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Niger

Situation and cooperation

View of the Niger River

In 2009, a major constitutional crisis broke out in Niger, the culmination of years of political instability. Since 2011, the hopes of the Niger people and the international community have been resting on President Mahamadou Issoufou and his government.

After being sworn into office, the President embarked on an encouraging course of reforms, initiating a national development strategy and restoring his country’s relations with the regional and international communities. Included in the agenda are stabilising democracy and the rule of law, and also fighting corruption. Issoufou has launched a food security initiative and has begun elaborating a long-term strategy to promote rural development. Faced with a very high rate of population growth, Issoufou is prepared to talk openly about the necessity of family planning and contraception – a taboo topic in broad sections of Niger society.

However, the overall environment for realising these development goals is extremely difficult: most of Niger is desert, with the remaining land being part of the Sahel zone and only partially suitable for agricultural use. Deforestation, overgrazing and over-exploitation of the soil mean that in these areas, too, more and more land is being depleted of vital nutrients and becoming infertile. A lack of rainfall means that Niger regularly experiences droughts, a situation which is likely to be further exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

Social situation

Sandstorm in the Tillaberi region, Niger

The vast majority of Niger’s population lives in extreme poverty. More than 80 per cent of the people must exist on less than 1.90 US dollars a day. The rate of malnutrition among children is only just below the critical threshold of 15 per cent. More than 80 per cent of adults are illiterate. Rural areas in particular suffer from a lack of schools and qualified teaching staff. Although the last decade has seen a steady improvement in the school enrolment rate, more than one third of schoolchildren drop out of primary school before they have completed the sixth class.

Only just under 60 per cent of the population has access to clean drinking water, and only about ten per cent are connected to a proper sanitary system. Health care is poor. Despite a sharp reduction in infant mortality as a result of targeted vaccination campaigns, in 2015, 96 out of every 1,000 children were still dying before they reached the age of five. At 61 years, average life expectancy is low.

Niger’s population is growing by about four per cent a year, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Each year about 400,000 more young people need to be found jobs and provided with services and food. Since it is not possible to meet these needs adequately, the lack of prospects and also feelings of discontent, as a result of the gloomy outlook, are growing.


Migration and displacement

Reception centre of the the International Organisation for Migration in Agadez, Niger

The crises taking place in Mali, Nigeria and Libya are also taking their toll on Niger’s development. The country is being forced to deal with several challenges simultaneously, all of which are a threat to its stability and domestic security.

First of all, Niger is hosting a large number of people from Mali and Nigeria who have fled their homes to get away from terrorist attacks by Islamist organisations such as Al Qaida in Maghreb or Boko Haram. The displaced people also include many citizens of Niger, who had settled in Nigeria and have now returned to their home country seeking refuge. Since February 2015, Boko Haram has also been attacking targets in south-eastern Niger. The number of internally displaced persons in the border region of Diffa has risen sharply since then.

Secondly, Niger is an important transit country for refugees and migrants. Ninety per cent of West and Central African migrants pass through Niger. Two important migration routes cross through the desert town of Agadez in Niger. The town is the starting point for those seeking to travel onwards to Libya and Algeria, and from there across the Mediterranean and into Europe.

Niger has been particularly affected by the collapse of state structures in Libya: traditional trading relations have been disrupted and numerous labour migrants from Niger have been obliged to return home. There, however, their chances of finding similar employment are fairly small. In the border regions, which are difficult to control, it is particularly those trafficking arms, drugs and people, along with the terrorist groups, who benefit most from the instable political situation in Niger’s neighbouring countries.


Economy

Hausa women sell milk in a market in Niger.

Despite the unfavourable geographical conditions, Niger’s economy is based largely on the agricultural sector. Arable farming and animal husbandry account for a good third of gross national income. A large proportion of the population earns a living from agriculture – and is thus dependent on the very irregular rainfall.

The large proportion of people working in the informal sector of Niger’s economy is a considerable problem: the vast majority of the population does not contribute anything towards state revenues.

The government is trying hard to put the economy on a broader footing. To this end, it is encouraging the establishment of industrial businesses and is privatising state-owned enterprises. The main focus is on mining. Niger is one of the world’s biggest producers of uranium and also has deposits of oil, coal, gold, iron, nickel, copper and phosphate. However, uranium mining is very much in the hands of foreign companies and the level of government control has so far been inadequate, resulting in considerable damage to both the environment and people’s health.

Moreover, uranium mining in the North of the country has repeatedly been the cause of violent conflicts in recent years. The people living there – in particular the Tuareg – are demanding a greater say in how the land is used as well as a larger share of the revenue generated by uranium exports.

An important prerequisite for sustainable development is transparency and responsibility in regard to the way a country handles its resources. Niger has made important progress in this respect: following a review under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), Niger was awarded "compliant country" status (as it was known then) in March 2011.


Governance

Despite the progress that has been made, democracy and the rule of law are still not sufficiently developed in Niger. Day-to-day political life is characterised by the pursuit of individual interests, based on ethnic and regional origin. Corruption is ever-present and contributes to the weakness of state institutions. President Issoufou has made fighting corruption a priority of his administration and has taken the first step by setting up an anti-corruption authority (HALCIA).

