Niger: Government accuses Ecowas for sanctions, says it is a misunderstanding

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The government of Niger has accused West Africa’s economic bloc, Ecowas of not showing understanding of the domestic situation in Niger before it executed an economic suspension on the country. Some Nigeriens believe that the Niger president, who is highly criticized by the international community, is a man of harmony and negotiation.

Ecowas suspended Niger from regional trade, following the changes to the country’s constitution, made by its president, Mr. Mamadou Tandja. The changes made were to allow Mr. Tandja to stay in power for a third term. Mr. Tandja had already served two five-year terms, and is on his way to gain an unconstitutional third term. He dissolved parliament and the constitutional court earlier this year when they refused to allow him to change the constitution.

“If it is true that Ecowas has taken such a decision it means that Ecowas is really wrong about Niger’s case. This is a misunderstanding by Ecowas and I think we can overcome the situation through dialogue,” Moctar Mahamane Kassoum, a government spokesman was quoted.

Following criticisms from opposition parties, trade unions and human rights activists as well as the international community, the president said that he needed more time to complete projects such as the country’s first oil refinery, the construction of a dam on the River Niger and the mining of new uranium sites in the north of the country. Supporters of the 71-year-old president say the people of Niger want him to stay in power because he has brought financial stability to Niger; one of the world’s poorest nations, despite its uranium wealth.

Mr. Tandja went on with a parliamentary vote despite pressure from the international community and Ecowas. The opposition parties abstained from the elections and the turnout was said to be low.

On Tuesday, Oct. 20, Ecowas political director, Abdel Fatau Musa, reiterated that Mr.Tandja had undermined the threat of sanctions, and went on with his bid for an unconstitutional grab to power. He warned that the issue could end up in the UN Security Council, and Niger could be left in international isolation unless Mr. Tandja backed down.

Niger endured strict military rule for much of its post-independence history and is rated by the UN as one of the world’s least-developed nations. Opposition leaders were quick to label Mr. Tandja’s bid for third term as coup, accusing him of trampling over Niger’s new-found democracy.

The country’s main export, uranium, is flat to price fluctuations and agriculture is threatened by the encroaching desert. In January, French company Areva signed a deal to develop what it said would become the world’s second biggest uranium mine. Reports say that the mine is in the semi-desert north, where the rebels of the Niger Movement for Justice (MNJ) complained that a 1995 peace deal had never been fully implemented and that the region remained marginalized. The group demanded greater autonomy and a larger share of uranium revenue.

In 2009, the MNJ and the government held talks in Libya, at which they committed themselves to a total and comprehensive peace.

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