|The Courier N° 143 - Jan - Feb 1994 Dossier: Fighting Poverty - Country Report : Niger (EC Courier, 1994, 96 p.)|
|Niger: Winning the economic battle - a very long shot|
It is early September. Inexorably, the rainy season is coming to an end, but Niamey, the capital, still looks its best. There is greenery almost everywhere and the mighty river which gave the country its name is unusually high, bringing lucrative economic activity, from market gardening to fishing and laundering, to its banks. The water of life comes into its own here. It is hot, of course. This is the Sahel and the heat, searing heat which scorches people's heads and shrivels up plant life, beats down remorselessly. But the torrid Sahel climate does not just have drawbacks, for it also breeds virtues, including pride, courage and a certain idea of cultural identity among the people of Niger - a striking contrast with the African coast.
The birth of democracy was painful here, just as it was in neighbouring Mali and in Benin, further south. But no one is challenging its paternity or legitimacy. This is a national construction. The builders have their differences, possibly over management.
The rule of law prevails
In its fundamental law, the new Republic of Niger clearly creates the conditions for the exercise of political freedom. The Construction says that 'the Republic of Niger shall be a State in which the rule of law prevails' (Article 9) and guarantees that 'parties, political groups, unions and other associations shall be free to set up and carry on their activities' (Article 10) - which is extremely important in a constitution in Africa, where there is usually a great deal of red tape to cut through before political or economic activities can take place. When it comes to putting the constructional provisions on public freedoms into practice, there are no exceptions, they say in Niamey. Indeed, no-one in Niger goes to prison for his opinions, opposition activities and demonstrations against the Government's policy get plenty of official television coverage and the trade unions say what they think and organise large-scale demonstrations in support of pay claims or political demands, sometimes using controversial methods with unpredictable results. The Government, preferring negotiation to force, listens to them nonetheless. The State, the guarantor of individual and collective freedoms, cannot be the first to flout them, they say in Niamey, in face of the mounting demands fuelled by the kind of economic problems which occur in a democracy - and this is despite a growing feeling that the Government's systematic search for a social consensus could undermine its position and exacerbate the indiscipline which some are beginning to fear will prevail, in contrast to the period of emergency rule which preceded the advent of democracy. But the Government's move could be seen as a response to the political argument that trade unions are now a proper part of Niger's system. The unions were jointly responsible for democratisation and it would be particularly unwise to alienate them at this stage, since the Government needs their support to carry out the economic reforms which are of course linked, in people's minds and in fact, to the political conquest of democracy.
The Tuareg uprising
It is the same concern with political freedom and freedom of opinion which is behind the Government's stance on the Tuareg uprising in the north. 'We undertake to solve the question of the Tuareg uprising once and for all, through dialogue,' the Prime Minister told the National Assembly. It is particularly important for the authorities to go for negotiation today, because, on the face of it, a democratic regime cannot afford a less conciliatory approach than the authoritarian governments in almost all the States of the Sahara which were the home of the extremely diversified Tuareg world. The problem could well be the same in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Algeria and Libya. In the two last-named countries, economic, political and cultural assimilation of the Tuaregs replaced the old colonial idea of neutralising them by making them a 'political relay'. In other places, Niger especially, the policy ended, like assimilation, with the Tuaregs being marginalised when their way of life began to be disrupted by drought, compulsory school attendance and recruitment to the army - all of which led the Tuaregs to respond to calls from Libya to take refuge there. Although former President Ali Sau's trip to Libya in 1987 brought some of the exiles home, the Tuaregs were quick to manifest their disappointment at the snail's pace of the reforms they expected the government of the day to carry out. The uprising which followed cost the lives of 80 Tuaregs.
The Tuaregs also felt more marginalised because the central State authorities in Niamey made practically no investments or improvements in their region, although it was the site of uranium mining, the country's biggest resource for almost two decades. The feeling of spoliation and frustration could well last under the present Republic unless economic, cultural and regional development resources are injected, since, once again, the big gold deposits which the Government is banking on to bring in its export earnings are located in Tuareg country. Prime Minister Mahamadou Issoufou said the Tuaregs rose up because 'they, like many more of our people, are victims of the exclusion and poverty caused by an arbitrary, unjust system'.
A difficult economic situation
Democratisation is a success, freedom is fully restored and peace has resumed. It now remains to consolidate these advantages of the Third Republic, which means making political changes, of course, and far-reaching economic and social changes too.
The Prime Minister emphasised the 'difficult economic situation' and told MPs that a considerable effort would have to be made to achieve the projected improvements. Niger's economy was heavily dependent on the rural sector (80% of the working population), in which subsistence farming, primarily of millet and sorghum, predominated, accounting for 23% of GDP in 1991, as against 14% for herding. Agriculture accounted for 19% of the value of total exports in 1991 and, outside periods of severe drought, Niger was able to cover the bulk of its basic food requirements despite limited agricultural resources and grain shortfalls of about 200000 t in the 1989 and 1990 harvests (6% of the average annual cereal output).
Production looked up again in 1992 and nationwide there was a surplus, but there were still regions whose poor climate and limited purchasing power cramped their possibilities of obtaining supplies via the market. However, with the Community's help, Niger is now involved in a large-scale rice scheme - 517 ha involving more than 600 growers producing 5 t per ha of paddy twice a year - to help get the country's food problem more firmly under contra. And better marketing would improve the limited extra income which the peasants earn from rice growing (see article on EU-Niger cooperation).
Uranium - the harsh light of dawn
According to the Prime Minister, the overall performance of the country's economy has been kept back by both external and internally-generated factors, especially poor management of the production structures, the absence of any proper policy for diversifying and expiating agricultural and mineral resources and inefficient use of inputs. In the second half of the 1970s' heavy demand and high world prices made the uranium industry manna from heaven for the economy: uranium exports brought in more than 70% of State revenue, which went from CFAF 19.5 billion in 1975 to CFAF 132 billion in 1989, with a GDP improvement of 8%to 15.5%, in real terms, over the period. But in exploiting the resources generated by the uranium sector, priority was given to financing nonproductive programmes of public spending and buildings for ministries and the university (which admittedly is not, strictly speaking, non-productive).
The other dramatic consequence of 'prestige' spending and one largely due to lack of foresight by the authorities of the time was the considerable increase in the external debt, running at an estimated CFAF 336 billion in 1992.
Mining Minister Gado Foumakouays that the 'drastic reduction of uranium export revenue has meant a drop of about 50% in State revenue over a period of ten years - in figures, CFAF 15450 per kg of uranium in 1993, as against CFAF 30 000 in 1983, and CFAF 3-4 billion in revenue, as against CFAF 25-30 billion' ten years previously. Niger is a 'farming and herding country' and, with its financial resource shrinking, it is finding it extremely difficult to create industries related to those activities - which are themselves crying out for the means of investment that foreign aid alone cannot currently provide. So, the Minister says, 'the Government has decided to look for more mineral deposits. Not just uranium, but other things, such as gold. There is currently an unregulated cottage industry which is producing almost a tonne of gold each year. The State does not benefit from this activity, however, because 'neither' production nor marketing is organised rationally' (see article on the mining sector).
Major structural reform
The democratic government of Niger has come to power at a difficult moment in the country's history. A dilapidated economy is pulling the social sectors down behind it. As emerges from the interviews with the President and the Prime Minister, Niger's economic, financial and social situation is extremely poor and the growth of per capita GDP has been negative for the past four years (in 1992 it was - 0.4%). The economic and social structures need a complete overhaul to halt a trend which could endanger the country's whole future. That is the opinion in Niamey.
