International Community Reintegrating Niger?

Three months after the military coup in Niger, is the international community ready to reintegrate the country?

The World Bank is reopening aid flows:

The World Bank has restarted aid to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, after suspending donations in the wake of a military coup in February, the bank said on Wednesday.

It said it would give $40 million in budgetary assistance to Niger, which despite being an exporter of uranium and target for billions of dollars of investment in oil, faces severe food shortages, according to United Nations humanitarian agencies.

And France is extending de facto recognition to the junta:

France on Tuesday invited the leader of a February 18 military coup in Niger to its Africa summit later this month, welcoming his promise to hand over power of the uranium-producing state within a year.


Separately, a Nigerien delegation will travel to Brussels next week to seek to persuade European Union officials to lift a Tandja-era suspension of some $450 million of development aid.

With plans in motion to transition back to civilian rule, Niger’s military rulers seem to be back in the international community’s good graces. That’s no surprise, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – would it be better to have Tandja still in office? Still, this kind of recognition sends a signal to other would-be coup leaders in Africa and elsewhere: if you conduct the coup and manage the transition in a certain way, the penalties from the outside will be light. That could have unfortunate consequences.


Comoros Islands vs. Niger

In what VOA calls a “victory for…democracy” in the Comoros Islands, the Constitutional Court annulled the results of a referendum that extended the term of President Mohamed Abdallah Sambi.

Moroni Harbor, Grand Comore, Comoros Islands - by Woodlouse

Recently, President Sambi won a referendum that extended his mandate. But, the opposition described the move as a coup d’état accusing him of clinging to power and setting the groundwork for a longer extension.

President Sambi’s government defended the referendum saying the current system is broken and too costly.

[…]After opposition lawmakers boycotted proceedings, President Sambi’s supporters in parliament scheduled 27 November 2011 as the date for the general elections to choose a governor for the country’s three Islands: Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore.

Local media reported that President Sambi is scheduled to hand over power to a leader from Moheli in 2011 under the regular system of rotation.

Residents in Moheli are reportedly expecting one of its leaders to soon take over the presidency after the Constitutional Court’s ruling.

So far, this has the potential to produce an outcome very different from the one in Niger. There, President Mamadou Tandja held a similar referendum over the objections of the opposition and the courts, and remained in power unconstitutionally until the army intervened. Reuters describes the Comoros as “coup-prone,” so the archipelago will need to proceed carefully to avoid destabilization and military intervention. But if the transition from Sambi to the next president goes well, Comoros may show a path toward resolving these kinds of incumbency crises without leaving the framework of democratic governance.

Niger and China

I’ve written here before about tensions in northern Niger over Chinese uranium mining. I want to flag for readers this Financial Times blog post on China in Niger. It’s well worth reading – I’ve excerpted some, but I urge you to check out the whole thing:

The Chinese-built bridge over the River Niger looks sturdy enough but Beijing’s relations with Niamey have been disturbed of late. Last week the military junta that seized power in February’s coup d’etat was working out the details of an audit of all mining permits granted under Mamadou Tandja, Niger’s Sinophile ex-president.

The soldiers have been at pains to stress that they have no intention of booting out investors, Chinese or otherwise. But the exercise could have implications for China’s intermediaries in Niger, weaken its previously intimate relations with the national leadership and hold lessons for its engagements elsewhere on the continent.

[…]The audit in Niger could be uncomfortable. But Beijing is thinking in decades. Expect Niger to demonstrate the enduring nature of China’s African adventure.

That last paragraph merits some real reflection, not only here on the blog but in Washington.

Meanwhile, a decline in aid receipts due to last year’s political turmoil has forced a 13% budget cut in Niger. That says to me that the junta will act very carefully with regard to foreign investors.

Niger: 11 Months to Transition


A consultative council appointed by Niger’s military rulers says civilian government should be re-established by March of next year.

After more than one week of debate, Niger’s 131-member Consultative Council called for the return of democratic rule by March 1, 2011.

Council President Marou Amadou now passes on that proposal to the military’s ruling Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, which toppled President Mamadou Tandja in a February coup.

Military rulers are likely to accept that proposal since they are represented on the consultative council and have already pledged to restore civilian rule within a year.

The council made no formal recommendation on the dates of presidential and parliamentary elections, but Amadou says a referendum on a new constitution should come sometime in October.


Regional diplomats believe [military ruler Major Salou Djibo] is serious about returning to democracy, in part, because many of the soldiers behind this coup were also involved in a 1999 coup that organized elections won by former President Tandja […] Niger has past experience with this process following the 1999 coup that also restored civilian rule within one year.

I am not endorsing the coup, but it seems the transition might go smoothly.

Hunger in Niger

The military junta in Niger continues to assert its authority by arresting accused criminals and Tuareg rebels, and by firing heads of state companies. But there is a problem the new government will need help to address: the food crisis.

Poor harvests have left the people of Niger in desperate need of food.  Half of Niger’s population are already vulnerable to food shortages and that number only increases as food shortages increase.  Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable and more likely to succumb to malnutrition.  Relief officials scrambled to prepare an emergency action plan.

These severe food shortages are also causing children to stop going to school.

“Because of the food insecurity that prevails in our country, cases of mass abandonment have been registered in some schools,” said a government statement.

