Archive for February 21st, 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ten Years in Ali Baba’s Cave not Extractive

Le Républicain Niger noted in March last year that a visit by France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy had been a rather short one – the president spent four hours there, discussing French-Nigerien cooperation. “The Nigeriens must know how much money is paid (…) where the money goes, how it is used. These are the methods of the twenty-first century”, Sarkozy reportedly said at the meeting with the Nigerien EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) committee back then.

If  Sarkozy decides to spend more time in Niamey this year, he may not meet Mamadou Tandja again, at least not in Tandja’s former capacity as Niger’s president, unless the man is reinstated after this week’s coup d’état. Apparently, the country’s military felt a desire for some more transparency, too, at least for their eyes:

[..] Mr Tandja’s increasingly undemocratic hold on power put support from the EU and other key Western donors at risk.
This may explain why he felt the need to cultivate relations with Libya and Venezuela, both of which he visited in recent months.
And it was rumoured in France that he was considering the award of a crucial uranium mining contract to the Chinese, or even the Iranians, potentially threatening the position of the French nuclear group Areva, for whom Niger is a vital source of supply.
Some sources have suggested that talk of a deal with the Chinese whetted the appetite of some in the military for a share of the material rewards, intensifying tensions within the military over Mr Tandja’s monopolisation of power.

Tandja had been elected president in 1999 and re-elected in 2004. He was scheduled to step down by the end of 2009, but apparently found that even ten years in Ali Baba’s cave hadn’t been extractive enough. He sought a constitutional amendment scrapping time limits on presidential terms. He said he just needed more time to complete projects such as the country’s first oil refinery, the construction of a dam on the River Niger and the mining of new uranium sites in the north of the country.

International reactions to the coup, including Xinhua‘s, appear to have been rather negative so far.

But before all others, two questions are lingering: where will the uranium go from now? And how many questions will European countries ask if Niger’s new rulers decide to award the crucial uranium mining contract in question to France?

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