Friday, September 20, 2013

Niger: Another Weak Link in the Sahel?

Source: International Crisis Group

Suicide attacks on military and mining targets, followed by a violent prison break in the capital, revealed Niger’s fragile stability in a crisis-ridden neighbourhood.

In its latest report, Niger: Another Weak Link in the Sahel?, the International Crisis Group examines threats to Niger’s security as well as factors that could preserve its stability. In a deteriorating regional environment, President Mahamadou Issoufou and his Western allies are increasingly relying on a security strategy that has already shown its limitations elsewhere in the Sahel. This report, Crisis Group’s first on Niger, explores how an excessive focus on external threats might overshadow important internal dynamics, such as communal tensions, a fragile democratic experience and the growing marginalisation of the poor, especially in rural areas.

The report’s major findings are:
  • In 50 years as an independent state, Niger has experienced two armed rebellions, four coups, seven republics and periods of promising democratic changes as well as reversals. Democratic institutions have started to take root but they need reinforcement.
  • The current administration, which took over after a military-led transition in 2011, is still fragile. The president’s “Renaissance” program, a platform of reforms on which he was elected, raised hopes but has yet to show tangible results. Tensions surrounding the formation of the new national unity government last August revealed an unstable political situation.
  • Threats to stability are mainly perceived as external, but the possibility of a terrorist spillover from outside Niger is compounded by a fragile internal socio-economic and political environment.
  • Although the Tuareg issue – namely this community’s sense of disenfranchisement – appears better managed than in neighbouring Mali, it has yet to be fully resolved.
  • President Issoufou and his Western allies’ security strategy will be of little help in establishing a bond of trust between state and people – especially if increased security spending were to come at the expense of social expenditure.
“Niger has been included in security strategies that protect it but over which it has little influence”, says Jean-HervĂ© Jezequel, Crisis Group Sahel Senior Analyst. “Encouraged by its allies to upgrade its security apparatus, the Nigerien government has also substantially increased its military expenditure. But such a security focus could lead to a reallocation of resources at the expense of already weak social sectors”.
“Rather than a security state, the people of Niger need a government that provides services, an economy that creates employment and a reinforced democratic system”, says Jonathan Prentice, Crisis Group’s Chief Policy Officer. “President Issoufou should maintain focus on his initial goals and recognise that national security and stability depend on a robust political and socio-economic agenda as much as they do on narrow counter-terrorism military responses”.