Niger: President Issoufou’s Trip to Saudi Arabia

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou and a delegation of cabinet ministers and other senior government officials traveled to Saudi Arabia from approximately May 10-12. The visit is not unusual, but in light of Senegal’s recent decision to send troops to support Saudi Arabia in its military venture in Yemen, there has been more attention to Saudi-Sahelian relations. So it is interesting to look at the content of Issoufou’s trip, which centered on themes of Saudi investment in Niger and Islamic solidarity between the two countries.

Upon his arrival in Riyadh (French), Issoufou met King Salman. This was Issoufou’s first visit since King Salman took the throne in January, so Issoufou gave both condolences on the death of King Abdullah and congratulations on King Salman’s coronation. In addition to meeting the Foreign Affairs and Education Ministers, Issoufou met (French) Finance Minister Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al-Assaf as well as Hajj Minister Bandar al-Hajjar. With al-Assaf, Issoufou discussed the Saudi Fund for Development and its projects in Niger.

(Unfortunately the Fund’s website does not have a country page for Niger, but the Saudi embassy in Niger provides a few details here, writing that the Fund works in “health, education and the construction of dams, as the fund is now building seven health centers in seven regions in Niger and the [sic] of 150 primary schools project. You can also read about a dam project in Mali here [Arabic].)

Issoufou’s other meetings concentrated on spurring greater Saudi investment in Nigerien businesses and development.

After his stop in Riyadh, Issoufou visited (French) the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and made ‘umra (lesser pilgrimage) in Mecca. He then met the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. (Niger was a founding member of the OIC and hosts the Organization’s Islamic university for Francophone Africa, located in Say near Niamey.) Issoufou also sat down with the vice president of the Islamic Development Bank, and the Bank and the Government of Niger signed a financing agreement for a road between Tébaram and Tahoua. See the Bank’s announcement here.

It’s a busy travel season for Issoufou – this week he is in Ghana for a summit of the Economic Community of West African States.

In Niger, a Divided Unity Government

On August 13, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou authorized a cabinet reshuffle in order to create a government of national unity. The new cabinet comprised thirty-seven ministers, up from twenty-six, and dismissed ten members while bringing on eighteen. Jeune Afrique (French) profiled Issoufou’s first cabinet here.

The unity cabinet includes members of opposition parties, but Issoufou retained key officials such as Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, Foreign Minister Bazoum Mohamed, and Defense Minister Karidjo Mahamadou. One source reports, “Among the prominent opposition leaders who joined the government are Albadé Abouba, who becomes senior minister assigned to the President’s office, Wassalké Boukary as minister of Water and the vociferous Alma Oumarou, now minister of Trade.” An official list of the new cabinet members can be found here (French). The government’s formation, in Issoufou’s words, responds to heightened regional and domestic insecurity, especially the crisis in neighboring Mali and the bombings of May 23 in northern Niger.

Division appeared swiftly. On August 17, seven ministers from the Nigerien Democratic Movement (French: Mouvement Démocratique Nigérien, or MODEN), a party allied with the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (French: Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme, PNDS) suspended their participation in the government, complaining that their party had received sub-optimal posts. Six posts (French) remain in the hands of new cabinet members from the opposition. On August 23, MODEN announced its withdrawal from the entire governing coalition, called the Movement for the Renaissance of Niger (MRN). In the wake of these disruptions, Issoufou on August 26 (French) gave some ministers additional portfolios and made several new appointments. What long-term effect MODEN’s withdrawal will have on Issoufou’s government I cannot predict, but in the short term the partial collapse of the unity government is a defeat for the president.

Niger and Libya on the Recent Bombings

(Somehow I goofed and didn’t post this on May 28th, the day I wrote it. It’s still relevant, so I thought I would post it today. – Alex)

Following the May 23 bombings in northern Niger, the country’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, charged that the attackers had come from southern Libya. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan denied this claim.

I do not know who is right. But Issoufou and Zeidan’s statements interest me in large part because of the views they reflect on what post-Qaddhafi Libya has become.