In health and education, for example, a fast expanding population (3.4% p.a.) is creating new needs which cannot be met as things stand, with a total population of 8 million and only three national hospitals, five departmental hospitals, 32 maternity units and about 40 pharmacies. And, since the health services are scattered over a huge area twice the size of France, far from the major population centres and often without the material and human resources they need, there is no way that efficient help can be given to rural patients, particularly since 60% of the nation's doctors and 50% of its midwives work in the medical centres and mother and child welfare units in Niamey.
Niger's health and demographic indicators are among the worst in the world. Life expectancy is 49 years (the African average is 59), infant mortality is 134 (as against 102 960) and there is one doctor for every 48 000 inhabitants (the WHO recommendation is one per 10 000). These and other, equally alarming figures 'revolted' the Prime Minister, he told the House in 1993. The people of Niger were among 'the most vulnerable in the world'.
The same goes for education and teaching, where there has been no State investment for years. School attendance is down as a result (27% in 1992, as against 30% in 1989 and an average of 72% in the 51 countries of West Africa), a poor record, which puts Niger among the five worst schooled nations in the world. The figure masks serious distortions across the country too, with schools catering for only 12% of girls nationwide and 15% of rural children (although the rural population is 85% of the total).
The chronic shortage of infrastructure, manpower and financial resources combined with the run-down economy (dominated by the informal sectors and the invisible trade between Niger and some of its neighbours, especially Nigeria) prompted Prime Minister Mahamadou Issoufou to say that the Governments sets great store by the basic economic, social and even legal reforms which will give the State means of defence and protection in keeping with democratic standards and the economic freedom which should now have full rein.
The Government's projected comprehensive programme of reform should complete and extend the structural adjustment operations started with the help of the IMF, the World Bank and other international and bilateral funders in 1982, when the main idea was to cut the State's budget deficits by slimming down the civil service, controlling and rationalising public companies and organising the liberalisation of the economy.
'The country we inherited is at a standstill - it has stopped making progress in most of the vital sector,' the Prime Minister announced. When it comes to getting the economy back on the rails and 'giving hope back to the people of Niger,' the Government has all the assets of democracy on its side, but few resources, so it intends arousing interest in national and international quarters. This is particularly important, because failure in the new democratic context would be a body blow to the President of the Republic, whose five-year term of office can, the Constitution says, only be renewed once. So winning the economic battle is beginning to look like a very long shot.
1 270 000 km²
8 000 000
Population growth rate:
3.4% per annum
Down from 30% in 1988 89 to slightly more than 27% in 1992. Attendance by girls nationwide and rural children in general is even lower.
Niamey (350 000 inhabitants)
Other major towns:
Tahoua, Maradi, Zinder, Agadez, Diffa and Dosso. Niger is not highly urbanised because of, infer alia, the way of life of the population of predominantly nomadic herdsmen and farmers.
Other common languages:
Hausa, Djerma and Tamasheq (Tuareg)
Long dominated by uranium, the main export. This sector has been hard-hit by declining production and, in particular, the collapse of world prices under pressure of competition from the former Soviet Union and by shrinking demand from the main purchasing countries, which have had to revise their nuclear energy programmes in response to pressure from ecologists.
Agriculture, once the mainstay of production, was neglected in favour of uranium. Drought, combined with what the Head of Government calls endogenous factors (no diversification policy etc.), has considerably reduced agricultural activity and resources.
Millet, sorghum, maize, tomatoes, onions, potatoes, rice and market gardening products (23% of GDP) and cattle and sheep
rearing (14% in 1991).
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The transport and communications infrastructure is a genuine handicap for the economy, for there are only 12 000 km of roads(all categories) in the country's national and international network - which is poor for a country as large as this, with seven neighbours. Niamey, the capital, is more than 600 km away from the nearest sea port, Cotonou (Benin).
CFAF 682970 million, in June 1993, according to the latest figures from the Central Bank of West African States. Per capita GDP declined by 0.4% in 1992.
CFAF 114 512 million
CFAF 142 361 million
Deficit of CFAF 27 849 million. Most imports come from Nigeria, whose currency, the Naira, is non convertible and declining steadily, making the powerful neighbour's products particularly competitive, to the point where they are a serious threat to the whole of Niger's manufacturing potential.
CFAF 336 billion in 1992. Servicing the debt was reckoned to cost CFAF 45 billion (75% of the State's domestic revenue), which was higher than the CFAF 18 billion of 1990 (26% of domestic revenue) because of the rescheduling measures taken by the funders but not carried over to 1992.
Appreciating the extent of Niger's currently severe economic difficult ties means looking at the history of uranium and the part the mineral has played in the country's general policy over the past 20 years.
It was in 1966-67 that the French Atomic Energy Commission confirmed the importance of one of the world's biggest deposits of uranium, some 40 000 tonnes of it and economically exploitable. It was found in 1958 near the surface of the Sahara plain at Arlit, in the Tim Messoasin at the foot of the Air massif one of the most arid parts of Africa.
SOMAIR, the Air mining company, was set up to work the deposit and it began operations in 1971, producing about 400t of uranium. Plant capacity soon went up to more than 800t p.a. and the ore handled from 40 000 t to more than a million.
The mine was already Niger's biggest undertaking, relegating groundnut processing to second place, as we shall see below. In the euphoria of this discovery at a time when African leaders were indeed looking at the ground beneath their feet in the hopes that they would find some highly desirable oil or other mineral there, the Government of Niger trusted to uranium to provide for at least 15% of its budget resources. Its optimism was fuelled by a combination of confidence in the technical (but not economic) reports and growing demand from the principal purchaser, France, which took the whole of SOMAIR's output (about 1200t of uranium in 1973).
But the commercial viability of Niger's uranium depended on an international market which was uncertain and indeed stagnant because of oversupply. It was also soon to be faced with the consequences of the international political disorder triggered by a worsening oil crisis. Between the decision to exploit the uranium in 1969 and the first exports in 1973-74, production costs doubled and the selling price dropped by a third. And although the Atomic Energy Commission gave the mine financial support and decided to buy its uranium at cost price, the hopes of the kind of rapid wealth which is generated when oil is struck collapsed or at least they appeared to, because things in fact changed after 19731974 when President Hamani Diori's short sighted handling of the deteriorating domestic situation ended in a coup d't led by Sevni Kountchin April 1974. Today, the impression is that President Diori may have been counting on uranium revenue going up in the near future and was indeed putting his back into what was by no means a simple task, but be that as it may. The boom did not start until after 1974 and it was the new regime, under Kountchwhich reaped the benefit of it, in particular with the first oil crisis, which peaked in 1975 and gave the nuclear programmes a new air of obvious urgency. The main oil-consuming countries, whose economies were entirely oil-based, had agreed, in theory, if not in practice, that ultimately they had to master the atom and nuclear energy to replace oil - a new situation which had immediate repercussions on the uranium market OECD forecasts suggested that world demand in 1979 would exactly match the maximum world production to be derived from existing resources. Demand was to double between 1980 and 1985, the OECD said, and it was essential to take immediate steps to increase uranium prospecting. The price of the product in 1973-1974 was not such as to support adequate prospecting or the necessary further expansion of production, so a way had to be found of guaranteeing that the requisite production levels could be reached to avoid the possibility of shortage and an unstable market in the 1980s.
Uranium did indeed boom between 1975 and 1980. Althogh Niger did not do as well from it as it had hoped, the advantages gave it far more than any of its neighbours in the sub-region, except Nigeria. But the big problem was that the country had been inveigled into living well beyond its means and had run up considerable debts, installing much useful infrastructure for the future in the process, of course, but storing up serious trouble for itself in the shape of assisted State operation - a very serious thing now (see chart).
