June 05, 2009

Recent Progress Toward Peace in Niger

Evolution of Tuareg-led Rebel Groups in Niger:

MNJ created in February 2007, includes Aghali ag Alambo (Pres.) - largest group
FFR created in May 2008, included some MNJ leaders, Aoutchiki Kriska (Pres.) and Rhissa ag Boula
FPN created in March 2009, included some MNJ leaders and Aklou Sidi Sidi (Pres.)


In Sum: A ceasefire was agreed May 15, 2009. For the moment there is no violence. However, the president has reinstated the "state of emergency," continuing the police and army's sweeping powers over people in the North, and there is no formal plan to discuss and negotiate the claims that motivated the rebellion in the first place. 20,000 displaced people (mainly Tuareg) need to go home and rebuild their communities and find food to eat, but it's not clear whether the president's ban on humanitarian aid and travel into the North has been lifted to permit the UN and other agencies access. High-level government corruption and lucrative revenues from the uranium and oil contracts may have led to a stand-off between the president and his party, and most of the rest of the country. The president has dissolved parliament, seen by some as a political coup d'etat, and wishes to revise the constitution so that he and his party may remain in power for a third term. Some fear corruption may enable him to achieve that goal. If that happens, Niger will likely descend into a further state of instability. Human rights activists say they will defend democracy, and the rebels may balk on laying down arms if the government is not responsive to the needs for which they have been fighting. Democracy is at stake, as well as the stability of one of the worlds' poorest countries.

April 3, 2009: Peace talks took place in Libya, between Niger’s Minister of the Interior, the MNJ and FPN. FPN issued congratulations to Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou for making this gesture toward peace (RFI April 4, 2009).

April 15, 2009: The Niger government released a statement assuring the state’s desire for peace. Meetings continued, with all three rebel groups. FPN continued to release affirmative statements, but MNJ was still holding one Niger army officer, alleged to have committed atrocities (Le Sahel April 15, 2009).

April 28, 2009: United Nations World Food Programme announced it would provide food and resettlement centers to repatriate 20,000 people (principally Tuareg) displaced during the rebellion since 2007 (PANA April 28, 2009). Many structures had been destroyed; medical clinics and schools had been closed; and food supplies had been cut off due to the conflict and the “state of emergency” which restricted the flow of goods and people in the North, and gives the Army sweeping powers to arrest and detain people, maintain a strict curfew, and disperse public gatherings. Humanitarian aid to the North had been banned by President Tandja Mamadou starting in 2007; food, medical care, and basic necessities had become very difficult to obtain in the North because of the travel restrictions and government bans. Very few attempted to return to their homes.

May 3, 2009: MNJ released its last prisoner. Niger’s President Tandja Mamadou visited Agadez in the conflicted North of Niger, to lay the cornerstone for a new French Areva uranium mine at Imouraren. He also met with rebel groups, asking them to put down their weapons, saying he forgave them, and would permit amnesty. The process of turning in weapons has begun, but FFR said it would be a long process. Tuareg rebel leaders said that Niger's president must lift the "state of emergency" in the North as a precondition for "formal in-depth negotiations" (AFP May 23, 2009).

May 13, 2009: MNJ said it would not disarm, unless Niger's government is willing to first negotiate on its demands [which are published on the MNJ website] (AFP May 12, 1009).

May 15, 2009: Ceasefire agreement reached after talks between MNJ, FPN and Niger's Prime Minister Seyni Oumarou, backed by the Libyan government (Afrol News May 15, 2009) . The FFR boycotted the talks (BBC May 15, 2009).

May 23, 2009: Government of Niger renewed the “state of emergency” in the North for 3 more months, to permit continued police and military vigilance and detention of suspects, and a continued ban on public gatherings (AFP May 23, 2009). It is not clear whether the UN has been able to get any food and supplies to the repatriation zone in the Iférouane, Gougaram, Djanet, Dabaga et Tchirozérine districts of the Department of Agadez.

