Author: Eric Komlavi Hahonou
Affiliated organization: Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS)
Type of publication: Working paper
Date of publication: 2016
International security intervention in Niger
‘For the short term, the solution is military, but for the long term it is development.’ Since the collapse of Gadaffi’s regime in Libya in 2011 and the subsequent spread of insecurity in the Sahel, the idea that security is a precondition for development has gained ground among ruling elites in the Sahel. As Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, put it in the abovementioned statement, the overarching objective of security necessitates both short and long term solutions. However, the quotation also suggests that tensions exist between short and long term measures of stabilization. Finally, this statement is also a call of the President of Niger for financial and military support from Western donors, who have been playing an increasing role in security provision in Niger.
In the recent years, Niger’s bilateral (e.g. France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Japan, China, USA) and multilateral development partners including the EU and the UN have increasingly integrated security and development strategies within a broader stabilization strategy that applies to the so-called Sahel G5 (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger), led by France, the US and the EU. The stability of Sahel G5 is of utmost strategic importance not only for the entire region of West and North Africa, but also for Europe and the US.
For Western security actors the weakness of the Nigerien security services is a major concern. This has put an onus on enhancing the capacity of state security services, providing training and funding for border control, countering violent extremism and radicalisation, and preventing irregular migrations toward Europe
Since Niger is geographically situated in between conflict affected countries, external security actors see its stability as key to both regional and global security. The eruption of the Malian conflict in 2012, the ongoing crisis in Libya and the insurgency of Jihadi group Boko Haram in North-Eastern Nigeria raised concerns about Niger’s ‘sandwich situation’ among external actors who fear that armed groups such as Al Qaida in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State affiliated armed groups (ex-Boko Haram) will install a safe base on Nigerien territory, much of which is not fully controlled by state institutions. It is feared that they could use these bases to generate revenue by controlling illegal flows of goods, money and people and key resources (oil, uranium), which could fund their terrorist activities.
For Western security actors the weakness of the Nigerien security services is a major concern. This has put an onus on enhancing the capacity of state security services, providing training and funding for border control, countering violent extremism and radicalisation, and preventing irregular migrations toward Europe. Despite pledging to address both development and security problems for the populations of Niger, the stabilization and the tightening of Nigerien security have clearly been the priority.
Niger in the post-Gaddafi regional security context
The collapse of the Libyan regime of Muhammad Gaddafi in 2011, led to an unexpected destabilization of the Sahel region that profoundly affected Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Nigeria. The return of a number of mercenaries hired by the Gaddafi regime to their countries of origin dramatically changed local, national and regional conflict dynamics. In Mali, it resulted in a new Tuareg rebellion in the North claiming self-determination.
This was followed by an upsurge of religious armed groups (including groups affiliated to AQIM) and a military coup against the regime of President Amani Toumani Touré. In Niger the return of former mercenaries from Gaddafi’s army was relatively well managed, but there were fear of a spill-over of the Malian conflict into Niger. So far, this has not happened on a broad scale.
Despite its deadly attacks against civilians, Boko Haram still recruits militants in Niger as well as in neighbouring countries. It is therefore imperative to better understand the roots of the conflicts and the way the insurgent group recruits members. So far, the strategies used to counter the group have been a combination of increased intelligence gathering and military intervention. However, the adherence of youth to Jihadist groups is increasingly becoming a concern for external actors, including the US.
Both donors and Nigerien actors have been concerned over the government of Niger’s ways of handling insecurity, which seems to repeat the same errors as Nigeria’s government. The seriousness of the humanitarian situation, the human rights violations carried out by the army and new severe restrictions of press freedom contradict the stated objectives of donor policies. However, in the context of looming (presidential, legislative and local) elections in 2016, there is a consensus among donors that the Nigerien state must be stabilized in order to avoid a potential collapse of the country. As one high-ranking foreign diplomate said, with regards to human rights violation carried out by government security forces in Diffa: “We don’t do what we ought to do!”.
Mutual interests and western extra-territorial sovereignty
Since the era of global terrorism started in the Sahel a high degree of mutual dependency has developed in the field of security governance between Niger and its traditional development partners (bilateral and multilateral cooperation agencies). Both sides are well aware of this: ‘Our states don’t have the capacity to secure the country against terrorist organisations. We have mutual interests. That is where the technical and military cooperation steps in. But we generally lack sufficient manpower, funding and necessary equipment, you know… In fact, Niger is waging a war for France, Nigeria, and the Chinese.
Niger’s stability has become a major concern for external actors who have initiated a number of programmes in Niger and the Sahel region to strengthen security governance. So far, despite a number of incidents and sporadic terrorist attacks in the country, the DSF together with their Western allies have been able to contain attacks and intrusions of foreign groups and to avoid a generalization of terror and violence.
EU: ensuring stability in Niger and Europe
The EU is a relatively new actor in the field of security provision. In 2003, the EU adopted a Common Security and Defence Policy, which provided an institutional framework for the launching of military, police and crisis-management missions to restore peace in Africa and elsewhere (Bromley, 2014: 133-4). In Niger, the EU intervenes through the Delegation of the European Commission (the executive body of the EU) and a programme called EUCAP Sahel Niger, which is a civilian mission. Officially, the European Commission’s main objective is the stability of Niger with a special focus on improving the management of border regions. EU’s main funding instrument remains the European Development Fund (EDF). But as many of my interlocutors affirmed, EU’s financial tools and means are very limited. Therefore defence-related expenses are bilaterally covered by member states.