Issoufou:

Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel…I had already warned from the beginning of the Libyan crisis…that it was necessary to avoid solutions after Kadhafi’s defeat that would be even worse, and I had said that if the Libyan state turned into a Somalia or fell into the hands of fundamentalists, the solution would be worse…Today the situation is very difficult, the Libyan authorities are doing their best to control it, but the fact is, Libya continues to be a source of destabilisation for the countries of the Sahel.

It’s noteworthy that Issoufou frames the problem as a regional one and not just as an issue for Libya and Niger.

Zeidan:

It was Gaddafi who exported terrorism…The new Libya will not tolerate that.

Issoufou depicts the bombings as the work of foreigners, Zeidan depicts Libya’s problems as being the fault of Qaddhafi.

Libya and Niger have had some tension since Qaddhafi’s fall. Niger was relatively slow to recognize the new Libyan government, and the two countries have not reached an agreement on the extradition of Qaddhafi family members and lieutenants from Niger back to Libya (Zeidan raised this issue again at his press conference). Issoufou calling Libya a “source of destabilization” is strong language, and suggests that he (and possibly other Sahelian leaders) are deeply unhappy with their northern neighbor’s trajectory. Issoufou’s concerns about Libya, in other words, go well beyond the latest bombing.

Information on Niger’s Food Crisis

Via Reuters, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (view the latest Niger report here, in French .pdf – I could not find the English version) says that around 800,000 people in Niger will need food aid between now and the summer. Niger faces cyclical food crises – famines in 2005 and 2011 were particularly bad – meaning that the challenges are both short- and long-term. This year, elevated cereals prices and Malian refugees are contributing to the crisis. From Reuters:

[OCHA] cited problems with supplying food to markets in some areas, such as the northern mining regixon of Arlit and Tahoua in central Niger and Tillabery in the west, which had driven up cereals prices.

Recurrent shortages in recent years have forced pastoralists to sell livestock, including valuable young females normally kept for breeding, reducing their resistance to food shocks.

The presence of some 60,000 refugees from Mali – where a French-led international mission has battled Islamist rebels since January – has exacerbated the food shortages in Tillabery [map] and Tahoua [map], OCHA has said.

The Famine Early Warning System Network’s Food Security Outlook (.pdf) for Niger gives further detail on the rise in cereals prices. From p. 1:

Increasing millet and maize prices, already well above average in April, will overshoot seasonal norms between now and the height of the lean season and the end of
Ramadan in late August due to market disruptions
triggered by last year’s floods in Nigeria. Central and
Eastern Niger will be most affected.

P. 7 of FEWS Net’s outlook, which lists factors that could affect food security, is worth reading. Notably, they list the elections in Mali (scheduled for July) and conflict in Nigeria as possible risks.

The World Food Programme has more (.pdf). An important paragraph from p. 2:

Close monitoring of food markets and the food security situation is necessary. There are indications of recent decreases in the terms of trade of pastoralists. In March, the terms of trade between goat and millet reached alert levels with a goat trading for much less than 100 kg of millet, a threshold indicative of inadequate purchasing power for pastoralists.

Available casual labour opportunities and incomes
generated by cash crops (horticulture and onions) so
far contain the deterioration of the purchasing power
among other livelihood groups. As the lean season
reaches its peak in July-September, further increases
in cereal prices will reduce vulnerable households’
economic access to food.

As far as the solutions that Niger and various aid agencies are seeking, readers may find the following resources helpful:

  • IRIN on President Mahamadou Issoufou’s $2 billion Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens initiative.
  • WFP on Norway’s donations.

Anti-Corruption Efforts in Niger

As the crisis in Mali has unfolded, one reads periodic warnings in the press and the policy sphere that violence and instability could spill over into Niger. Meanwhile, analysts and scholars continue to examine the fall of former Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré’s government; many have identified regime corruption as a key factor in undermining the regime’s legitimacy and preparing the ground for its collapse. Given these two trends – concern about Niger, and analysis of corruption in Mali – it is important to track anti-corruption efforts in Niger.

In July 2011 (French), shortly after Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, his government created a High Authority for Fighting Corruption. Issoufou has stated that combating corruption is one of his top priorities. The High Authority has investigated allegations of misappropriation of funds during the regime of the country’s last civilian president, Mamadou Tandja. This body’s mission, as its President Issoufou Boureima explained in a December 2012 interview (French), is to identify and correct financial abuses in different sectors of government. The High Authority has experienced some turmoil; in May 2012 (French), its Vice President Mahamane Hamissou Moumouni resigned after protesting “opacity” in the institution’s management of resources.

