President Mahamadou Issoufou will continue to call for international support in dealing with the fallout from the Libya crisis. In the near term, the increased profile should help his administration to retain donor support and attention. However, northern areas are set for a period of instability; Issoufou's government will struggle to contain the fallout.
Niger said on September 24 it expects a delegation from Libya to arrive soon to discuss relations following the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi. President Mahamadou Issoufou held talks with members of the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting last week. Qadhafi's son Saadi and other fugitives from the deposed Libyan regime are in Niger. However, while the security fallout from the Libyan crisis is a major new challenge, it is only the latest confronting Issoufou, who was elected in April -- marking the restoration of civilian rule. In addition to huge economic development challenges and the restoration of security in the Saharan north -- critical for the uranium mining industry -- Issoufou is also struggling to manage political friction and consolidate the loyalty of the military.
- Having avoided one coup plot only months after taking office, Issoufou is at pains to placate lower-ranking military constituencies.
- Competition for key appointments on parastatals reflects the growth potential in the extractive sector, especially oil.
- Fairly robust GDP growth is from a low base, and overall socioeconomic conditions remain highly sensitive to weather conditions.
Issoufou will continue to call for international support in dealing with fallout from the Libya crisis. In the near term, the increased profile should help his administration to retain donor support and attention. However, northern areas are set for a period of instability; Issoufou's government will struggle to contain the fallout.
Issoufou has refused to allow potentially destabilising events to divert his administration from a message of 'business-as-usual':
- After late July reports that a coup plot had been uncovered, Issoufou waited until his August 3 independence day speech to confirm that there had been ten arrests.
Regarding Saadi and other key Libyan exiles, Issoufou's administration simply stated that it will comply with international obligations. (Niger has signed up to the International Criminal Court.)
The president has also sought to maintain a broad political consensus:
He holds regular discussion meetings with the opposition leader Seini Oumarou.
- He has tried to placate the complaints of his political ally, Parliamentary Speaker Hama Amadou. The main area of contestation is over appointments to key parastatals, such as the national lottery or the state oil company. Issoufou is trying to break with the fitful culture of Niger's previous experiments with democracy during the past two decades, when governments were repeatedly crippled by breakdowns in relations between key leadership figures or the collapse of parliamentary majority alliances.
Civilian political coherence is all the more important when elements of Niger's military appear discontented with the new administration:
- Those arrested for allegedly plotting to kill Issoufou and seize power appear to have been motivated by fear that his new anti-corruption drive would uncover invoicing frauds committed by some members of the now retired transitional military regime -- the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD).
- The detainees reportedly include both a member of Issoufou's guard and the officer who had been responsible for the personal security of CSRD chief General Salou Djibo. In early September, the authorities detained Colonel Abdoulaye Badie, who had been permanent secretary of the CSRD. There has been no suggestion that Djibo himself was involved. Regarded as a national hero for restoring democracy, he has retreated to a well-rewarded retirement. However, post-government life may be less smooth for lower profile former CSRD players. Issoufou is under political pressure to look after urban public servants and the military, because these are the constituencies with the capacity to create pressure on the streets of Niamey.
Because the CSRD had set out its main purpose as the restoration of democracy after the constitutional abuses of the latter Mamadou Tandja years, the international donor community maintained an essential minimum of support for Niger during the 14 months of military rule. Cash support was reined back, but the IMF continued its Extended Credit Facility.
As such, Issoufou and Prime Minister Rafini Brigi inherited an established framework of fiscal and macroeconomic policy.
Within weeks of their assumption of power the IMF issued an official 'Assessment Letter' for the World Bank and the EU -- Niger's key multilateral donors. On June 20, the EU announced the restoration of full aid cooperation with Niger and within a month it had released an initial 25 million euros (33.6 million dollars), mainly for social programmes. An IMF mission followed in late August.
Moreover, the economy has performed well during the past 18 months: there was a serious food crisis in early 2010, but a bumper harvest followed and real GDP growth for the year reached 8%. The IMF forecasts growth of 5.5% in 2011, if rainfall is normal.
The restoration of aid has allowed the government to budget for an increase in spending and there are plans to recruit more doctors and nurses. And Brigi has felt sufficiently confident to start the phased abolition of fuel subsidies.
Extractive sector boom
Niger's trade balance and foreign exchange position should be sharply boosted by the expansion of uranium mining and the start of domestic oil production. Foumakoye Gado was appointed as Niger's first oil and energy minister in mid-September.
Developed by China's CNPC, with a 40% Niger state stake, oilfields in the central Agadem region could eventually produce 100,000 barrels per day (b/d). A new refinery in Zinder will process 20,000 b/d for local needs, from late 2011 or 2012. For exports, the government has to choose between a link to an existing pipeline in Chad or building a more expensive but potentially more secure 2,000 kilometre new pipeline to Cotonou, in Benin.
Niger -- already well established as a uranium exporter -- will become the world's second largest producer with the new Imouraren mine being built by France's Areva. The scheduled 2013 start of production has been delayed by the September 2010 kidnapping of seven foreign workers, four of whom -- all French -- are still held hostage by Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in the Malian Sahara. However, extra security measures have now been put in place and expatriate specialists have returned to Arlit, Niger's desert mining hub.
The security problems posed by AQIM have been compounded by the Libyan crisis. Recent months have seen the return to northern Niger of hundreds of Nigerien Tuareg fighters and many tens of thousands of Nigerien migrant workers. Returnees include the commanders Aghali Alambo and Rhissa ag Boula; the latter is a former rebel and minister, who may have acted as an intermediary in negotiating the arrival of senior Qadhafi regime figures in Niger.
The government will hope that such senior tribal figures will be able to help steer returnees away from the temptations of desert banditry or terrorism. Issoufou's choice of Brigi, a respected Tuareg technocrat, for the premiership shows that he recognises the need for a close understanding of these delicate northern challenges.
Keywords: Niger, AF, EU, IMF-World Bank, Libya, Mali, economy, politics, coup, growth, guerrillas, military, mining, oil, reform, regional, security, social, ethnic, poverty
- Oxford Analytica
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