As Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou behaves more and more autocratically — especially against leaders of civil society and opposition groups, not to mention his current flirtation with Moscow — he risks incurring the ire of the US.
This month has seen the launch of the Compact Niger programme, which represents around US$437 million of aid from the US’ Millennium Development Fund which is designed to reduce poverty through economic growth. However, five US Senators — namely Democrats Cory Booker, Christopher Coons, Gary Peters, Michael Bennet, and the Republican Jeff Flake — who met Issoufou in April, asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send a letter to Issoufou on 19 July drawing his attention to the fact that the continued muzzling of the opposition was incompatible with the condition of the Fund. The letter also said that it was vital that Niger’s leaders did not interpret Washington’s counterterrorism cooperation as a green light to evade their governance responsibilities.
The main thrust of Washington’s counterterrorism cooperation is the construction of the huge US$100 million drone base at Agades which is nearing completion. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed in late July that armed Reaper drones are now flying from the US drone base at Niamey since the killing of four US soldiers in an ambush last October. So far the drones have been used solely for surveillance operations. Although they are now armed, no strikes have yet been launched on targets inside the country.
Meanwhile, Issoufou’s troubles with Niger’s civil society leaders continue. Four civil society leaders released from prison on 24 July — after receiving four month suspended sentences in what was regarded as a political trial — have vowed to ‘continue the fight’. They were originally arrested, along with about 20 other civil society leaders, for organising protest demonstrations against what they regard as the government’s anti-social finance bill (the Loi de Finance).
Street demonstrations are expected to continue. This will be a major test for Issoufou whose increasingly dictatorial and autocratic rule is coming under the international spotlight.
This segment is taken from our regional Sahara Focus report, which provides on-the-ground intelligence on the Sahel region. If you would like to receive the rest of the report, or would like to discuss its contents with us, then please contact one of our consultants here.