Summarized by Matthew Reid
ďNiger: Politics and Poverty in the Sahel.Ē Africa report. May-June 1983
Main Point: Nigerís ! President Seyni Kountche is a respected leader both in Africa and abroad and does well maintaining stability in an area wrought with famine, drought, an underdeveloped economy, and ethnic differences.
The early 1970ís in Sahel were a time of serious drought and in Niger it destroyed herds and crops and their governmentĖĖwhich was overthrown in the coup of 1974. Since then, droughts continue to plague Niger and the country imports food every year. Still, the 70ís saw rapid expansion in Niger as their 160,000 tons of uranium reserves were in demand and world prices were high.!
In 1980, uranium prices fell by 35% as the worldwide anti-nuclear movement gained strength and the economics and safety of nuclear power was questioned. Up to this point, uranium made up 43% of government revenues and in 1979 provided 90% of its foreign currency.
The economic situation put an end to the Five Year development plan and replaced it with a ten-year plan that recognized that development would have to take place with less reserves. Between the plans was a two-year interim where the government would consolidate construction projects and buy time until the world economy recovered and uranium prices rose again.
The 1980ís also uncovered Nigerís investing mistakes when money was plentiful. Although construction and public work expenditures increased enormously, much of it went to mining infrastructure, hotels and other short-sighted projects. However, the National Investment Fund, which received tax revenues from uranium production, did invest heavily in agriculture and health and education.
Now, to compensate for its lack of funds, Niger has to borrow money. They rely mostly on Saudi Arabia and France.&nb! sp; Half of their debt is in dollars and this makes it increasingly hard to pay back as Nigerís currency is pegged to a depreciating French franc.
Nigerís stability is constantly in question. Not only is the land tortured by drought, famine, and a faltering economy but it sits between the Arab and Islamic African countries. Maintaining allies and peace is a political nightmare for President Kountche. Its neighbor Libya especially gives Niger a lot to worry about with its larger army and its periodic attempts to destabilize the border regions of Niger inhabited by the Tuaregs.
Kountche has remained active diplomatically in his region and overseas with Europe and the United states whom he seeks to remain in favor with in hopes of continued foreign aid.
A promising sign to the Western world is Nigerís Development Society, launched in 1982, that is setting the foundation for democratizing Niger and providing it with a constitution. The new system it wants to create will be neither capitalist nor socialist but uniquely Nigerian, stressing traditional values and rural development through citizenís participation.
Although Niger faces many difficulties, its competent leadership is looking toward th! e future, hopefully one of peace and development.