Graph 1: Nigers exports
Graph 2: Nigers public foreign debt
Back to square one?
So euphoria was short-lived, because the industrialised countries soon managed to adapt to the crisis, while public opinion there came out ever more clearly against nuclear power. The demand for uranium dwindled and the price plummeted as a result. In 1982, recession set in. Slight improvements notwithstanding. Niger's uranium exports and income were still well down on the 1980 figures and now they are 50% down on the already much poorer 1983 figures (CEAF 15450 per kg in 1993, as against CFAF 30000 in 1983). In Niamey, euphoria has given way to disenchantment.
Should the authorities go back to the square one of 1973-74 and go on banking on mineral resources, new and old, for the country's future ? That is the question. Contrary to what might be expected from Niger's economic history, in which farm and livestock products dominated until 1975, the Government of the Third Republic seems still to be hoping more and more that the mines will give the country back some economic growth and strike a balance in macroeconomic affairs once again. And the whole point of gold prospecting in the Liptako is to diversify State income, according to the Ministry of Mining and Energy's Mining Development Support Scheme (PADEM). The aim should be achieved through prospecting and setting up a pilot gold processing plant or, alternatively, building a metallurgical analysis laboratory to determine the grade of the ore from various sites now under investigation, particularly the apparently promising ones at Tialkam and T. The Government is still investing in uranium too and a long list of the country's mineral potential is given in the Guide to Investments in Mining in Niger.
Striking oil, on which the authorities seem to be counting heavily, would change everything in the country's macroeconomic forecasts. As Mining Minister Gado Foumakouold The Courier: 'The search for oil, by Elf Aquitaine in particular, is well under way and there are clear signs that it is there. Drilling was to start in three more places in October last year and we hope that this too will be conclusive.' The Minister's (muted) optimism is, he said, based on the fact that Chad could soon be producing and exporting oil, just as Cameroon, a little further south, did before, and Chad and Niger share the same geological features, which should mean that Niger will find commercially exploitable oil too. This could lead to proper regional cooperation between Niger, Chad and Cameroon, with a pipeline down to the port of Douala.
However, these details of Niger's possible petroleum resources,
still only more or less well founded working hypotheses, have apparently already
affected relations between the central Government and the regions. Some Tuareg
leaders, particularly from outside, may be taking a harder line or stepping up
their demands because Niger's oil, if oil there be, is in Tuareg country
and the Tuaregs are no longer willing to be bystanders when it comes to 'their' oil wells.
The question is, can the present Government follow its predecessors' line and make everything depend on mineral resources, to the detriment of farming and herding, which are more reliable despite the drought ?
Organisation and management are the keys to success
In this interview with The Courier, the President of Niger outlines his economic, social and economic policy for steering the country through its present crisis and explains why democracy is essential to the proper management of its economy and affairs of State.
· Democracy has come to Niger rather more easily than to other countries of Africa, hasn't it, other than for rare cases such as Benin, Cape Verde and Zambia ? The National Conference achieved most of its aims, the best possible constitution under the circumstances was approved and politicians old and new respected the will of the people during the presidential and the parliamentary elections - which observers said were extremely well organised. Why do you think Niger has been so successful with its transition to democracy ?
- It is hard to say, although there are one or two things I can point to, starting with a particular trait of the people of Niger, which is their sense of realism and measure. They are also, generally speaking, tolerant, I think, and all this has helped create political parties which accept the rules of the game once they are laid down and freely agreed to by everyone. There was a great deal of uncertainty and concern before the National Conference started. People were afraid that old scores would be settled, they were worried about upheavals and thought there was even a risk of the State and the nation falling apart. A great deal of calculating went on. But in the end, despite all the obstacles, the people acted in accordance with their acute sense of responsibility. It was laborious and it took longer, but, ultimately, the National Conference was a success, and the people came out in favour of the legislation produced during the period of transition. The elections went very smoothly too, just like the period of transition itself.
· Do you think that the period of transition during which your people discussed the country's problems at such length was necessary and, if so, why ?
- Yes, I think it was, because it meant that no-one involved in national life had to rush into anything and everyone had time to think about what they were choosing. Someone once said that time undoes whatever is done in haste, you know, and I believe it. You have to give procedures and processes time to work properly, whatever you are doing. With hindsight, it may transpire that Niger started its period of transition even before the National Conference, because the Conference was preceded by a special military regime which set the ball rolling by having both civilians and soldiers involved in the running of the State. It was done within the one-party system, which was not the ideal thing for us, but I still think it was a step in the right direction compared to what we had before, when the military ran the country by itself. But once the military-cum-civilian phase got under way and there was some leeway for different opinions and ideas, a pluralist approach to political activity developed, the National Conference was eventually held and the constitution was drafted. I really believe that without this process, the various political tendencies would not have been able to espouse political and economic democracy. If we had moved faster, the results would have been different and not very satisfactory. I believe that Niger's political contours are still changing. They are not set in concrete. I believe that we shall see more gradual adjustments, a gradual move towards a system in which the people of Niger are more united and are once again at liberty to build a thriving democratic life in which everyone is free to express his opinions.
· What do you think are the main problems which - despite what you have just said - could undermine the foundations and working of democracy in this country ?
- The main problems, obviously, are the problems of any emergent system. Teething troubles, if you like. When the democratic process started, we had to cope with movements which emerged among the students and schoolchildren, for example, or in the armed forces and the unions, and which had their own view of the part they should be playing in these crucial times in the life of the nation; and the situation had to mature before all the individuals had a clearer idea of just what they should be contributing to the whole.
· Are dwindling sales of Niger's biggest export, uranium, combined with the drought and the international recession enough to explain the currently depleted state of the economy ?
- There is more to it than the uranium slump, because the recession is not confined to Niger. It affects everyone, although of course to varying degrees, but it is a deciding factor as far as we are concerned, because uranium is one of those essential products which bring in for us a great deal of our export revenue. Then there is the climate too, and the situation of the country and its principal neighbours and partners. All this has combined to worsen the economic situation in which Niger finds itself today.
'The country ran up debts which it cannot pay back'
· To be more specific, what in Niger itself is causing the present severe economic difficulties ?
- Our economic situation is difficult and the weakness of our natural resources and finances has a lot to do with it. The fall in our revenue from uranium and other export products is one reason for the acute nature of the crisis. Niger has stopped exporting groundnuts. Its once substantial earnings from livestock products have dwindled, so the State coffers are depleted and the country's investment possibilities cramped as a result. And, of course, when things were going better, the country embarked on investment programmes and ran up debts which it cannot pay back, now that its financial resources are diminished. All of this has combined to prevent us covering the cost of our own sovereignty (civil service wages, the everyday running of government etc.). This has repercussions on economic operators too and they cannot pay their taxes either, so Niger's tax revenue has plummeted at a time when, as everyone knows, spending tends to go up. We hoped for even a small improvement during the period of transition, but alas the situation got worse. The State coffers were practically empty and civil service wage pay meets were four or five months behind.
· Niger's geographical situation gives you every incentive to work hard for regional cooperation. We have been hearing about regional integration in West Africa for years now, but, as you know, there has been very little in the way of tangible results, despite the creation of specialised organisations such as ECOWAS. What went wrong ? And how do you see the future of regional integration in West Africa ?
- Mistakes have certainly been made, otherwise there would have been more progress and the situation would be much better than it is. It is not easy to organise several States into an economic unit. It takes time. Look around the world and you see that big groups of this sort take years to form and often start in a very small way, not just with membership, but with the economic arrangements which are the vehicle which brings the States closer together. The example of the European Community is there for all to see. It started with the European Coal and Steel Community and only six members, but there are 12 countries in it today and there will probably be more than that tomorrow. The Community has become practically a political union.
