Cablegate: Niger: Pol/Econ Update for November 15 - 30, 2008

Published: Wed 3 Dec 2008 04:44 PM
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1. The following is an Embassy Niger compilation of political and
economic highlights for the second half of November 2008 not
otherwise covered in mission reporting. This report covers the
following issues:
-- Travel Warning Extended for the North
-- Prison Letter from Former PM Hama Amadou
-- Anti-Globalization Conference Held in Niamey
-- Hajj Season off to a Rough Start
-- Niger Ranks 32 out of 52 States in Child Wellbeing
-- Monthly Donor Breakfast: Food Situation and Security
Travel Warning Extended for the North
2. On November 21, President Tandja signed an executive order
extending the state of alert for the northern Agadez region for an
additional 90-day period from its effective date of November 24.
The state of alert has been in place since August 2007.
Prison Letter from Former PM Hama Amadou
3. From the Koutoukale prison where he is detained, former prime
minister Hama Amadou wrote a letter dated November 20 to the members
of the executive board of his political party - the National
Movement for a Society of Development (MNSD), the main party of
Niger's ruling coalition. Amadou said, "The crisis our party has
been experiencing for about a year is caused by some of our fellow
members in government, at the National Assembly, and within the
executive board of the party who attempt to change by force,
intimidation, and threats the MNSD's legitimate leadership...Our
party has no leadership prolem insofar as no on e within the
executive board has denied that Hama Amadou is and remains president
of the party, until the time when the sponsors of his illegal
imprisonment managed to strip him of his political rights by
unlawful means."
4. Hama was very critical about the MNSD executive board's
resolution on November 9 appointing an interim party president and a
joint committee, made up of both Hama's supporters and detractors,
to manage the party. He said, "In the current situation, I thought
that the major concern for all party members. . .would be the
release of the party's leader, who was arrested illegally and
imprisoned arbitrarily...there is a fool's game, which I now
understand clearly - give us the party's leadership, then we will
see about the release of the one you call your president. It is
tragic to see such lack of solidarity within a
party...Unfortunately, I am afraid that if some of our fellow party
members continue to have this attitude, the MNSD will likely split
to the detriment of all." Hama urged his party members to observe
fully the party's regulations in any move toward reconciliation.
Anti-Globalization Conference Held in Niamey
5. On November 25-28, the African Social Forum (an
anti-globalization movement) held its fifth conference in Niamey.
The forum is n "open space for discussion, analysis, and the
formulation of alternatives to neoliberal policies." The forum
opened on November 25 with a march and rally that gathered about
10,000 people and during which activities chanted slogans like,
"Another Africa is possible, down with imperialism, the World Bank,
the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the
G-8." Some shouted, "With Obama, a black person in the White House,
the world has changed." Others called for, "A free, sovereign, and
democratic Africa, governed by the rule of law." The forum's events
included workshops, seminars, exhibits, films, and concerts covering
topics such as food self-sufficiency and the right to food in the
Sahel, environmental issues, women's rights and empowerment, and
press freedom.
Hajj Season off to a Rough Start
6. The ordeal of Niger's pilgrims to Mecca continues due to poor
organization of the Hajj, as the GON and private travel agencies
struggled to find an adequate solution to the transportation issue
to convey some 9,000 to Jeddah from Niamey. In September, the GON
reviewed travel agency and airline service records over the past few
years, and levied sanctions, ranging from suspension to termination
against those with bad records. The Minister of Religious Affairs,
while recognizing that the Hajj is an important commercial activity,
cited "crookery and fraud in special travel documents" and "bad
practices that nearly created diplomatic incidents" with some
7. The GON called for bids, wherein Yemenia Airways and Ethiopian
Airlines and their Nigerien partners were selected to carry Nigerien
pilgrims. Under this measure, Sahel Airlines, a partner of Yemenia
Airways, was to carry about 6,000 pilgrims out of a total of 9,000.
In October, the GON terminated the contract with Sahel Airlines, but
a court ruling ordered the GON to honor the agreement. This process
delayed the Hajj organization, with thousands of pilgrims who came
to Niamey from all parts of the country incurring great hardship.
Niger Ranks 32 out of 52 States in Child Wellbeing
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8. The African Child Policy Forum recently released the "African
Report on Child Wellbeing 2008." The report ranks Niger 32 among 52
African nations surveyed, classifying the GON under the
"Child-Frienly Index" in the intermediate category of "Fairly
Child-Friendly." This was mainly for two reasons: first, as a
result of the GON putting in place fairly appropriate legal
provisions to protect children against abuse and exploitation; and
secondly, because of its fair commitment in allocating a relatively
high share of its national budget to provide for the basic needs of
children. Niger ranked 35th in the combined index for provision of
basic services for children, which is measured based on two
elements: budgetary commitment and child-related outcomes achieved.
Monthly Donor Breakfast: Food Security and Prices
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9. Participants made the following observations regarding food
security and prices during the November 24 monthly donor's breakfast
in Niamey:
-- Favorable 2008 rains enabled Niger to set record harvest levels
for every major crop. On the average, the cereals production level
is 20% higher than last year and 29% more than the five-year
average. This makes a fourth consecutive good annual harvest for
Niger. Neighboring countries recorded similar bumper harvests.
-- Prices for key food staples (millet and sorghum) did not fall
steeply as they usually do following the September-October harvest
and, currently the average price for these locally-grown staples is
30% higher than this time last year. At the same time, the cost of
imported rice, a major staple for urban populations, is over 40%
higher than this time last year.
-- These higher costs are making it harder for poor people who have
to buy food to satisfy their daily minimum dietary requirements.
There is much concern that prices will continue to climb in the
months ahead, thereby obliging poor people to consume less. This
issue of food accessibility will loom larger as farm families
exhaust their household stocks in a few months' time. Meanwhile,
the GON is working with donors to replenish its cereal reserves but
higher prices mean less grain is being purchased with planned
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