Abdou Sadou, for his part, directs criticism at the senior bureaucrats of the Nigerien state. An excerpt:
The “affairism” [one might translate this as “greed” or “commercialization,” but there is also a sense of turning one’s bureaucratic post into a business] of the agents of the state is piercing. In fact, these many affairist bureaucrats spend more time outside their offices for the attentive monitoring of their own affairs, instead of devoting themselves to the daily tasks of administration. Public service has henceforth become the site par excellence of affairism. The site most favorable for making his business grow with free capital.
In serving the state, many bureaucrats have become excessively rich, an ostentatious wealth that they do not even bother to camouflage, feeling certain of the cover and understanding of politicians.
Abdou Sadou’s critique is somewhat generic – there is little in the piece that is specific to Niger – but reading the two pieces together, it’s clear that some Nigerien intellectuals and activists are profoundly unhappy with the political direction of the country. Their criticisms go beyond electoral politics or a criticism of the Issoufou administration specifically, and extend to structural issues: the unequal relationship between government and opposition parties, and the vulnerability of public offices to private manipulation.