Posted on Monday, 23 November 2015 10:00

Niger Country Profile 2015: Living in a rough neighbourhood

By The Africa Report

altWith Nigeria's Islamist Boko Haram rebels operating in north-eastern Nigeria and continued instability in Mali and the wider Sahel, security is the most serious threat for the government in 2015.

With his main opponent, Hama Amadou, seeking refuge in France and having renegotiated uranium mining contracts with Areva in 2014, President Mahamadou Issoufou enters 2015 facing few political challenges.

On the economic front, low oil and uranium prices will prove difficult to manage for the national budget. Niger has continued to be touched by instability in the wider West African region, principally by the threat of extremism from remnants of Al Qaeda- linked groups in northern Mali and by the growing menace posed by Boko Haram.

While there has yet to be a repeat of the suicide attacks of May 2013, Niger has struggled to step up border patrols and curtail the activities of extremists in its poorly controlled north.

Border security

In May 2014, Boko Haram launched its first raid inside Nigerien territory in the far eastern region of Diffa. Tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria have moved to Diffa, and the Nigerien government remains concerned about the potential for radicals to infiltrate these settlements.

Niger has continued its vocal efforts on the global stage to draw attention to it being caught between these two conflicts – some in the opposition would say to the detriment of its wider governance programme.

Niger has pledged, along with Chad, Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon, to set up a regional unit to increase intelligence sharing and border patrols.

altIn July 2014, Niger confirmed that it would allow France to base about 300 troops in Niamey to support intelligence gathering as part of the new French Sahelian deployment called Operation Barkhane.

Niger also signalled it would agree to allow the US to set up a drone base in the northern city of Agadez. This would complement the US base established in Niamey in early 2013 with about 100 US air force personnel.

There has been a considerable ratcheting of political tension ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2016. A number of political and student rallies were held throughout 2014. Some have focused on greater transparency in the growing extractives industry, but others have taken on an overtly political tone.

Police broke up an opposition march in former President Mamadou Tandja's stronghold of Zinder in June, and a number of protests in Niamey were called off after police said they were illegal.

Power struggle

In August 2014, the simmering tension between Issoufou and his rival Amadou, the president of the national assembly, broke out into the open.

A Niamey court agreed to lift Amadou's immunity from prosecution, leaving him vulnerable to arrest in connection with a baby-trafficking scandal that engulfed several key political figures, including his wife. Amadou, who could be the most powerful challenger to Issoufou in the 2016 contest, fled Niamey, claiming he feared for his life. He is seeking refuge in France.

The economic outlook has steadily improved but low oil and uranium prices risk reducing economic growth levels in 2015. In the field of agriculture, the country showed signs of a good harvest as the rainy season drew to a close in September 2014. Oil production by the China National Petroleum Corporation from the Agadem fields is slowly increasing, although the Zinder refinery is still operating well below capacity.

There is yet to be any concrete action on plans to begin exports through a proposed pipeline linking Agadem to Chad's pipeline. A dispute broke out in 2014 between the government and French nuclear giant Areva, which operates two uranium mines near Arlit. The company's operating licence ran out in 2013.

Negotiations turned sour and in early 2014 production briefly stopped, which Areva claimed was for maintenance. A new deal was agreed in May 2014.

The government claims Areva will increase royalty payments from around 5% to 12%, but the contracts have yet to be made public. This is in breach of the constitution. The authorities have made their position on this clear, having arrested transparency activists before a protest march in July 2014.

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