Republic of Niger Strategy for Development and Security in Sahel-Saharan Areas of the Country

As the regional implications of the crisis in Mali become apparent, there has been speculation as to whether Niger will be the next country in the region to be undermined by Islamist insurgency and separatist rebellion, transnational organized crime, and weak governance practices.

Commentators have drawn parallels between the two countries and the international community has eyed Niger with concern, not least due to its uranium and oil reserves. The government of Niger was, however, addressing the same concerns before events in Mali forced them to the top of international agendas. In October 2012, the government of Niger launched a five year initiative to tackle the security and development challenges in the Sahel-Sahara areas of the country which proposed projects to address the root causes of instability and implement local, national and regional mechanisms to prevent grievances, outside influences or disenfranchisement causing instability and state collapse.

Read the strategy:
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The strategy has five key themes:
1. Enhancing the security of goods and people
2. Ensuring access to economic opportunities
3. Improving access to basic services
4. Strengthening local and community governance
5. Integrating forced returnees from Libya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Algeria.

Interconnected nature of economic development and security
The strategy for security and development emphasizes that the two are interlinked and one cannot be addressed without the other. The strategy focuses on improving the economic circumstances of the population in recognition that this will neutralize security threats. It examines the challenges to economic growth including climate volatility, agricultural progress and diversification and details initiatives to address these issues, specifically in rural areas. It highlights the importance of infrastructure development and of creating employment opportunities for women and youth, underscoring the resulting security benefits.

Countering the threats
The strategy addresses challenges of security, notably drug trafficking, international terrorism and the exploitation of porous border and ungoverned or under governed spaces by proposing law enforcement, as well as military and border authority capacity building projects. Support for this strand of the strategy has been provided in 2013 by training and funding contributions from the European Union to build the capacity of Niger’s Gendarmerie, Police nationale and Garde nationale.

Provision of services
Key among the specific initiatives are projects to provide food and water security, health care clinics, education, water sanitation and transport infrastructure to the population. The strategy recognizes that the greatest challenges of poverty, the ravages of climate and poor technological progress are more prevalent in the more rural parts of the country and require solutions that engage the country as a whole.

Stakeholder engagement at all levels
The strategy emphasizes the importance of consulting local, national and regional stakeholders. It is inclusive of all sectors and groups within a diverse country, united by a political constitution but with few common priorities. The strategy recognizes this diversity and proposes platforms for dialogue and decentralization to accommodate local concerns. It proposes consultation with traditional leaders and with regional partners to address issues across the Sahel region, beyond the territorial boundaries of Niger.

Regional implications
The strategy recognizes that Niger is impacted by the shifting regional circumstances in North Africa and the Sahel and directly addresses the realities of returnees from Libya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Algeria and now Mali. It addresses the challenges arising from such particularly to regions already vulnerable to food crises. Here the strategy again highlights the imperative for multilevel stakeholder engagement and local consultation, so the appropriate response can be found. It recognizes that the government of Niger must lead responses but recognizes the importance of the engagement of development partners, national and international investors, private sector and civil society organizations.

Rhetoric or results?
The collapse of a similar strategy in Mali demonstrates how admirable rhetoric can fail to bring real progress in the fields of security and development. There is no doubt that the challenges facing Niger are large, however, Niger’s traditionally decentralized society could be the key to the success of this strategy. At a recent seminar on security and development in Sahel-Sahara, convened in Niamey in February 2013, participants urged national, regional and international strategy developers to “think globally and act locally”. Security and development in Niger has global implications but through continued dialogue with local communities and traditional leaders and a focus on finding local economic and cultural solutions, the drafters believe this strategy will have a sustainable impact.