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.
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Since 1991, Niger has alternated between military and civilian rule, with the military at times playing the role of “referee” in Nigerien democracy. When former President Mamadou Tandja overstepped constitutional boundaries to extend his time in office in 2009, for example, the military soon came in to oust Tandja and initiate the transition process that is culminating now. While many Nigeriens and some international observers were happy to see the military put an end to Tandja’s power grab, long-term democracy in Niger will demand checks on civilian power that come from the democratic constitutional system itself, not just from soldiers. Issoufou’s actions can either strengthen or weaken this attempt at democracy, and will set the tone for his successors. Other politicians, of course, share in this responsibility.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has perpetrated a number ofkidnappings and murders in the Sahel since 2007, currently holds four staff members of Areva, the mining giant that operates in northern Niger. AQIM’s activities have disrupted Sahelian economies and tourist industries and will likely continue to do so during Issoufou’s time in office. Niger, along with other countries in the region like Mali, Mauritania, and Algeria, confronts tough questions about how best to respond to AQIM and how to coordinate responses among governments. France, the US, Algeria, and others will pressure Issoufou to deal with AQIM forcefully and definitively.
The challenges Niger faces are serious, but they are not insurmountable. A country that has proven capable of weathering a sustained political transition with dignity will also be capable of meeting these challenges. These tasks now lie with the new president, his team, and the Nigerien population as a whole.
If you think of other challenges or issues Issoufou will have to manage, please let us know in the comments.