'Far too many sub-regional organisations'
It is much the same in West Africa. The difference in results is due to the fact that we have dissipated our efforts. Far too many sub-regional organisations have been set up, some of them with only two or three countries and no real thought of integrating their motivation. In the early days, there were institutions such as UDEAC, which was supposed to overcome the problem of customs and trade barriers, and the CEAO, which followed it, also aimed at integration through trade. But as time goes by, it seems that a different sort of approach is called for. Here in West Africa, ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, really is a reflection of the will of the people, with links which go beyond strictly institutional considerations. It has broader economic foundations which have been created spontaneously by the will of the people. Go to Ghana and you find a large community of people from Niger, despite the language difference, and it is the same in Nigeria. These are English-speaking countries, whereas Niger is French-speaking; and you find the same outlook and the same state of affairs in Cd'Ivoire. So the people mix spontaneously and ECOWAS tries to reflect this desire emanating from the different populations.
I believe that this will has not been perceived as it should, but, as time goes by, people are realising how important intraregional relations are. The last summit meeting of the Heads of State helped rectify this situation by doing things to give ECOWAS a more suitable framework which is more in keeping with what the people want. The treaty was revised to make for better organisation of regional cooperation and a clearing house was set up so ECOWAS can gradually become a common monetary institution combining all the French-, English- and Portuguese-speaking countries of the region. We should have a common currency for the 16 States of West Africa by the year 2000. And we are looking at the idea of relaunching political integration in the region too. A West African parliament would also help boost democracy, which is gaining more and more ground in this part of the world.
· The European Community's attitude to relations with the African States is going to be, indeed already is, shaped to a large extent by whether they are democratic or not. Does this mean that you might have a common political core in the integrated West Africa of the future ?
- There you have to make a distinction between my personal opinion and the situation as it is at the moment. There is nothing so far to say that all members of ECOWAS have to have multi party systems or run elections along identical lines. It is not laid down officially, but the general framework of the ECOWAS treaty is perhaps already nudging people towards that sort of arrangement, because we are now seeing a critical mass of democratic countries starting to form here in this part of the world. All our countries are doing more and more to create structures and institutions which follow the rules of democracy - with variations, of course.
· You touched on the crisis of the CFAF just now and the past few months have indeed seen some important developments on this front, starting with nonconvertibility outside the franc zone. Does this seem to be the right thing to do, do you think, and is it viable in the long term ?
- Yes, I think it has come at the right time for our economies. The implications are by no means a threat to the CFAF's capacity for solving the international payments problem, so no harm is done to the currency as such, or to the States which use it as a means of payment. The new measure helps our countries cope with various internal payment problems, whereas the previously free convertibility and the central banks' automatic buying back of bank notes led to a large-scale capital drain and many transfers were to the detriment of the economies of various States. But now the normal banking networks look after all the currency in circulation and all the financial transfer transactions between the different countries.
We sent a team to investigate the implications of a move of this kind, in particular in our immediate neighbours, who use different currencies - Nigeria has the naira, for example. What happened in that case, we now realise, is that, at the very beginning, the economic operators reacted very rapidly and the rate of convertibility of the naira fluctuated before it started to pick up.
· What about cooperation with the European Community ? The Lomonvention has come in for a lot of criticism recently, although for years it was hailed es a model of good cooperation between Europe and the ACP States, with equality of the partners very much to the fore and a contractual approach to ensure that the relations were stable. What future is there for cooperation between the European Community and Africa, do you believe ? Should we be thinking about a convention that is completely different from Lom
- Lomas proved itself. It is a basis, I believe, and a framework. It is there, it has been useful to the various States involved and I do not see any point in dropping it and looking for something else, although what we could do is try to identify the imperfections and do something about them. We understand that the new provisions are to include a number of conditions - considerations of democracy and human rights such as you mentioned just now and proper economic management - and that those who make the best job of meeting them will find it easier to qualify for the various schemes. That is good, we think. It is an important contribution from Europe to Africa, since it is also a way of encouraging peoples who have shown they believe in freedom and democracy to make further commitments. And it is a way for us to show the Europeans that they are not the only ones to believe in freedom and democracy and to encourage others to go a little further along the path of democratisation. The present framework of relations with Europe is not perfect and there is certainly room for improvement.
Niger has 'to produce results'
· Manuel Marin said that the ACPs should start running projects themselves and that the Community cannot go on being both funder and organiser every time. In other words, Africans have to start putting forward and carrying out schemes themselves - which echoes a fairly strong tendency at the World Bank. Is this a good thing ?
- Yes, I think it is. To my mind, the various development programmes run over the past decade or two have not lived up to expectations - and the reason for this relative failure lies in the concern which we find expressed in the new approach just beginning.
These projects and programmes were not designed or prepared by managers in the countries in which they were run. They were not designed with the help of the people they were intended to benefit. If the beneficiaries are involved, they are better motivated when it comes to making a success of the project, which is why I believe that what we should do now is get the countries themselves to devise and design their own projects and then put them to the various partners. Home-designed projects would give a better reflection of the people's aspirations and concerns. They would even make life easier for the external partners, who would then only have to check various stages of project implementation and - most important - make sure that the country knew that it had to produce results
· You have just given us the keynote of the present discussions - the obligation to produce results. It means that there will be competition between the developing countries and the best of them will get the most aid. It means that States will have to move fast and move well. Is Niger getting its managers ready for a good start to this next stage of cooperation ?
- Absolutely. It is getting organised. As you yourself said just now, Niger's experience has aroused a lot of interest in a lot of observers. People are wondering how this Sahel country of so few resources, this landlocked country of deserts and so many problems, has managed to make such an efficient and successful job of organising its elections. But Niger knows all about organisation and we are making our way, slowly but surely, towards a fairly consistent and functional set-up whereby the whole country has the system and the people to meet the general needs of the population. We have already made a great political step forward and things are under way on the economic front too. We are putting together programmes to stabilise the financial situation and create the right conditions for fresh economic growth and set up a new framework in which to discuss solutions for the development issues facing the country with our various partners and friends. We are convinced that organisation is the key to success. Plenty of countries with plenty of resources of all kinds - natural resources, mining resources, both mineral wealth and agricultural and other resources - are still in economic situations which are as difficult as ours, if not more so. And there are others, in Europe and Africa alike, which are not so well off for natural resources, but manage very well nonetheless. So the secret of success is not the amount of resources available, but sound organisation and management.
· But people say that experienced candidates are being kept out of the running of State affairs in Niger at the moment How do you explain this apparent contradiction ?
- What is happening in Niger could happen anywhere else in the world. Once there is an institutional and political change, a change in the people, there is bound to be some sort of a reshuffle. However, what counts for us is experience, first of all, and ability. In some cases, the able may indeed not have been given responsibility, but there may be political reasons for that, you see. The people made a choice and that choice meant new faces. The Assembly may well contain people who are not as competent as the people who stood against them, but they got the people's vote nonetheless. It comes down to a choice between the head and the heart. Should it be the technically ablest person who gets the parliamentary seat or should it be the people's choice?
· The opposition has its doubts about the impartiality of the administration and its leaders claim that the Government is cutting out employees of the State who are not actively involved in the parties in power. What do you think ?
I think that is what the opposition says and it only concerns the opposition. As far as I know, there are people who have political opinions identical to those of the opposition but are still very highly placed in the present administration. So when you talk to me about cutting people out, I find it difficult to understand. It is the opinion of the opposition and the opposition alone is concerned, because the facts prove it wrong.
