Last week I wrote about Niger’s new $2.5 billion, five-year program (“SDS”) for security and development in its northern regions. Yesterday I went up at World Politics Review with a piece that looks more closely at SDS and also discusses past (and hopefully future) efforts at security and development in northern Mali.
There are two additional points worth making here:
First, to amplify what I said in the article, it is unclear where much of SDS’ budget will come from. Niger’s government may hope that profits from uranium and oil will help fund SDS. Yet these industries are themselves partly the cause of dissatisfaction in some communities in Niger. This dissatisfaction has taken the form of strikes at uranium mines and, this week, a strike by fuel truck drivers.
Witnesses in Zinder, where the refinery is located, said there were hundreds of trucks parked around the town in observance of the strike call.
Niger inaugurated the 20,000 barrel-per-day Soraz refinery in November 2011 hoping it would make Niger fuel self-sufficient and bring down prices.
But the refinery, 60 percent owned by Chinese state oil company CNPC and 40 percent by Niger, has been plagued by problems, including violent demonstrations by protesters complaining that fuel remains unaffordable.
Zinder (map) is, of course, in southern Niger, but the Zinder Region is one of six targeted by SDS.* Major uranium mines also lie within the targeted regions. If Niger’s government does not address complaints about working conditions, revenue flows, and other problems in the uranium and oil industries, those complaints may undermine the program’s overall goal of reducing grievances in the north and elsewhere.
The second point is that Niger is not just worried about instability in the far north, but is also concerned about a spillover of violence from neighboring Nigeria, where Boko Haram continues to launch attacks. In advance of an upcoming visit by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to Niger later this month, Nigerien authorities are calling for joint border patrols. Even as Niger keeps one eye on Mali and the north, then, the other watches Nigeria and the south.
*News reports have emphasized the idea of SDS as a program targeting the north, but the program is virtually national in scope. I am still making up my mind about how to characterize its geographical focus. Comments welcome.