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Niger's democratic transition starting off well, but challenges remain

Successful elections signal that Niger's democratic transition is going well, but incoming president Mahamadou Issoufou will face a number of challenges: drought, famine, and Libya fallout, to name a few.

By Alex ThurstonGuest blogger / March 23, 2011

A woman casts her vote for president at a polling station in Niamey, Niger on March 12. Voters in Niger chose between two candidates in a presidential runoff, a vote many hope will usher in democracy more than a year after soldiers blasted their way into the presidential palace and kidnapped the elderly president.

Tagaza Djibo/AP


Niger’s transition back to democracy is earning high praise in the international press and is already paving the way toward a normalization of relations between Niger and outside powers like the African Union and the European Union. Niger has conducted successful elections and, with the concession of the losing candidate, is preparing to hand power from the military leadership to newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou. Issoufou’s high margin of victory and his opponent’s graceful concession will give the new president broad legitimacy and a solid mandate to lead Niger forward.

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The people and the leaders of Niger deserve to take a great deal of pride in how the transition has gone. But Issoufou will enter office with tremendous challenges in front of him and the country. His job will not be easy. Here are four areas where he, and all Nigeriens, will face difficult tasks:

1. Famine and Drought

As desertification continues in the Sahel, countries like Niger have experienced recurring food crises. In 2005 and 2010, thousands of Nigeriens faced starvation. The new government could grapple with mass hunger in the near-term even as it attempts to craft strategies for managing food insecurity in the long term. Food insecurity in turn drives other economic, social, and political problems, displacing populations, undermining state legitimacy, and straining the capacity of relief and aid services. Issoufou is already planning to invest $12.7 billion in “agriculture, infrastructure, energy and other projects to create about 50,000 jobs annually.” Following through on this pledge could help protect Niger from the harsh vicissitudes of Sahelian farming.

2. Fallout from Libya’s Civil War

The ongoing conflict in Libya has greatly affected Niger and will continue to do so. Thousands of refugees have fled Libya into northern Niger. This influx contributes to food shortages and could spark conflicts in communities where the refugees outnumber the permanent residents (Fr). It will be some time before the refugees can resume normal lives, either in post-war Libya or in the Sahel. Additionally, while the issue of sub-Saharan African mercenaries in Libya remains a matter of dispute among analysts, it seems clear that some nationals of Niger, Mali, and Chad have joined the fighting in Libya on Qaddhafi’s side. As Joshua Keating asks, “What happens when the mercenaries return home?”

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