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WEST AFRICA





Niger

Sekondi Accra

Niger's political scenrio has more drama and intrigue than a Spike Lee cinema. President Mamadou Tandja was toppled in a popular coup in February 2010 by junta leader Salou Djibo. Then in October 2010, Djibo had two of his most senior officers arrested on suspicion they were trying to unseat him. All the while, the country has been grappling with its worst food crisis in five years and is increasingly plagued by the activities of groups linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The governemnt held a presidential election on March 15, 2011. Mahamadou Issoufou was elected as the president of Niger by defeating Seyni Oumarou, the candidate of the party that used to control power there. Unlike most Arab countries, the elections results in Niger maintained a level of decorum with Issoufou winning less than 58% of the vote while Oumarou garnered 42%. In countries like Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia, where the presidents attained winning percentages as large as 80% to 90% of the votes, figures that are obviously suspect given the latest popular uprisings that have occurred across the region.

Issoufou took office in early April 2011 replacing General Djibo who was in charge of the government on an interim basis. As previously stated, the elections were conducted without significant problems and many commentators praised the smooth transition to a civil administration. The population approved a referendum on a new constitution that limits presidents to two five year terms along with reinstating the position of prime minister. It also ensures greater revenue transparency.

The biggest obstacle to Niger's security has so far been the food crisis in which half the population went hungry during the 2010 lean season. Rains concluded the prolonged drought, but the situation turned into a even worst disaster in August 2010 when severe flooding destroyed crops and left nearly 100,000 people homeless. The 2011 harvest was supposed to look promising, but farmers across the country are now hoping to restock cereals and repay debts. Foreign donors had decreased aid to protest Tanja's bid to stay in power. The European Union (UN) which has approximately $470 million in assistance on hold has re-engaged with interim prime minister Mahamadou Danda.

Despite being west africa's largest country and one of the world's poorest nations, Niger is slowing beginning to harness its vast mineral and oil wealth. A junta pledge to reduce corruption in business and politics, was very popular on the street. However, the campaign is unlikely to affect the interests of the government's Chinese and French business associates. France's Areva still dominates the uranium sector, despite moves under Tanja to diversify the investor base.

Niger's quest to become the world's second largest uranium producer have been stymied by delays to Areva's massive Imouraren project. The mine was supposed to start production in 2012 and produce 5,000 tons of uranium annually for 35 years. The project has now been delayed for several years. But the September 2010 abduction of seven foreigners, including several French citizens who worked in the mines around Arlit, is likely to overshadow most other developments.

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Niger's embassy in the United States is at 2204 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-483-4224/25/26/27) and to permanent mission to the United Nations is at 417 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022 (tel. 212-421-3260).
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