Niger Stability Seen at Risk After Opposition Arrests

The arrest of opposition members in Niger risks destabilizing the country before a presidential vote next year as the threat of Islamist-militant attacks in the region grows, according to the Institute for Security Studies.

The government detained 72 students and 40 members of the Lumana party after the offices of the ruling PNDS-Tarayya party were attacked, the Interior Ministry said in a May 24 statement. They were also accused of inciting students to vandalize vehicles and state-owned buildings in Niamey, the capital.

“It is a test of Nigerien democracy because the country is living in a very dangerous neighborhood,” David Zounmenou, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said by phone from Pretoria yesterday. “If the power in Niger is compromised, I think the country will find itself completely destabilized by all the negative forces roaming around.”

Niger, which returned to civilian rule in 2011 after the military toppled the government a year earlier, will hold presidential elections in 2015. Political tension in the country has heightened since Speaker of Parliament Hama Amadou, who had backed President Mahamadou Issoufou, joined the opposition last year.

The unrest has exacerbated the security risk in a region beset by violence from Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria, Mali’s Ansar al-Dine and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, as well as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Uranium Mines

Niger, one of Africa’s poorest nations, signed a partnership agreement with Paris-based Areva SA, renewing contracts to exploit the Cominak and Somair uranium mines, according to a May 26 statement from the French-state controlled nuclear company. Niger’s prime minister, Brigi Rafini, said last year the government was seeking better terms.

“The uranium deal is taking place in a very challenging environment,” Zounmenou said. “It’s time for the terms of the agreement for the exploitation of uranium in Niger to benefit a larger part of the population.”

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