All this is a preface to mentioning a story that a reader recently told me about. In February (French), Nigerien authorities (the article I found does not mention whether these officials came from the High Authority or not) arrested some twenty doctors on charges of embezzling funds at the NGO GAVI Alliance. The Alliance has reportedly suspended its programs in Niger. The Alliance’s website is here.

This story reminded me a little of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria’s decision to suspend several aid programs in Mali in March 2011 over concerns about corruption. This affair led to the June 2011 arrest of former Health Minister Ibrahim Oumar Toure.

I am not saying that the arrest of the doctors in Niger means that Niger is following Mali’s path. The paths of the two countries are different. But the story does highlight the fact that corruption can have far-reaching consequences, including undermining the confidence of external donors. How Niger handles cases like these will shape how domestic and foreign actors view the country and its government.

Niger Holds Conference to Examine Problems in the Country’s Legal System

From November 26 to 30, Niger is holding a conference on the country’s legal system. President Mahamdou Issoufou opened the meeting (French) on Monday. The conference will address themes like “justice and institutions” and “justice and society.” It brings together some 500 participants, including officials from the country’s justice system as well as “traditional and religious leaders” and “technical and financial partners.”

The event, called the “General Estates of the Legal System,”* is largely meant to “rectify” the image of the country’s judicial system, according to the President (French). A recent poll, he continued, showed a lack of confidence in the system and a widespread feeling that it is corrupt and insufficiently independent.

The Ministry of Justice’s statement on the broader framework for judicial reform is here (French), and this interview with the Minister (French) is well worth reading. He discusses the preparations for the meeting, which included consultations in each of Niger’s eight provinces. He also details the difficulties the legal system faces, such as outmoded colonial statutes and a shortage of personnel. The administration, it seems to me, seeks not to transform the fundamental character of the legal system but to make the existing system more effective and less corrupt.

The meeting is important as part of Issoufou’s broader anti-corruption efforts and as an occasion to consider the problems in the country’s legal system, which have huge ramifications for the larger issue of state-society relations. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the conference.

*”General Estates” is a term often associated with the Old Regime in France. I think – though I am not sure, and I welcome readers’ input – that the Issoufou administration is using the term now simply in the sense of a national congress/forum.

Niger Secures $4.8 Billion for Security and Development – Is This a Regional Model?

On November 13-14, Niger held a roundtable in Paris where it “secured pledges of $4.8 billion from international donors” including “South Africa, Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, Turkey and the Arab League.” These funds go to support Niger’s 2012-2015 Program for Economic and Social Development (PDES). Here at the blog I have been following the Nigerien government’s $2.5 billion, five-year Strategy for Development and Security (SDS), which is, as I understand the situation, a part (French) of PDES. While early news reports about the launch of SDS speculated that the Nigerien government might itself shoulder much of the financial burden for the program, commenter Ibrahim correctly predicted that external donors would ultimately provide the funds. The donations promised this week will allow Niger to push ahead with SDS and the larger PDES framework.

As Reuters hints, the donations reflect foreign powers’ concerns about the conflicts in Niger’s neighbors and the hopes that Niger, through political and financial outreach, can continue to prevent violent conflict within its own borders. You can read a speech on PDES by the European Union’s Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, and Crisis Response here. Meanwhile, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, looking beyond his borders, told attendees at the roundtable that “Only economic and social development will allow the Sahel region to eventually live in peace.”

To learn more about PDES, you can read this statement on the roundtable from the Nigerien government (French). As the statement explains, PDES comprises five pillars: rule of law; inclusive development; food security; and social development. I also recommend looking at the site for SDS (French). Finally, the World Bank recently held discussions in Niger on its Country Partnership Strategy, “a roadmap for engagement with the country over the next four years. The goal, according to organizers, was to solicit the views of Niger’s citizens in how best to support the country’s development agenda of faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth,  as defined in [PDES].” You can read more about those meetings, and the World Bank’s approach, here.

What do you think? What are Niger’s prospects for success with these initiatives and development plans? Is Niger a model for the region?