AFRICANGLOBE – On 17 January, Nigeriens woke up to a new reality about their country. That day, one week after the huge anti-terrorism demonstration in Paris under the banner ‘Je suis Charlie’ – in which Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou took part – a wave of violence swept the Christian communities of Niamey and Zinder. Ten people were killed and several churches were burnt to the ground.
With Boko Haram launching attacks in the region of Diffa in the extreme south-east of the country, jihadist forces became an increasingly clear and present danger. Niger plans to send troops as part of a regional fighting force to challenge the Nigeria-based Islamist rebels.
Diffa, which is the temporary home to more than 100,000 Nigerians who have fled violence, is now under a state of emergency and a suicide bombing there on 4 October killed six people. The United Nations reports that there have been about 60 attacks in Diffa this year.
The government has been trying to mobilise the masses in solidarity. On 17 February, some 100,000 demonstrators came out on the streets of Niamey to say ‘No’ to Boko Haram and other extremists. “Niger will be the tomb of Boko Haram,” declared Issoufou. The leaders of the opposition, however, refused to participate in this march.
With more than 1,000 suspected Boko Haram members currently in prison, the fight against terrorism is also a political matter. To reduce the influence of Islamist propaganda, the regime has been trying hard to integrate the leaders of ethnic minorities into the machinery of the state. For example, Brigi Rafini, a figure from the Tuareg community of Agadez, has been prime minister since 2011.
Straddling the crossroads of the West African jihadists, Niger is a key country for Western countries fighting against terrorism. It is surrounded by instability in Mali, Libya and northern Nigeria. Hence the visit to Niamey of France’s President François Hollande in July 2014 and United States deputy secretary of state Tony Blinken’s meeting with Issoufou there in July of this year.
Come February, the presidential election will be more than a national issue. For all the neighbours of this pivotal country and for the Western powers, the election will also be a test of Niger’s national stability.
By: Christophe Boisbouvier