Abandonments came specifically in the central southern Zinder region.  The government has called this a “very worrying” situation, adding that “the departures are the consequence of the exodus of families” facing this crisis.  The food crisis has had the worst impact on the Zinder region this year.

According to Oxfam International, almost 10 million people can be affected by this crisis.

Today, UN aid agencies and organizations in Niger appealed for $132 million to support West African humanitarian programs.  The total amount of aid needed is $190.7 million.  $57.8 million has already been secured, leaving a shortage of $132.9 million.

Famine and hunger have been problems for Niger for months now, and have challenged the junta’s capacity to meet the needs of Niger’s people from the beginning of its rule. But now coordination between Niger and foreign donors is increasing. As the international community adjusts to the junta’s presence, and as the food crisis threatens to worsen not just in Niger but in parts of Chad and Mali as well, delivering relief seems to have superseded any major reservations about working with the junta in the eyes of the UN and others.

While [UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Niger] Lo N’Diaye and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon both acknowledge the importance and necessity of resolving the government’s political crisis, they agree that the food shortage crisis is a top priority.

“The main focus for the UN is to save lives in Niger… this support would go directly to the population and allow them to participate fully in the democratization process,” said Lo N’Diaye.

Today, the UN “will launch its Humanitarian Action Plan for Niger.” The Red Cross is tripling its aid to West Africa, and Morocco dispatched five planes bearing supplies to Niger earlier this week.

To be clear, I am not saying international organizations and other foreign donors should restrict relief efforts in Niger because it has military rulers. I think feeding hungry people is the right thing to do.

It is nevertheless important to point out that as the UN and others work with the junta, they will inevitably help legitimize it. That may not be a completely bad thing – ousted President Mamadou Tandja might have severely mishandled this crisis – but the cooperation extended by foreigners to military rulers will be noted by people and governments in the region. A widespread conviction that militaries can act effectively as political referees and intervene successfully in non-military crises will have effects, potentially including more coups.

Saturday Links: State Department on Africa Rights Abuses, Niger Hunger, Sudan Elections, Chad and UN

In recent reports, the US State Department condemned human rights abuses in Nigeria, DRC, Sudan, and Eritrea.

Millions of people in Niger face hunger, as the country’s new prime minister requests international assistance. Meanwhile, the AU calls for the release of deposed President Mamadou Tandja.

In neighboring Nigeria, women in Jos and Abuja protest recent religious violence in Jos.

Via VOA, Nick Grono of the International Crisis Group argues that the ruling National Congress Party has the edge in the upcoming Sudanese elections.

“The NCP is placed to do well in April elections because it controls many of the state institutions,” said Nick Grono, deputy president of operations at the International Crisis Group, an international non-governmental organization that works to resolve deadly conflicts around the world through field-based analyses and high-level advocacy.

“It does give them an advantage”, he said, adding “President al-Bashir is determined to use the elections to establish his legitimacy. ”Grono said it is hard to assess the effect on the election of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for al-Bashir.  Two years ago, the court indicted him for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed since 2003 in the western region of Darfur.

Referring to Bashir’s defiance of the warrant, he said, “It may have enhanced his standing among some of the northern electorate, but I suspect a large section of the population are appalled at what happened in Darfur, and believe he has been rightfully indicted by the ICC, and that diminishes his legitimacy.”

He said the observers watching the campaign should focus on the promises that were made about these elections and about opening up the democratic space which he said have not been met.

The Sudanese government is also meeting in Doha with JEM rebels from Darfur.

A two-month extension for UN peacekeepers in Chad.

What are you looking at today?

Niger Between the Transitional Government, Food Crisis, and International Community

On Monday the military junta in Niger appointed a transitional government for the country. The announcement follows last week’s selection of a civilian prime minister, Mahamadou Dandah. The BBC reports that the twenty ministers named included five women and five soldiers, of whom three are “generals close to the former President, Mamadou Tandja.”

Agadez, Niger

The new government and the junta must now contend with domestic reactions and pressures coming from the international community at the same time that they attempt to deal with Niger’s severe food crisis.

Regarding the domestic reaction, AFP reports that “Niger nationals on Tuesday expressed mixed feelings over the make-up of [the] transition government.” They quote a labor leader, civil society representative, politician, and journalist, whose reactions run the gamut from pleased to disappointed. None, however, seem outright hostile to the junta. So the seeds for elite backlash are there, but for the moment it seems to me (based on this very limited sample) that everyone is waiting to see where this is all going.

Regarding the international community, France hosted junta leaders in Paris this week and announced its desire for elections to take place as soon as possible. Given their de facto legitimation of the coup by holding this meeting, it seems France is waiting to see what happens as well.

Still, it seems that relative goodwill toward on the junta on the part of various domestic and international players hinges on the junta’s making a quick transition. Without that, the goodwill might evaporate.

Regarding the hunger crisis, unlike in the other two domains, the junta has an immediate and severe problem on its hands. With millions facing hunger, and even relatively food secure regions like Agadez facing a wave of migration, rising prices, and a poor harvest due to low rainfall, the situation threatens to become catastrophic. Aid workers report feeling more prepared than they were for the last major crisis in 2005, and the junta’s willingness to acknowledge the problem could prove a huge help in the fight to prevent famine. Still, Niger is not out of the woods. With a democratic transition to manage, uncertain support from domestic and foreign elements, and a looming humanitarian disaster, the junta – and the new government – have a difficult road ahead of them.