Dispatches from the Field: Council Members Vist Niger
On Saturday evening (4 March), soon after arriving in Niamey, Niger, the Council delegation met with President Mahamadou Issoufou and government ministers at the Presidential Palace. On Sunday morning, members met with the UN country and humanitarian teams, diplomatic corps and international and local non-governmental organisations. Members then visited Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram originated – the epicentre of the conflict.
President Issoufou opened Saturday evening’s session with a wide-ranging overview of the challenges facing Niger. He said that Niger is under pressure from a “triple threat” – the conflict in Mali to its east, the war in Libya to its north, and Boko Haram in the south-east. This has forced the government to allocate a high proportion of its budget to security. President Issoufou highlighted Niger’s cooperation as part of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5) – comprising the Sahelian countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. He said that he hoped that the Council would adopt a resolution to endorse a multinational counter-terrorism force for the Sahel that the five countries had decided to establish at a 6 February summit, and that the international community would mobilise support for it.
Issoufou referred to the multiple ‘shocks’ affecting Niger – climate change, a drop in uranium and oil prices, and recession in Nigeria, which has contributed, along with the security situation, to a collapse in trade with its southern neighbor. During his remarks, Issoufou said that he did not believe Boko Haram would ever have “taken root” without the shrinking of Lake Chad, which has lost 90% of its surface area since the 1960s. Issoufou said that Niger was fighting illegal migration out of a moral responsibility, because of the thousands of migrants who are dying while trying to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean. Another reason was that illegal migration is a security threat to Niger, as migrant smuggling networks in Niger have become involved in trafficking arms. Issoufou also elaborated on Niger’s demographic challenge. It has the highest fertility rate in the world, a situation which makes providing for the basic needs of one of the world’s poorest countries, let alone improving its condition, all the more difficult.
The three co-leads of the Council mission (France, Senegal and the UK) and the US responded, speaking of the importance of addressing root causes of under-development that underlie much of the instability facing Niger and the region: poverty, education, unemployment, promotion of human rights including the rights of women and girls, and water shortages. Among the questions posed to the president was what policies the government is planning to pursue to improve the lives of those in the Diffa region, Niger’s poorest region and the one most affected by Boko Haram. Issoufou replied that he had in mind infrastructure projects such as roads and irrigation, and strengthening education, including vocational training.
On Sunday morning, Council members were briefed by UN Resident Coordinator Fode Ndiaye at a meeting with the diplomatic corps, UN agencies and local and international non-governmental organisations. Speakers highlighted a number of Issues, Including the importance of recognising Niger’s immense needs, and the support it needs as part of a troubled region. They also raised the problem of links among the illicit trafficking networks of drugs and of migrants. Among suggestions were that there needed to be a closer relationship between humanitarian and development activities in Niger.