· Opposition complaints were aired at a demonstration shown on Niger TV...
- I entirely agree with you. A democratic government should not cut anybody out. Democracy is, par excellence, the opposite of an authoritarian system and it must not exclude people. We are in complete agreement here. But the people are sovereign and they have taken their decision and made their choices. They chose a new way and new faces and excluded some people from State office in doing so. But people with the same political ideas as the opposition are in high office in the present Government and I do not believe that there is any exclusion Perhaps we could have done better, as teachers say to their pupils. I don't know. But the facts are there for all to see.
· Mrs Baillard was fairly categorical about the Government having no real commitment to giving responsibility to women or getting them involved in development. She said that only one Minister and three Secretaries of State were women and only Ministers took decisions - in other words, women are under-represented in decision-making.
- First of all, let me say that this is the first time that there have been so many women in the Government, helping define and carry out the policy of the State. Never has any Government in this country contained so many women as the First Government of the Third Republic. Secondly, there is practically no difference between a Minister and a Secretary of State in Niger. They both take part in the Council of Ministers, they have the same advantages and there are absolutely no major differences between them. The only thing, perhaps, is the way responsibilities are shared and jobs distributed. Ministers indeed do come before Secretaries of State and Secretaries of State also have clearly defined spheres of competence as well as helping their Ministers carry out their duties. Look at the results we got before and the results we get now and you see that we have certainly not slipped backwards. Quite the contrary.
The deputy chairman of the House is also a women. That has never happened here before either.
· Perhaps this is all part of getting democracy going.
- Quite. And that is why we believe it to be a good thing, which can only give women more motivation to take an active and constructive part in our democratic activity. A very odd thing happened in the run-up to the elections. Women were reluctant to join the fight and stand for elected posts and tried to go for appointments instead, although the whole idea of democracy is to let universal suffrage decide. Members of parliament are not appointed. They have to compete in the constituencies and then in the towns and the districts and the departments, right up to national level. We are well aware that social and cultural obstacles make it difficult for women to go into politics, but those who have tried have made it and we encourage them to get organised and get involved in political action.
· How do the nine parties in the Government Alliance see the State and progress in general ?
- What unites these parties and what ideas brought them together ? I shall be very brief. The parties found themselves together in a framework which creates an alliance of the forces of change and defines the terms on which we are going to work together. Secondly, they are together in what we call our minimum action programme, a framework which reflects the various political, economic, social and cultural considerations we have agreed upon. Thirdly, the parties have also combined on an emergency political, economic and socio-cultural programme, which was the basis for the Prime Minister's general policy statement to the House and is the foundation of Government action. Those are just some of the things which enable the different parties in the Alliance to work together. It is not, as some people try to insinuate, an association of ill-assorted structures devoid of policy or foundation or, indeed, of programme. The reality is quite different.
Interview by L.P.
· Mahamadou Issoufou, Niger's brilliant young Prime Minister and one of the leading lights of the country's new democracy, is particularly concerned with the drive to rebuild the nation's economy. He told The Courier of the priority schemes which he believes will help consolidate democracy and get the economy growing again, and talked about the way he sees Africa developing in the world now the cold war is over.
· Prime Minister, you painted a gloomy picture of Niger's economy in your general policy speech to the National Assembly in 1993. But before talking about that, can I ask you what you think is going well at the moment ?
- First of all, let me remind you that before the National
Conference, which ran from 29 July to 30 November 1991, our country was in the
throes of a threefold crisis, affecting institutional, social
and economic affairs. Then came a 17-month period of transition, ending with the adoption of a new constitution, followed by free, transparent elections and the setting up of the third republic. The elections were the opportunity for the people of Niger to prove the political maturity which should be an example to others today. That is my greatest satisfaction. The fight for democracy will never be won without the total involvement of the vast majority of the population and it was comforting to see the people in their masses express their enthusiasm for the new democratic, republican order in a huge turnout for the constitutional referendum of 26 December 1992 and the parliamentary and presidential elections which followed.
It is particularly pleasing because the elections took place at the time of the mutiny, when rank-and-file soldiers from our army units stationed in Zinder, Agadez and Tawi rose up over various material and political claims which would have been a threat to the new State institutions if they had been allowed to go through. The people of Niger came down clearly against any threat to the institutions or to democracy. The republican army is a national army and the political authorities have to run it. The third republic has been set up and society as a whole approved it and supports it - which is a source of satisfaction for everyone here in Niger.
· So there is total commitment to democracy...
· You maintain that the political situation is satisfactory, but the economic situation seems to give some cause for concern, doesn't it ? You said in your speech to the House that most of the social indicators are poor. So how does the Government see the future and what should be the highlights of a short- and medium-term economic policy ?
- First of all, let me tell you that, in my general policy statement to the House, I gave a detailed run-down of the economic and social situation when we took over I told them we were inheriting a country which has silted up. On the financial front, it is running a budget deficit of something like CFAF 100 billion, with estimated debts of almost CFAF 336 billion, and, on the economic front, GDP is well down, with a serious decline in all sectors of trade.
Economic and financial difficulties have their social consequences, alas, and today we are in the throes of an acute social and educational crisis which has resulted, as you know, in a decline in the standard of living of something like 2% p.a., with school attendance down from 30% in 1987 to only 27% now. Health care has deteriorated badly too, to the point where 68 % of our people have no access to any sort of treatment and 5% or 6% have no drinking water. It all makes for a worrying situation and one which the Government is tackling by laying down five top priorities in the political, economic and social areas.
First, we must restore the credibility and authority of the State and, second, we must consolidate national unity, which means settling the Tuareg rebellion in the north peaceably Third, we must rationalise public finances and get the economy off the ground. Fourth, we must straighten out the social sectors, health and education, and fifth, we must decentralise.
We are putting particular em phasis on one of the five priorities, the rationalisation of public finances and economic recovery. In the short term, rationalising public finances has to start with getting the economy going, which means boosting tax revenue and getting State spending under control.
The State collected only CFAF 42 billion of tax revenue in 1992, which is only 7% of GDP, the lowest rate in the whole of the region. The figure in Burkina Faso, Cd'Ivoire and Mali, for example, is between 17% and 20% and my Government is trying to get Niger's rate up another ten points, to 17%, too. So over the next five years, until the end of our term of office, we are planning on measures to tax the informal sector, which has expanded considerably since 1987. The informalisation of the economy spells de-taxation here in Niger and many a company goes informal to avoid paying tax, so we have devised ways of taxing the informal sector and thereby boosting State revenue. And to make it all more efficient, we are planning fraud control too.
As for getting spending under control, the 1993 finance law already included budget cutbacks to bring expenditure down to the same level as domestic resources. The drive to rationalise and control State spending is to be pursued over the coming years. One component of the 1993 campaign is a cut in the total wage bill, which is being slashed from CFAF 43 billion and stabilised at CFAF 35 billion. Wage costs are usually fixed at 20% of total State spending, but our total wage bill is still up at the unbearably high figure of almost 33% after the recent pay-trimming measures - although they will mean that we can rationalise public spending and ultimately stabilise the financial situation of the State, for a start. Going beyond that, we aim to get the economy off the ground again, which is why we are actively preparing for negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank so that we can conclude an agreement with them and mobilise the external financial resources we need to underpin investment - a sine qua non of economic recovery. The Government is finishing an outline document on economic policy to be discussed with the international community and the World Bank with a view to an agreement by the end of the year, and, once we have that agreement, we want to call a round table of Niger's funders, probably in Brussels in May 1994. The Government also intends encouraging the economy with a five-year development plan (1994-1988), which will of course reflect all the guidelines already laid down in the outline document on economic policy I mentioned just now.