Following the military coup against Mamadou Tanja’s regime in February 2010, the EU held back € 100 million intended for development aid to Niger. Such decision had devastating consequences for highly aid-dependent Niger. The impact was however mitigated by the implementation of the EU’s Sahel strategy. This regional strategy, which involved Mali, Mauritania and Niger, was allocated over € 660 million to the region under the 10th EDF (2007-2013). In the framework of its Sahel strategy, the EU further mobilised additional financial resources for development and security related projects worth € 167 million.
Although the EU is being criticized by various actors for pursuing its own interests in supporting security governance in Niger, there is a general understanding that the government of Niger and the EU need one another. Another critique highlights France’s domination of EUCAP Sahel in Niger. Some European experts even argue that EUCAP-Sahel Niger ‘is a French mission under European flag.
France: between clientelism and neo-colonialism
As Niger’s former colonial power, France occupies a particular position in Niger. To a great extent, French influence over Niger’s economy, politics and military domain reflects the tight ties that have been maintained after Niger was granted its nominal independence in 1960. But France is also highly dependent on Niger, which is a major supplier of the uranium used in the French nuclear power system. French military interventions in Mali and Niger, respectively, in early 2013 serve as a reminder of the “role of gendarme” that France plays in its former colonies. France justifies its intervention by referring to Niger’s (and other Sahel countries’) lack of capacities to counter terrorist threats.
The French security services argue that France’s special and historical ties to Niger justify its leading position among EU member states. “We possess an advantage that other cooperation agencies don’t have: continuity. Since 1962, we have French special advisers at the highest level of the state apparatus. Our technical assistants are totally embedded and immersed in Nigerien security services”.
French military interventions in Mali and Niger, respectively, in early 2013 serve as a reminder of the “role of gendarme” that France plays in its former colonies. France justifies its intervention by referring to Niger’s (and other Sahel countries’) lack of capacities to counter terrorist threats
Indeed, as it is suggested in this quotation, France collaborates as much as it competes with multilateral and other bilateral donors in providing training to the DSF, especially in sectors with high visibility. However, the extent to which France uses EU institutions and means to establish its political influence in Niger and protect its economic interests remains an open question.
Since 2011, the relations between French and Nigerien ruling elites have been particularly tight. However, many observers including civil society organisations (in France and Niger), Nigerien opposition parties and even members of the donor community in Niamey are increasingly critical of the way in which Areva presents the alliance as a win-win situation, of the management of insecurity in Diffa (human rights abuses, arrest of civil society activists, etc.), and of Niger’s ruling elites allegiance to France.
The alliance between France and Niger’s ruling elites allows the former to protect its investments while it guarantees the stability of the latter at the head of the Nigerien state. The tacit acceptance of the human rights violation carried out by Nigerien government and DSF should be seen in this light. The absence of sanctions against the government of Niger translates the accountability of Niger vis-à-vis France to the detriment of human security and long term development perspectives for Niger.
Since 2011, Niger has evolved from a highly aid-dependent country to a highly security-dependent one. This new development for Niger has also affected the situation of Western actors, which have become increasingly dependent on Niger. The former cannot secure their interests (uranium, migration control, counterterrorism strategies) without this key regional ally. The latter (the poorest country in the world) cannot secure its population and territory without massive external support.
As a result of foreign intervention, the expansion of violent conflicts from neighbouring countries to Niger has been relatively limited and contained so far. However, the efforts devoted to short term military and humanitarian response have also diverted attention from long term developmental perspectives. While Western actors focus on stability (i.e. national budget balance, security, political continuity of the ruling party) and promote state-building, human rights abuses are common, especially in Diffa region, and state legitimacy is being compromised in a region where the central state never had much influence. In a context of a long trend of quasi-absence of public services in this particularly marginalized region, the excessive responses by the DSF to terrorist attacks have aggravated the state’s lack of legitimacy, and so has the repression of critical voices by the government.
Since 2011, Niger has evolved from a highly aid-dependent country to a highly security-dependent one. This new development for Niger has also affected the situation of Western actors, which have become increasingly dependent on Niger. The former cannot secure their interests (uranium, migration control, counterterrorism strategies) without this key regional ally
Although donors are aware of power and human rights abuses, they find it difficult to do more than reprimanding the government since a suspension of budgetary support to Niger would undermine the government and consequently threaten the stability of Niger. This form of accountability vis-à-vis external allies raises concern about the legitimacy of the government at the national level.
Donors and partners of the Nigerien government should focus more on issues of legitimacy and long-term perspectives. Security provision is a crucial dimension of state building, but it is not the only sector that requires sustained efforts to build the fragile legitimacy of the Nigerien state. The process of state-building in Niger is intimately related to the capacity of the state to provide a range of public services in ways which support its legitimacy.
It is particularly important to envision a coherent, long-term strategy that addresses the underlying causes of insecurity. “Stabilisation” is not synonymous with maintaining the status quo and external actors should consider how to promote meaningful social change and political reforms to defuse potential violent conflicts and recruitment for violent groups like Boko Haram.
The case study of Niger raises two specific points of interest for the Nigerien government and its partners:
- a) They should reconsider the policy towards non-state security providers in both urban and rural areas (e.g. reformist non-violent movements and ethnic militias). Their increased importance points to the lack of everyday security provision by state forces. In addition non-state security providers often articulate political and social grievances that should be taken into account. Therefore they should not necessarily be treated as enemies of the state, but rather as potential forces for positive social change.
- b) They should consider focussing on the issue of corruption in security sector reform: Corruption in Niger pervades all sectors of public services including the security sector. Sectorial reforms require a real political commitment to formulate a national strategy to create a legal framework, and to enforce new service norms (see DIIS Policy brief ‘Corruption, insecurity and border control in Niger’, February 2016). If not sanctioned by justice, human rights abuses, predatory behaviour and extortion will continue to weaken state legitimacy and reinforce the divide between the state and Nigerien rural populations.
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