Why Niger is so ambivalent about Qaddafi loyalists' arrival

Qaddafi's influence in the region remains strong, despite Niger's recognition of the rebel government, making it difficult for the government and people to make up their minds.

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    Immigrants, who are fleeing the unrest in Libya, unload their belongings in Agadez, northern Niger, on Sept. 15.
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Several pieces in the last few days have reported on the different sentiments that exist in Niger regarding the presence of former Libyan ruler Col. Muammar Qaddafi’s lieutenants and supporters in Niger. The ambivalence that characterizes the Nigerien population’s feelings toward the Libyan conflict also seems to extend to the Nigerien government, whose policies toward post-Qaddafi Libya are somewhat mixed.

The BBC gives a street-level view from the capital, Niamey, of Nigeriens’ attitudes toward the influx of Qadhafi loyalists:

[A water-seller] says Niger has “no choice but to host them because they are Muslims”.

“Islam says one cannot deliver a Muslim brother to their enemies,” he says.

“But we fear that weapons might enter our country along with former Tuareg rebels,” he adds.

Al Jazeera, meanwhile, has a video report from the northern city of Agadez showing Tuaregs pledging support for Qaddafi.

These different attitudes among the population add to the pressure the Libyan civil war has put on Niger’s government, which is trying to balance its welcome for Qaddafi supporters against its cognizance of the new political reality in the region. Niger has recognized the rebel Transitional National Council in Libya, but sheltering Qadhafi’s lieutenants sends a message that Niger’s memories of Qaddafi’s influence remain strong. Yet again, Niger’s government is deeply concerned by the arrival of Qaddafi supporters, and is not only trying to, as VOA reports, step up security on the border, but is also keeping Qaddafi’s son Saadi “under a kind of house arrest” in Niamey. The Nigerien authorities, in other words, are treading carefully in an attempt to stay in the good graces of the new Libyan rulers to the north, pro-Qadhafi factions in their own country, and the international community.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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