· You know that income in the informal sector cannot be brought under control, Prime Minister, so how can you prevent too great a discrepancy between the amount of tax levied on informal earnings, which are difficult to calculate, and the tax on wages paid to employees, about which more is known ?
Thank you for that question. The society we are preparing here in Niger must be a free and democratic one; a society which is tolerant, open to progress and anxious to preserve and safeguard our values, and we have to make sure that, in this society, the tax burden on wage-earners is no greater than on the income from capital. That is one side of a fair society We know that taxation is a way of organising solidarity, but it should not give rise to social injustice. So we are going to set up mechanisms through the tax system which will encourage firms in the informal sector to modernise and keep proper accounts, so that their dealings become more transparent and can be taxed more easily. In fact we recently took a decision along these lines to force the informal sector to use organisations such as banks for its foreign transactions and WAMU, for example, will now be refusing to buy back CFAF outside the franc zone. All these measures of ours should gradually reduce the weight of the informal sector in the economy and make it easier to tax its business. We want a fairer society here in Niger, in which each contributes to the solidarity of the nation according to his needs and according to his potential. We are in favour of a society in which private enterprise is encouraged and the State also plays an economic role in strategic sectors. That, in outline, is the blueprint for society which we put to the people and which won a vote of confidence from them. It is not the blueprint of one political party either but a plan put together by the political alliance which forms the coalition Government.
· Is there no disparity between your parties ? In other words - over and above what you have just said - what binds you together ?
- Niger is what binds us, because we think that Niger's current problems are more important than our ideologies. You often hear that the alliance of the forces of change is an ill-assorted combination of political parties with divergent policies and different and even diametrically opposed ideologies. But we do not think there is a problem, for Niger's current problems are more important than ideological squabbles. We have formed the alliance of the forces of change, nine political parties, which agreed to join to lead Niger forward together, with a programme which stresses stronger democracy, republican values and the consolidation of national unity - particularly given the problem of the rebellion in northern Niger. We believe that the contribution to the consolidation of national unity which we shall start making today is the settlement of the problem of the Tuareg uprising in the north through dialogue.
· The unions are becoming more and more upset at the measures the Government is taking - particularly the move to cut State spending, which they feel is unfair - and one of the things they want you to do is set up a small cabinet with only a few ministers. What do you say to that ?
- First of all, it has to be said that the unions' call to reduce the size of the Government has very little economic fallout. That is the first point. The second we would make is that the unions are not within their rights in making such demands of the political authority in a system where there are institutions which were set up after free elections. Under the Constitution, once the Prime Minister has been appointed, only the President of the Republic can set up or alter the Government. The unions are overstepping the mark here, we think, because this is a political demand they are making.
But the unions played an important part in the country's democratisation process and it may be this recent contribution which has encouraged them to start going beyond purely economic demands and try to influence the policy of the Government. We hope that the unions will confine themselves to defending the moral and material interests of their members in the future now that credible, democratic institutions have emerged from the political crisis. And I also hope that we can tackle economic issues and manage to forge a consensus with the unions on budget savings to enable the country to emerge from the present crisis situation. We are looking at ways and means of getting back round the negotiating table with the unions, because we believe that both workers and employers have to be very much in favour before we can bring in our intended economic reforms. Those are the sort of lines along which my Government is working.
The unions agree on making a sacrifice to solve the State's economic and financial problems.
· One last question. African leaders complain that their continent is being marginalised. Are they right, do you think ? What do you think of the political demands (democracy, human rights and so on) and economic demands (sound management) which the funders, the European Community included, want to see met before they continue with and step up their development aid ?
- Africans should stop snivelling, I think. The world has altered and it is continuing to alter before our very eyes. That is something we have to understand and fight for, because Africans will only ever develop and get the continent out of its current state of marginalisation if they work. Work is their one source of wealth. So we have to stop snivelling and complaining. When the cold war ended, we know that a lot of Africans hoped that the financial resources earmarked for weapons would be released for development. But alas, they were disappointed. There is a lot of disinvestment in Africa.
As we know, investors are not rushing to place their capital here as they did in the 1970s, but there are still good grounds for hoping that the continent will emerge from what we now call marginalisation.
Democracy is one way out, because the freedom that goes with it provides the opportunity to mobilise the energy and enterprise of individuals and nations to work for progress. It is also an opportunity for young African political leaders who believe in African integration and unity to get to power and push the economic and social development schemes which the continent has needed, but not had, ever since independence.
That is important, I believe.
The beginning of independence saw the end of Pan-Africanism, let us not forget, but we think that the present generation, our generation, will take up the challenge, pick up the torch again and, through integration, get Africa to create the terms on which it can escape from its marginalised position Obviously, taken individually, none of our countries amounts to much on the international checkerboard and the only way for Africa to count one day, to bring its whole weight to bear on the international scene, is to unite. It was Nkrumah, you will recall, who said that Africa must unite or perish and it is still true today. Africa really does have to unite - or be willing to go under. And I think that our generation will decide to fight for unity so as to put a stop to the continuing marginalisation of the continent.
Interview by L.P.
The opposition - 'The country needs to re-learn what is meant by a job well done' says Tandja Mamadou, Leader of the MNSD
Mr Tandja Mamadou, the head of the MNSD; Niger's National Movement for the Society of Development, is Niger's main opposition leader and a man of the people, who can rouse the inhabitants of the capital on issues like exclusion, as he did in early September. He did extremely well (winning 45% of the votes cast) in the presidential elections in 1992 and could have won the day had the other parties not formed the Alliance to engineer the change which they claimed the country needed.
Judging by the way the people of Niamey rallied behind certain issues like 'exclusion', as they did at the beginning of September, Mr Mamadou seems to be a popular figure. He gives his views on Niger's present political and economic situation in this interview with The Courier.
· What do you think of the new political situation here, with democracy enshrined in a new constitution and free elections ?
- As far as I am concerned, on this particular issue, we are very pleased to be in a country where democracy has just been born and is now taking its first steps. We here in Niger opted for democracy very early on. The people have been prepared for a democratic system as a way of life since 1977 or 1978 and, now we are actually in one in the fullest sense, we believe it to be the right thing for Niger. You need time, you have to try and improve what you have and I think teething troubles are only to be expected. But the people of Niger will never regret their choice. The future will bear that out.
· As the head of the former single party which used to run the country, do you regret not having brought in a pluralist democracy yourself ?
- As I was saying a moment ago, the idea when we devised the society of development was ultimately to democratise Niger. An emergency regime was set up in 1974 and it lasted until 1988-89, before the Second Republic emerged from the parliamentary and presidential elections. But the Second Republic only embarked on major moves towards democracy near the end, when the wind of democracy was starting to blow over the whole continent, and we were soon in a multi-party system, with a National Conference, and everyone got the opportunity to vote on the democratic future of the country. That was how I personally left my original military career and went into national politics. That is why I formed a party.
· But what made the transition to democracy difficult ?
- If you want to lead the nation, you have to do it honestly and not be small-minded. The nation, the State, is far too important for it to be made to take second place to personal interests and favouritism. If problems arose during the transitional period, it was because the people at the top failed to realise that the State was more important than anyone imagined. Those problems are still with us, because the transition did not make proper preparations for getting democracy firmly in place after the elections. It botched the job, in a way. The only question in people's minds was getting through the 17 months of transition and retiring, with no thought of what was to follow. That was the way the transition went and, when it thrust the baby into the arms of the Government of the Third Republic, that baby was already incubating the disease created by lack of preparation during the transition The State has failed to avoid the dangers of 'favouritism'
· Can you explain briefly what were the main things in the transitional period which might have eased the passage to democracy ?
