• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, www.sahelblog.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Attacks by the Islamist rebel sect Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, along with border closures and expulsions of foreigners by Nigerian security forces, are beginning to hurt the economy of neighboring Niger.
For generations, Diffa, the arid southeastern corner of Niger, has benefited from being closer to Nigeria than to commercial centers in Niger: Staple grains, fuel, clothing and other items at attractive prices have made their way across the border.
Diffa’s main outputs – livestock, dairy produce and red peppers – have also found a ready market in Nigeria. Common languages and family ties have strengthened links to such an extent that the Nigerian naira is Diffa’s main currency.
But Nigeria’s latest export, Boko Haram militants, is less welcome: It has forced the authorities to close the border, with tragic consequences for Diffa, just as it is trying to deal with the worst drought in recent years.
(See a map of Diffa here.)
IRIN adds that these problems come at a bad time for Niger, given that drought is already pushing up food and livestock prices. Local markets, deprived of customers from Nigeria, are suffering.
The loss of cross-border trade and workers’ remittances from Nigeria could really hurt Niger – closing, in a sense, the economic “safety valve” that has formerly allowed people from Niger to seek money and work in Nigeria when times are tough at home.
Boko Haram’s violence in Nigeria is also having an effect on the security situation in Diffa:
About three weeks ago, the authorities arrested 15 people suspected of affiliation to Boko Haram, seized home-made explosives and grenades, and uncovered a plan to bomb several public places in Diffa, said Tinni Djibo, assistant secretary-general of Diffa.
So far there have been no Boko Haram attacks in Niger that I know of, but this incident certainly raises concerns. Nigerian authorities’ efforts to drive foreigners out of the country could mean that some Boko Haram members end up in the surrounding countries, where they may attempt acts of violence.
In other Boko Haram news, Wednesday saw another clash between militants and authorities in Kano, site of a major attack in January. The clash reportedly began when security forces “invaded” a neighborhood seeking suspected sect members, so arguably it falls into a different category than attacks that the group carries out on its own initiative. Still, several incidents involving Boko Haram have occurred in Kano since January, which points to a continued effort by Boko Haram to establish an enduring presence in the cities located in the center of Northern Nigeria, such as Kano and Kaduna. The movement continues, in other words, its attempt to expand beyond its base in the northeast.
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