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Niger President Identifies Poverty, Bad Politicians as Threats to Democracy

President Tandja Mamadou of Niger has identified poverty, hunger and bad politicians as the greatest threat to the development of viable democracy in Niger and most parts of Africa. In an interview this week with Ibrahim Ahmed of the VOA Hausa service, President Tandja said, “Developing a viable democracy in a poor country such as Niger, where poverty and hunger are commonplace, is often difficult. We told President Bush that we need help in these areas is democracy is to have a foothold.”

President Tandja Mamadou of Niger and four other African presidents met with President George Bush at the White House on Monday, 13 June 2005.

The Niger president said some of the things discussed at the meeting with President Bush included the need for the United States to give support in critical areas towards bringing about sustainable development and democracy in different parts of Africa. He added that if the United States and the international community want democracy to blossom in Africa, then they must support the rapid economic and social development of countries such as Niger and other emerging democracies on the African continent.

President Mamadou said issues affecting democratic development were discussed, but noted that President Bush made no promises. The Niger president said African leaders and their peoples also love democracy. “We and our people love democracy and want it to flourish," said Mr. Mamadou. "We the leaders want our people to enjoy the dividends of democracy. But we call on other nations to help African nations working hard and struggling to establish viable democracies.

On the recent debt cancellation granted 18 nations, of which 14 are from Africa and Niger is one of them, President Mamadou praised the G-8 finance ministers. “My country Niger was one of the countries that benefited. We are grateful for the forgiveness. We are very thankful,” he said, while expressing hope that when Niger returns later to apply for new development loans, the doors will not be shut.

Asked what he intends to do with funds freed up by the debt forgiveness, President Mamadou told VOA that his first priority is to tackle serious food shortages in Niger. “ I will concentrate on the development of the rural farming communities by providing them with water, electricity and small scale agricultural loans and machinery,” he said.

President Mamadou called on other rich countries to offer more direct aid to poor nations, particularly now that democratization is beginning to change things. He said most of the loans and aid in the past where not applied to areas specified by the recipient government, but dictated by the donor or the organization granting the loan. He wants greater African input into how aid monies will be used. "They should not impose on us what these funds are to be used for," he said, "but rather they should work with us in deciding the areas of greatest need.”