- I talked about favouritism, and personal interest, just now, which is a trap the State fell straight into. Niger needs all its children, according to their training and their abilities and their experience of life and of the State, but instead of using the services of them all irrespective of political affiliation, instead of getting people of goodwill to serve the nation, favouritism won the day - and that is why things went wrong. The man who was Prime Minister during the transition had never run the State before. He had never been in charge of people, even at the most basic level. He was a career technician by profession who failed to grasp the fact that he had a whole nation before him - and you need at least a bit of experience before you try to run a whole country.
· Looking back now, what sort of a political, economic and social job do you think the MNSD made of running the country ?
- That was the time when Niger took its first steps forward in development with work well done. The period of the emergency regime was when 15001600 km of roads were surfaced, from the shores of Lake Chad to the banks of the Niger. Every development achievement in the country today was made during those 13 years and Niger has a past which can be admired in the achievements of the development of those special times. We have all the managers we need now, for they were trained during that period. So I have no regrets about what we did. But of course groups are not just made up of men of integrity and men who are keen to serve the nation. They never have been, anywhere, and they are still not now, but the emergency rme did help the development of Niger, which was deemed to be one of the best-achieving countries in Africa at the time. 'There is no point in trying to become democratic overnight'
· How far were public freedoms respected under the emergency regime 7
- When an emergency regime is decreed and military power installed, the constitution is suspended and, when the constitution goes, the democratic system goes with it. Political freedom may well have been flouted sometimes and if that was the case, individuals were also to blame. Some people are more democratic than others. You don't learn to be democratic at school. It's a state of mind. You are democratic by nature or you are not and there is no point in trying to become democratic overnight. What I am trying to say is that, even during the emergency regime, there were people who behaved democratically. As I said, in 1976, we opted for a society of development which could only be achieved by democratic means. When development has to be carried out at the grassroots and the philosophy behind it is one of consultation, cooperation and participation, then it contains the key features of democracy - which is to say that not everyone during the emergency rme was in the ranks of those now being accused of interfering with the freedom of individuals and the community. Development at the grass roots would not have been possible if there had been no freedom. So, if Niger was in an acceptable economic situation with an acceptable level of development at that time, to a very large extent, its individual and collective freedoms must have been respected too.
· What complaints do you have about the present ruling team now it has been in power for a few months ?
- What I object to is the Government of the Third Republic's continual violation of the constitution and our laws and regulations. I also object to people being excluded from jobs because they do not belong to parties in the governing Alliance. These are serious matters. Those who violate the constitution and the law and exclude people for party-political reasons will inevitably bring failure on their programme of economic and social recovery. That is the charge we bring against the Government. We have to accept different opinions, that is an obligation, and we will be heading for a special regime without democracy again if we do not. And what about unemployment ? It is getting worse and no one is doing anything. Taking power and sitting down and chatting about it seems to be what it amounts to here at the moment. The leaders of this country must get the people of Niger back to work, and they should stars by respecting their rights.
· One of the things which Mahamadou Issoufou, your Prime Minster, insisted on in his general policy statement to the House was what he called the rationalisation and moralisation of public life in Niger. What do you think about that ?
- What is actually happening is the very opposite of everything the Prime Minister said. It was easy to say, but it is a different story now it comes to putting it into practice. Theories - we have been hearing them and having them inflicted on us for years, but nothing has actually been done yet The people of Niger have to be got back to work and the conditions for economic recovery created The emergency regime's share of responsibility for the successes or failures
· You governed the country at a time when there were plenty of national and International resources available for development. Do you think that there were any errors of management or wrong economic choices then, whose consequences may still be affecting Government action today ?
- Good question. The emergency regime worked with exactly the same people as are at the head of the Third Republic today. They were the brains and the technicians of the regime, the design managers, each in his own post of responsibility, who helped with the work of developing the country. If the regime was a success, they were part of it. If it failed, they were also part of it. When it came to the economy and to national-developmeet, they were as responsible as I was. And if there are mistakes, those technicians of Government action ought to be able to correct them immediately. They are familiar with the errors and successes of the emergency regime through having been involved in it, so they ought to be well-placed to make the success of the current programme of economic and financial recovery easier to achieve. They are not new arrivals. They are old hands who were in power just as I was.
· What would your economic programme be if you returned to power ?
- I have a well-known action programme, based on the society of development, which I worked on during the election campaign. What has Niger always had ? It has always had three resources. Human resources, natural resources and mineral resources - three potential assets for the future. And what is left ? A Sahel country whose natural resources are disappearing. Minerals, mostly uranium so far and no longer a big earner, as we know. Which leaves us with human resources, and those are what we have to count on now. We need to get the people back to work, back to mass production, by employing trained, competent, experienced managers. That is the only way the economy can be rebuilt.
Relying on human resources means counting on self-reliance and work well done to give the economy a new lease of life. No one gives or lends money readily to Niger any more. The way forward for all the countries of Africa is to count on themselves first and foremost, and I believe that the only way for Niger to emerge from its crisis is to make better use of the country's human resources. If it does not, there will be no development.
· That means practical schemes and specific incentives. Can you suggest any ?
- I said that the society of development which we devised advocated production at the grass roots, particularly in rural development, for farming is what will get the country back on the rails. Nothing else will get Niger out of its present difficulties. As I said before, no one gives or lends to Niger any longer, so we have to get organised and make a better job of working, producing, processing, exporting and ensuring the economic and social development of our country.
· That means external partners. What would you do about Niger's international and African cooperation policy if you were running the Government ?
- For the time being, African and international cooperation will obviously not develop until it is clear what we can do ourselves, so our countries have to get down to it. They have to show what they can do and what they can produce before anyone gives them aid.
Interview by L.P
by Henry Sprietsma
Niger was one of the EEC's first partners. It became independent in 1960, immediately joined the Yaoundnd then the Lomonventions and has received more than ECU 800 million (about CFAF 300 billion) in aid from the Community since then. This is broken down by sector and by instrument in the table (totals to September 1993).
In the early days, the financial resources put at Niger's disposal were invested in rural development and in a road network to open up the most heavily populated areas. Alongside these, the Commission stepped up its support for health and education; since the country's natural resources are fairly limited, the long-term growth potential depends to a very large extent on making the most of its human resources. Primary school attendance is an estimated 27% and adult literacy 13% (18% for men and 7% for women), giving Niger one of the lowest social indicators on the continent. So there is every reason for the gradual shift in Community support towards an increase in assistance for the social sectors and a decrease in the amounts so far earmarked (particularly) for road and agricultural infrastructure.
The economic and social crisis facing Niger today has dictated a complete overhaul of its policy, starting with a commitment to a process of democracy and the adoption of a proper multi-party system. Shortly after the new Constitution was passed, by referendum, and the new Third Republic institutions were set up following the - irreproachably conducted elections in late 1992 early 1993, a mission headed by the Deputy Director-General for Development at the European Commission went out to take stock of the situation with the new authorities. It made it clear that the Community and its Member States welcomed the successful completion of the democratic process and announced that the Community was willing both to continue and to step up its cooperation with Niger. The LomV national indicative programme, concluded in January 1991, reflected the country's political changes by focusing Community aid on rural and social development and the private sector. The amount provided for the 7th EDF national indicative programme comprises ECU 124.5 million in Commission-managed grants and ECU 15.5 million in ElB-managed risk capital. The number of schemes it involves should mean that cooperation can achieve the critical mass required for these sectors to take off. A brief description of Community support to these sectors follows.
