Can Niger continue to beat the odds with its democratic progress? | Governance

Niger, the world’s poorest nation, has peacefully and efficiently organised its first democratic transition of energy since regaining its independence in 1960 – a milestone that ought to have been splashed throughout the entrance web page of each newspaper.

This underreported counter-trend in a continent that has a number of wealthy and rabidly authoritarian rulers – and through a worldwide disaster that UN chief António Guterres stated had caused a “pandemic of human rights abuses” – is a historic democratic second in Niger.

Think about the circumstances below which Niger, the anxious coronary heart of the Sahel area, has made this transition. If excessive charges of illiteracy and poverty maintain again democratic progress then Niger ought to be condemned to a stunted lifetime of unimaginable obstacles.

Though it’s one in all the the largest international locations in the Sahel, solely 11% of Niger – primarily in the south and in the west alongside the Niger River – is appropriate for cultivation. 4-fifths of the north of Niger is desert, making agriculture a problem in a rustic the place 90% of the population survive by farming.


Regardless of vast reserves of oil and uranium, the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of twenty-two million are poor. Many shouldn’t have sufficient to eat. Illiteracy is widespread and impacts greater than 70% of the inhabitants, primarily ladies and ladies. All of this can have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which is reversing a long time of hard-won progress. In 2020, the World Meals Programme (WPF) said 3.7 million Nigeriens have been in want of humanitarian help.

Added to that is the local weather disaster, which is heating the Sahel extra rapidly than some other a part of our planet. This interprets as unreliable rainfall, land degradation, drought and desertification – all of which make meals safety and poverty discount not solely an infinite problem, however a catalyst for protracted armed conflicts over assets.

Vendors sell fish at a market in Diffa, in south-eastern Niger, on 23 December 2020, a few days before the country voted in presidential elections.
Distributors promote fish at a market in Diffa, in south-eastern Niger, on 23 December 2020, a number of days earlier than the nation voted in presidential elections. {Photograph}: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty

The “menace multiplier” of the local weather disaster is maybe what threatens Niger’s democratic aspirations most. In accordance to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), greater than 80% of the area’s land is degraded. So when it rains in Niger, it floods, which causes appreciable harm, displaces individuals from their properties and permits ailments like malaria and dengue to flourish.

The 2020 UN development index ranked Niger as the poorest nation in the world – under Yemen and Syria. That’s partly as a result of it has been so exploited by governments which have been unaccountable, downright kleptocratic and even murderous.

Niger has skilled no fewer than 4 coups since 1960 – the final profitable one in 2010 was adopted by a foiled try in 2015 . These are troublesome circumstances for democracy to thrive, particularly as Niger has spent practically 25 of these 60 years below army rule.

Thus the prevailing view {that a} peaceable and profitable democratic transition of energy in a rustic like Niger was virtually not possible; regardless of the examples set by different extraordinarily poor and unequal African international locations akin to Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Mauritius, Senegal or South Africa.

However regardless of dealing with a mixture of maximum poverty, battle, Covid and the impression of the local weather disaster, Niger has democratically transferred energy. May this set off a row of tumbling dominos, with presidents for all times succumbing to democratic governance?

A Nigerien police officer stands guard at a market near the Diffa airport. Under the constant threat of Boko Haram, the large city on the border with Nigeria lives in a state of siege.
A Nigerien police officer stands guard at a market close to the Diffa airport. Underneath fixed menace from Boko Haram, the giant metropolis on the border with Nigeria lives in a state of siege. {Photograph}: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty

Given the Sahel’s many seemingly intractable and interconnected challenges – that are turning Niger right into a key transit nation for refugees from different elements of the area – the impression of Niger’s democratic progress will attain far past its borders.

Have the Nigeriens turned their huge, landlocked nation from hopeless case to shining instance of democratic transition in Africa? Time will inform, however it’s clear that the very excessive poverty that so usually regresses progress is in actual fact driving change in Niger; inspiring a rising starvation for democratic governance.

Despite this, Niger’s success will rely closely on whether or not or not the US and different established democracies help it in rooting out poverty – maybe the solely issue which Islamic extremists, who have already got a foothold in the nation amongst its disillusioned younger males, might exploit in an try to destabilise Niger in the future.

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