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Can Niger's new rulers deliver democracy and food?


The majority of people in Niger want to see change after February's military coup. Exiled politicians have returned. But do they have the answers to the many types of problem facing the country after ten years of Mahamadou Tandja's unpopular regime?


Since the coup, political figures have returned from exile.

The first to return was former President Mahamane Ousmane, the country's first democratically elected leader who was deposed in a military coup in 1996 and is currently President of the parliament of the west African community, Ecowas.

The second figure to return was former Prime Minister Hama Amadou who was held in Koutoukalle prison by Tandja for months.

The military junta arrested about 600 people from the former government, including former Prime Minister Seyni Oumarou and former ministers Mahamane Ali Lamine Zene and Garba Lampo, accusing them of stealing from public funds.

Now the country that was once known in the west as a laboratory for democracy live up to that expectation?

The military rulers have promised to organise democratic elections but a date has yet to be set.

And there are huge social problems, most notably hunger, but also health care, education and economic development.

Transitional Prime Minister Mahamadou Danda has made several contacts with international aid organisations in order to solve the food crisis facing the country. But they face a huge task.

Niger is a largely desert area in west Africa, larger than Nigeria but with a smaller population  at about 15 million people. Its people face several social and political problems:

  • Hunger: more than three-quarters of the population lack food and need it urgently to cover the nutritrional gap caused by low production during the rainy season;
  • Education: 28.7 per cent adult literacy, with an estimated 15 per cent of women able to read; 80 per cent of girls aged between seven and 12 are not going to school.  
  • Health: Very poor health coverage in rural areas. Only four out of 10 babies live till five years.
  • Economy:  Dependent on uranium whose price has fallen. The country imported almost 70 per cent of goods consumed. 70 000 receive regular wages or salaries.




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