A financing agreement was signed in May 1993 as part of the national indicative programme, for a sectoral import programme (ECU 15 million, in foreign exchange) to finance imports of vital medicines and inputs for the private sector Some of the counterpart funds accruing from the balance of payments support programme are to be used for a reform programme in the health sector. This focuses on the adoption of a programme budget for that sector as such and programme contracts with the biggest health establishments (national hospitals, the ONPPC, the health schools and the Directorates of the Departments of Health - DDS). The Community will contribute CFAF 3.4 billion to help pay the operating (but not wage) costs of these establishments, help the authorities purchase essential medicines for the public hospitals and pay off some of the Health Ministry's arrears. The conditions of use of these funds were met in September 1993. In essence, the Community support is designed to help restructure the public health service and restore it to normal operation, to achieve the proper implementation of a basic medicines policy aimed at ensuring a supply of low-cost pharmaceuticals and to spread health spending more widely.
The remaining counterpart funds, amounting to some CFAF 1.5 billion, are to be used to support job promotion via a labour-intensive programme to be run by NIGETIP, the Niger public works agency.
The schemes discussed here are sited in regions where other Community-financed programmes are currently being or are to be run, thereby helping to achieve the desired critical mass mentioned earlier.
The Commission has also decided to provide cofinancing (with the World Bank and the Federal Republic of Germany, for example) for the start of the 1993-94 school year. Problems were expected in this area, the previous two school years having been wasted. About CFAF 250 million has been allocated for the purchase of textbooks and for their distribution to the country's various inspectorates.
With the assistance of CARE, the British NGO, the Community is helping the AIDS control campaign with financing of about CFAF 250 million for an information programme to make migrant workers and public transport drivers aware of the situation.
The 7th EDF has seen an ECU 16 million extension to the Tarka Valley development scheme, which covers the Tarka Valley proper plus the catchment basins of its tributaries, a total area of 2800 km² in the Madaoua and Bouza districts.
The idea here is to improve food security by irrigating to make part of the production independent of variations in the weather. A second aim is to raise the income and investment potential of the producers by improving the organisation of their marketing and supplies. Environmental protection schemes are also to implemented to combat desertification.
Practically speaking, pump irrigation is to be provided for more than 500 hectares of cropland. This will benefit 4 000 farmers and should result in an extra 40 000 tonnes of off-season products (particularly onions), and significant improvements in cash income and employment in the region. The project, which will also help the people take a proper part in identifying and carrying out soil conservation and environmental protection schemes, will be of direct benefit to 60 000 villagers in the project area and of more indirect benefit to the 12 000 inhabitants of the town of Madaoua, the commercial hub of the region.
Also in the rural sector, the EC has helped settle returnees from Algeria (this programme came to an end in December 1992) and it is now ready to support a large-scale regional development operation for the departments of Tahoua, Agadez and North Dakoro.
Aid is also to go to the nomads (Tuareg, Peul and Arab) who have been hard hit by the droughts and the armed rebellion which brought disruption to the area. This is a response to the Government's desire for a gradual transformation of the rural world and its systems of production - which means, in particular, changing the legal set-up of rural society, promoting private production and marketing facilities, improving the management of natural resources and protecting the environment.
The project includes such areas as human and animal health, animal production, and product infrastructure and marketing. It aims, in particular, to develop sheep, goat and camel herding by sinking cemented wells, rehabilitating the traditional water points and trying to strike a better balance between water, cattle and pasture-land.
Completing the picture, as regards Community assistance to the departments of Tahoua, Agadez and Maradi, there are the 7th EDF projects in the Air valley to the east, (currently under appraisal) and the Tarka Valley, to the south. Although the appraisal of the Air project was held up because of insecurity in the region, phase two of the Tarka Valley scheme was improved and the financing agreement signed in March 1993.
Community involvement in the large scale Niger Valley irrigation programme will now be in the form of back up schemes, particularly for health facilities for the people living around the crop areas in the Tillaberi district and part of the Kollo district. The project, which is to cost ECU 6 million and take three years, is to help the DDSs make their health and education development plans and produce their decentralised operating budgets. In the field, the idea is to improve the management potential of the various health establishments, raise the standard of the services and provide support for the safe motherhood programme and the local health supervision programme. One element of the Niger Valley irrigation programme will involve protection of the catchment basins of the River Niger, a scheme which will also help protect the developments from silting.
Development of the private sector
Niger has opted to step up its development of the private sector and the Community has decided to support the country in its endeavour, in line with the provisions of the national indicative programme. A 7th EDF grant of ECU 12 million over five years enabled a new private association providing finance and incentives for private enterprise in Niger (AFELEN) to start operating in early 1993. In the interests of efficiency, the Government has made AFELEN the only body providing this sort of credit.
Not only does the association have its equipment and operation covered for the five-year period. It also has a line of credit of more than CFAF 3 billion to create and re-establish access to private investment financing, which is virtually nonexistent at the moment because of the collapse of the banking system, AFELEN is not itself a bank, but an agency upstream of two local banks (the BIAO and Sonibank), which manage AFELEN-approved loans.
The project is also expected to create a stable environment conducive to private enterprise, develop a healthy private sector and help SMEs, SMls and micro-businesses in the craft sector and other sub-sectors with comparative advantages to take off.
AFELEN is currently concentrating on small businesses involved in first-stage processing of crops and livestock products, cottage industry and construction, although there is no reason why other sectors cannot be covered and there are no geographical restrictions. There will be particular encouragement for businesswomen, for schemes to rehabilitate existing production facilities and for operations likely to have a positive effect on the environment and expand the country's economic base.
The Community, the UNDP and the ILO are cofinancing a training programme for rural craftsmen (PROFORMAR) worth about ECU 0.6 million. This hinges on the installation of 400 modules as a framework which will lead, sooner or later, to the creation and/or consolidation of individual/collective rural micro-units providing direct support for the development of the primary sector.
A third Community scheme for the private sector is a vocational and technical training programme (NIGETECH), currently being appraised, which is to provide about 8 800 workers and businessmen with training and advanced training for various jobs in formal and informal areas of urban activity. The projects involve training 60 instructors to run about 250 modules in 40 areas and to provide a programme of study awards related to various Community projects and programmes.
Community grants outside the focal sectors of the 7th EDF national indicative programme have been provided to develop and surface 56 km of the Niamey-Say road, so as to open up the Say region, an agricultural area whose tourist attractions (W-Park) and leading research centres (Icrisat and the Islamic University) give it high development potential.
Food aid to Niger continues. During 1993, 5 000 tonnes of common wheat, costing CFAF 400 million, have been provided. Local cereals from the buffer stock established using counterpart funds were distributed in June and July to about 100 000 families in northern Niger, where the grain shortfall is severe.
The Sysmin transfer expected for 1993 will also go into road and telecommunications infrastructure to open up Say, T and Arlit, all areas with mining potential.
Niger is actively involved in western Africa's LomV regional indicative programme, including in particular, the environmental training and information programme (PFIE), the regional solar programme (PRS), the permanent diagnosis programme (IDR) and the regional gas programme (PRG). ECU 228 million have been allocated for the LomV regional indicative programme.
Support for structural adjustment
In August 1993, the Niger Government enacted a finance law intended to set the country on the path to adjustment. It then passed an outline document on medium-term economic policy (1994-96) confirming that austerity finance policies were to be maintained to reduce internal and external imbalances The structural reform policies should make it possible to renegotiate new financing with the Bretton Woods institutions under the IMF's enlarged structural adjustment facility (ESAF) and the structural adjustment programme with the IBRD. Niger could, accordingly, also obtain help from the second instalment of the LomV adjustment support programme.