The judiciary is not yet independent: court judgements are influenced by political officials, family relationships and patronage networks. Furthermore, Islamic law and traditional law exist side by side with state legislation. The result is that regulations which are at odds with state legislation and are sometimes also discriminatory continue to hold sway in everyday life.

Some progress has been made towards greater democracy and the rule of law by decentralising parts of the administrative system. However, the population was inadequately prepared for this process. Many municipal officials are only poorly educated. Furthermore, in many places, the distribution of financial resources is unclear.

Civil society organisations have become increasingly important in recent years. However, most of them are too poorly equipped in terms of finances and staff to be able to exert any greater political influence or play any kind of monitoring role.


Human rights

Women are underrepresented in both politics and civil society organisations in Niger. They are disadvantaged in society and in working life, for example as regards access to education or earning their own money. Despite the fact that female genital mutilation has been declared a criminal offence, it continues to be practised by a few individuals in some ethnic communities. In Niger, the majority of girls are married before they reach their majority.

In 2015, a law was passed to combat human trafficking and the activities of people smugglers, but so far it has had little effect.

Although a law from 2003 makes slavery a criminal offence, international human rights organisations estimate that around ten per cent of the population live under slave-like conditions.

The protection of freedom of opinion and freedom of the press has improved under President Issoufou. The human rights organisation Freedom House describes Niger as "partly free".


Priority areas of German cooperation with Niger

After Niger returned to democracy, the development cooperation activities that had been temporarily suspended were resumed in 2011. Government negotiations between Germany and Niger take place every three years. In 2014, commitments of 62 million euros were made for the period from 2014 to 2017. In 2015 and 2016, an additional 30 million euros was pledged. Germany is the third biggest bilateral donor after France and the USA.

Cooperation between Germany and Niger focuses on two priority areas:

  • Decentralisation and good governance
  • Productive agriculture and food security

Furthermore, the Federal Republic of Germany is also supporting the Republic of Niger in the areas of basic education and health.


Decentralisation and good governance

Villagers in southern Niger

Since 2004, Niger has been pursuing a policy of decentralisation. Germany is assisting the country’s municipalities in developing local government in a variety of ways. At the national level, Germany is advising Niger’s government on the drafting of a decentralisation strategy. Germany is also involved in the development of a training centre for municipal employees.

One key task for the Niger government is to set up an instrument for sharing revenue nationally. Germany is supporting the Agency for Financing Communal Authorities (ANFICT). The job of this authority is to administer various support budgets centrally and to ensure that spending is transparent and that local communities have sufficient funding.

The various tools of German development cooperation are deployed in such a way that they are mutually complementary. The Bilateral Investment Fund for Decentralised Communities (FICOD), managed by KfW Entwicklungsbank, provides municipalities with the funding to improve economic, social and public infrastructure. Local government representatives are given advice and training by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to enable them to draw up their own local development plans, which can then be used as the basis for applications to receive financial support under the Fund. Funding applications can be made, for example to finance the building of schools, repairs to health centres and bus stations, the setting-up of markets and the building of access routes connecting villages to trunk roads.


Productive agriculture and food security

Farmers at work in Niger

Germany is supporting its partner country Niger in protecting natural resources and in recovering ruined stretches of land so they can be used for agriculture, forestry and pasture farming. Traditional and modern methods are applied in order to stop soil erosion and to make better use of rainwater. Germany’s commitment as far as these measures are concerned focuses on the regions of Tahoua, Agadez und Tillabéri.

As part of a programme for productive agriculture carried out in collaboration with other donors, the irrigation potential for different regions in Niger has been determined. Through the programme, small-scale irrigation systems can be financed and farmers’ investments secured. The programme is also facilitating the construction of storage units and the setting-up and expansion of markets.

Furthermore, further training modules for private and public providers of extension services are being developed. These providers are taught how to give small farmers proper expert advice about matters such as preparing the ground for planting, rotating crops, selecting seeds, fertilisers, pest control and safety at work. This advice helps farmers with the technical and economic development of their farms or cooperatives.

In order to effectively combat recurring food problems and prevent famine, the BMZ is continuing to support the Niger National Food Crisis Prevention and Management Mechanism (Dispositif National de Prévention et de Gestion des Crises Alimentaires, DNPGCA). This mechanism is designed to ensure that adequate reserves of cereals and seed are set aside throughout the country. In the long term, the only way that food insecurity can be reduced is through structural reforms targeting rural development, land use and food security.


Health and basic education

Women and children at nutrition therapeutic centre in southern Niger

In the basic education sector, Germany is promoting the implementation of the Niger government’s education sector programme. The measures include the construction and equipping of schoolrooms, further training for teachers and administrative staff, and increasing the intake capacities of primary schools. Cooperation partners are also receiving capacity building support in connection with education planning and administration.

The aim is to improve access to primary education and the quality of primary education in Niger. Through these activities Germany is contributing towards promoting equitable access to education for girls and boys, helping more children to complete their education, and reducing the differences in educational attainment between urban and rural areas.

The focus in the field of reproductive health is on developing and equipping rural health centres, and on introducing a results-oriented refund scheme for health care services. On account of the seriously high level of population growth, family planning information campaigns are being carried out. Furthermore, in the long term, the maternal and infant mortality rates in Niger are to be reduced.


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