When Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja decided to remain in office through a referendum that many inside and outside Niger decried as unconstitutional, regional and international forces worked to isolate him. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union, and the United States have all leveled sanctions, and ECOWAS is conducting negotiations between Tandja and the Nigerien opposition. Despite external pressure, Tandja has refused to budge, calling on his countrymen to make sacrifices.
Now, with a food crisis looming, other international actors are filling the void left by the US and the EU: Japan and the Islamic Development Bank recently donated around $13 million in aid, and the UN promises to obtain more. That support might explain why Tandja has felt comfortable leaving the ECOWAS negotiations deadlocked.
Tandja’s government may have the financial support it needs to move forward and not make concessions to the opposition or regional demands, but Tandja losing domestic support? Opposition protests in Niamey on Sunday drew “more than 10,000” for a peaceful event organized by the opposition. Protests of that size occurred last year as the constitutional crisis unfolded, and Tandja weathered those storms. Perhaps the crowds at such events represent only an urban minority. But the protests do speak to a vein of discontent with Tandja’s rule that runs through some of the country.
With donations from abroad Tandja may maintain his balancing act and eventually reach a point where his relations with Western powers and his neighbors return to normal. But he is not there yet, and between the hungry millions in his country, the crowds in his capital, and the skeptical neighbors that surround him, he faces a difficult road going forward.