Niger: The Stable Sahelian State, For Now
Despite an outward image of stability, Niger can’t be used as a model for Mali’s reconstruction.
When Mahamadou Issoufou was elected President of Niger in March 2011, he inherited a country which lacked many of the basic trappings of a state. A desperately poor, landlocked nation of 17 million straddling the southern edge of the Sahara, Niger has suffered from violent rebellions, chronic famine, cyclical droughts and flash floods, all of which are exacerbated by limited state capacity and decades of failed governance.
External shocks emanating from the multiple weak states with which Niger shares long borders have further threatened Niger’s stability. The fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 saw some 200,000 Nigeriens who were living in Libya, some of whom were working as mercenaries, return to Niger. The result was a sudden influx of arms, unemployed battle-hardened men, and the decimation of livelihoods for entire communities reliant on remittances earned abroad.
The ensuing conflict Mali in 2012 saw tens of thousands of Malians seeking refuge in Niger, straining local communities who were already on the brink of starvation. Most recently, several thousand more refugees have spilled into southern Niger from northern Nigeria, where the government is caught up in a nasty counterinsurgency against Boko Haram.
In late May, Islamist militants affiliated with Mokhtar Belmokhtar — an Algerian national and veteran terror operative in the Sahara and Sahel with links to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) — carried out twin bombings in northern Niger, targeting military barracks in the town of Agadez and a uranium mine near Arlit. The attacks were allegedly carried out to avenge the death of Abou Zeid, an AQIM leader who had been killed by Chadian troops in Mali. Subsequently, many feared that the destabilising violence that has plagued Niger’s neighbours had finally arrived within its own borders.
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