The gradual build-up of disenchantment with the Nigerien government boiled over on 6 June when thousands demonstrated in the capital, Niamey. With less than a year to go before presidential and parliamentary elections, it seems that an increasing number of Nigeriens have had enough of the current regime, which they accuse of stifling freedoms and mismanaging the country.
Ties with France
Beneath much of the anger is the awareness that France and the US have an increasing hold over the country. Moreover, much of France’s new aggressive manifestations of post-colonialism in the Sahel, especially Niger, has to do with the close links between the countries two presidents, François Hollande and Mahamadou Issoufou, from their days together in the Socialist International.
For weeks, Niger’s commercial unions, which look after the interests of most local traders, have sought the annulment of an agreement signed in 2014, which gave the French group Bolloré a monopoly on handling the two largest bonded warehouses in Niamey, leading to a significant increase in taxes.
Niamey and many other major towns and cities across the country have also recently been plunged into darkness for several days, due to disruptions in the supply of electricity from neighbouring Nigeria. In fact, the power cuts, which are decided on voluntarily to avoid overloading the network, are common at this time of year but seem to be worse than usual.
The protesters, most of them young, responded to the call of 38 local associations to march to the seat of parliament. Chanting, ‘Down with the government,’ ‘Down with Bolloré,’ ‘Down with Areva,’ or ‘Homeland or death, we shall overcome,’ they carried anti-government placards.
‘The country is going bad,’ said one. ‘No to untimely and endless electricity cuts,’ and ‘The Customs stores [run by Bolloré] will starve Nigeriens’ were other themes.
One of the protest organisers told Jeune Afrique that people had had enough of the country’s rot, citing in particular the ‘selling off of the country’s natural resources,’ by which he meant Areva’s uranium mining, and the ‘presence of French and American military bases amidst the country’s overall state of impoverishment.’
Another organiser, Abarchi Djibril, also the president of the Association Nigerienne pour la Defense des Droits de l’Homme (ANDDH), or Niger Association for the Defence of Human Rights, said that the government was stifling people’s freedoms.
He cited as an example the arrest in May of Moussa Tchangari, a leading civil society figure, for ‘endangering the national defence’ with his justified criticism of the humanitarian situation in the southeast, where the army is fighting Boko Haram. Tchangari was later released, but not before Nigeriens had noted the government’s heavy-handedness.
Bulking up the government
The protestors also criticise a government decision to increase the number of MPs from 113 to 171 in 2016. Many Nigeriens see this as unnecessary and the imposition of yet another burden on Nigeriens by the ruling interests. It is difficult to predict where the current spate of discontent and anti-government sentiment will go. Both presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for the first half of 2016, but for many, that may seem too far away.