The Platform

Niger's armed forces during training in 2018.

The challenges of Niger are a somber reminder that institutions must serve the people they represent, or risk perpetuating a legacy of despair.

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned / The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity.” – William Butler Yeats

In our chaotic world, where anarchy, populism, and democratic backsliding are daily phenomena, Yeats’ words ring with a chilling relevance. This latest wave of erosion has even reached Niger, once deemed the last bastion of democracy in the terrorism-plagued Sahel region.

Niger’s history is marked by long stretches of authoritarian rule, often controlled by the military. Over the past three decades, institutional stagnation has resulted in the country’s fifth military coup since gaining independence from France in 1960.

But who is considering the Nigeriens’ interests amidst all the noise and competing claims in the region? Fascinatingly, the most recent military coup led by Abdourahamane Tchiani was met with a festival-like atmosphere in a stadium named after Seyni Kountche, who spearheaded Niger’s first coup in 1974.

This enthusiasm may sound strange, but it reflects a growing distrust among the populace toward their nation’s institutions. A survey of 8,000 Sahel inhabitants revealed that unconstitutional governmental changes are often welcomed as the lesser evil compared to consistently failing institutions. And in Niger, 61.7% are dissatisfied with the state of democracy in the country.

Niger’s economy, largely agrarian and highly dependent on uranium exports, has been marred by the same challenges since independence. Its financial well-being hinges on foreign investment, weather patterns, and global market trends. However, economic progress is hampered by rampant corruption, a judiciary which is essentially nonexistent, absent long-term planning, and decaying infrastructure.

Since 1993, Niger’s political landscape has been a tumultuous one, marked by clientelist affiliations rather than ideological unity. Government transparency in state spending is nonexistent. Government officials are widely perceived to be corrupt, with 67% of Nigeriens believing in their malfeasance.

Even the country’s constitution, which should serve as a bulwark against corruption, has become nothing more than a tool in the hands of whoever is in power. Around 40% of the $312 million spent on military procurement in 2020 was lost to inflated costs or undelivered materials, with no judicial action taken.

The combined economic and political challenges have forced 41.8% of Niger’s 10 million people into extreme poverty. Despite increased foreign aid, the country is still plagued with inefficiency and corruption.

The future looks bleak, especially for the youth, as half of the population under 14 lacks even primary education. Female poverty rates are particularly alarming, with women constituting an estimated 75% of those living below the poverty line. Meanwhile, chronic food insecurity and infectious diseases have resulted in some of the world’s highest malnutrition and mortality rates among children.

Lacking unemployment data and being unaccountable to its citizens and media regarding expenditures, the recently overthrown government seemed disengaged. What should citizens expect from their leaders? Security, nourishment, shelter, and dignity. But when these basics are denied, there remains little incentive to strive for betterment. A vicious cycle emerges: distrust and inefficiency reinforce one another, perpetuating a bleak existence for ordinary Nigeriens. The challenges of Niger are a somber reminder that institutions must serve the people they represent, or risk perpetuating a legacy of despair.

Falguni Lalwani is currently pursuing a triple major in Economics, Media Studies, and Political Science from Christ University, Bengaluru, India.