May 26, 2009: President Tandja Mamadou dissolved Niger's parliament, a day after the constitutional court said his bid to extend his presidency another term was unconstitutional (VOA June 2, 2009). Tandja has already served two 5-year terms. A new parliament must be formed within 3 months. Tandja's decision has global uranium and oil investors worried, and they are delaying their projects in Niger (Reuters May 27, 2009). Michael Keating at World Politics Review says the world should be paying more attention: Niger, an unstable state, is a major producer of uranium (UN Dispatch May 27, 2009). Some 20,000 people demonstrated in the streets of Niger's capitol, Niamey, and across the country (Reuters May 26, 2009). The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights suggests that Tandja's move "looks like a political coup d'état" (Aljazeera May 26, 2009).

June 1, 2009: Niger's President Tandja Mamadou is pursuing his bid to change the country's constitution, so that he may remain in power for another term (Reuters June 1, 2009). Many in Niger are opposed to Tandja staying in power, not just the opposition parties, but also many who had previously been his supporters, including the Alliance for Democracy and Progress party, which said it would "Create a grave threat to peace and stability" (VOA May 29, 2009). ECOWAS has threatened economic sanctions if Tandja pursues an extended presidency. The U.S. government said it would be a "setback for democracy." France, which has major uranium interests in Niger, will be put to the test: France wants to double its uranium production by 2015 (ISN Security Watch May 19, 2009). Two years ago, Niger ended France's monopoly over uranium mining, and quickly began awarding some 140 uranium concessions to numerous global companies, putting France in competition with a number of world players. Moreover, uncertainty over the political situation is likely to result in serious difficulties with the Tuareg peace process. The enormous increase in uranium and oil income [resulting in huge "signature bonuses" paid to the president] may be a significant factor in Tandja's desire to prolong his presidency. In their post "Le Fonds d'Investissement Prioritaire (FIP) de Tandja," MNJ has accused Tandja of corruption and personal profiteering off the uranium signature bonuses. One of the most important motivations for their rebellion was to gain honesty and transparency in government, allocation of uranium revenues to economic development, and a democracy that treats all people as equals (MNJ December 9, 2007).

June 2, 2009: Niger's opposition parties and human rights activists will resist Tandja's attempt to change the constitution (VOA June 2, 2009). An opposition group threw stones at a pro-Tandja meeting; security forces dispersed the protesters with tear gas. One prominent human rights activist suggests that Tandja has bribed some civil rights leaders to gain support, and may bribe leaders to form a new parliament that will support him; he feels that the national army is backing the president and "trying to install a dictatorship." Tandja may succeed, he says, but some human rights activists will have to be killed because they will defend democracy.


Tuareg-led Rebel Websites:

Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice (MNJ)

Front des Forces de Redressement (FFR)

Front Patriotique Nigerien (FPN)

Online News Sources:

Afrol News
Niger's Militants Agree to a Ceasefire Agreement. May 15, 2009.

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Niger Rebels Refuse To Disarm. May 13, 2009.

Agence France-Press (AFP)
Niger Extends State of Emergency in Tuareg North. May 23, 2009.

Niger Leader Dissolves Parliament. May 26, 2009.

Niger Rebels Agree to Ceasefire. May 15, 2009.

ISN Security Watch
Sarkozy - Lucrative In Africa. May 19, 2009.

Le Sahel
Fin de la visite de travail du ministre d'Etat, ministre de l'Interieur, de la Securite Publique, et de la Decentralisation, en Grande Jamahiriya Arab Libyenne, Populaire et Socialiste: des resultats reconfortants a tous points de vue. April 15, 2009

PANA - Afrique en Ligne
Le PAM réinstalle 20,000 personnes dans le Nord du Niger. April 28, 2009.

Reuters - Abdoulaye Massalatchi
Niger's President Dissolves Parliament. May 26, 2009.

Reuters - Abdoulaye Massalatchi
Political Uncertainty Worries Investors. May 27, 2009.

Reuters - Abdoulaye Massalatchi
Scenarios - Niger's President Seeks to Change Constitution. June 1, 2009.

Vers un mediation avec les Touaregs. April 4, 2009.

Voice of America (VOA - Scott Stearns, Dakar
Niger President to Hold Referendum on 3rd Term. May 29, 2009.

Voice of America (VOA) - Peter Clottey, Washington, D.C.
Niger Opposition Agonizes Over Presdident Tandja's Plan to Change Constitution. June 2, 2009.

Voice of America (VOA)
Niger Plans Parliamentary Vote for August 20. June 19. 2009

UN Dispatch
Loose Nukes, Uranium and Unstable States. May 27, 2009.