Three Recent Items on Niger, the Western Security Presence, and Domestic Dissent

Here are three items on Niger, from July and August, that caught my eye:

  • On 19 July, five U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressing concern about Niger’s arrests of civil society activists. Two key lines from the letter: “It is vital that Niger’s leaders do not interpret our counterterrorism cooperation as license for shirking their responsibilities for good governance…We urge the State Department to speak out in support of civil society leaders jailed for exercising their freedom of expression, association, and assembly.” The signatories are Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). The group visited Niger in April of this year, on a trip that also included stops in Burkina Faso, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
  • At the Guardian, Ruth Maclean and Omar Hama Saley write about Niger’s “suppression of dissent.” Here is one key passage: “Niger is one of the most militarised countries in Africa. The government spends 21% of its small budget on defence, which means there is much less to spend on things like health and education. Hence the need for higher taxes, which the government says do not affect the poor but which have nevertheless sparked fierce opposition. Civil society leaders and rights groups say protests against this and any controversial government policies have been ‘almost systematically denied’, while pro-government marches are allowed. Detained civil society leaders have been spread out in jails across the country, meaning their families struggle to visit and feed them; several were convicted of instigating an unarmed, banned gathering last month, and released having already served their time.”
  • At the Intercept, Nick Turse writes that the projected costs of the U.S. drone facility in Agadez are rising: “The outpost — officially a new airfield and associated facilities at Nigerien Air Base 201, or AB 201 — was once billed as a $50 million base dedicated to surveillance drones, and it was to be completed in 2016.  Now, it’s slated to be a $100 million base for armed MQ-9 Reaper drones which will finally take flight in 2019, though the construction cost is hardly the end of the tab for the facility.” The costs, notably, are not just financial but also political.

The authoritarian trendline is worrying – it’s hard to summarize Niger’s political history since 1991, but “civilian authoritarianism” seems to now be a recurring theme. Meanwhile, I’m glad to see journalists continuing to assess the multi-faceted effects of the drone base on civilians in the north; I don’t want to excerpt too much from Turse Maclean and Saley, but there’s a striking paragraph in there with quotations from a man who had barely heard of the United States. The pace of social change and globalization everyone now is rapid, but this base project seems to be accelerating that pace to an even faster clip in one of the most remote parts of the world. That’s going to generate unpredictable effects (and here I’m not talking of violence, actually, but more of chaotic social change). In any case, all of these documents are worth reading in full.