Issoufou Mahamadou, President of Niger, was recently in Paris and London for political talks and meeting investors. He also met the media and answered their questions.
“I came here so that people will know Niger a little better. Often in Europe people confuse us with Nigeria. Today Niger is becoming more known. People know us for our stability. I was elected President thanks to a transparent election. We are now working to establish the rule of law, so that decisions are made based on laws and not on the whims of a powerful person”, he said.
How is the situation in the country?
We do not have strong tensions and people are free to comment on the life they experience. We do have freedom of expression and we are moving ahead in empowering people to be free and express themselves freely. Niger is a secure country. Yet, we do have tensions around us: Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. So far, we managed to defend our borders and the security of our people. Financially, Niger economic record is improving. The growth in 2012 will be of 15%; this is what the IMF says. In the near future we shall keep a double digit figure.
What are the areas of growth?
We have a large production of uranium; it is going to double to 9,000 tons of uranium per year by the end of 2014. We are also producing oil, since November 2011. There is a refinery and our production covers internal demand; we do export oil products to Mali and Nigeria. We wish to improve our production increasing the output and exporting to Chad and Cameroon, with a production of 500,000 barrel a day. We have a good potential in exploiting coal. We can produce 200 to 500 MW of energy with our own production. Coal could be used to produce coal block for cooking fire, and this should help us with the problem of deforestation. We also produce gold and increasing quantities of cement, half a million tons a year.
People do not live on natural resources alone …
We do have good resources, but we are improving our infrastructures as well. Communication infrastructures are important to improve our competitiveness. We want to build a large dam on River Niger to produce electricity, and a new railway to have a cheap way to transport goods to Abidjan and Cotonou. Of course, we need to improve our agriculture and husbandry. We are a semi arid country, yet we have a large area of arable land, and water. We are now exploiting only 37% of arable land. We have thousands of metric cubic meters of water that can be used for watering our fields. This is why we want to use the surplus of our natural resources to improve agriculture. It is possible to think of exporting products that at the moment we import. Let me stress that we have great human resources in Niger. We are going to concentrate on training people to enable them to be more efficient.
Mali is going through though times. What will you do?
Mali is living a drama, a profound crisis. The country is still putting up with the consequences of the coup, and the north is suffering because of the rebellion. The rebellion has local roots, but it is fuelled by foreigners. Many fighters are Nigerians fighting for Al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb. They want to impose shaaria in the country. There is also a separatist tendency. Africa does not need more divisions. We have to respect the borders inherited from colonization, giving space to fragmentation does not help. We would need to unite more the countries, not increase their number. We need democratic and secular governments. The only solution to the crisis is to restore legality in Mali, bringing back democracy and security through negotiation. Our last resort will be to use war to restore peace.
Hostage taking in Niger is very lucrative. What are you doing?
It is true that Niger is suffering from this problem. We are working on capacity building and gathering of intelligence, to prevent kidnappings. This will protect visitors but also the citizens. We believe that Niger is a solid country and we shall be able to deal with the question of hostage taking. In the aftermath of the Libyan crisis, things could have been much worse. The forces of former leader Kaddafi went to Mali to settle, we are like an Island of peace in this region.