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Niger Remains Suspended from Regional Alliance

West Africa's regional alliance is maintaining its suspension of Niger over what it calls unconstitutional political change. Niger's government is disappointed. Its opponents are pleased. Both say they will cooperate with the new regional mediator, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

The Economic Community of West African States says it will not reinstate Niger because President Mamadou Tandja is ruling without a constitutional mandate.

"There was maintenance in power through undemocratic means," said Mahamane Toure is the ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs.
"And then an unconstitutional change happened."

Opposition parties boycotted an August referendum that changed the constitution to give President Tandja three more years in power. He sacked judges and lawmakers who opposed him and replaced them with a new court and a new legislature.

If President Tandja did not like the constitution, Toure says he should have had new elections.

"If he does not want the constitution, he is extinguished like the parliament, like the former court of justice, the head of state goes with them. When he adopts a new constitution, he should go through election," he said. "If he had gone through election with the other partners, ECOWAS would have nothing to say."

At its annual summit in Nigeria this week, ECOWAS said Niger would remain suspended from the alliance until the political crisis is resolved. Regional mediation by former Nigerian president Abdulsalami Abubakar has made little progress. So West African leaders expanded the negotiating team to include Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and a representative from the African Union.

Amadou Djibo is the spokesman for the government delegation to those talks.

Djibo says ECOWAS is asking both the government and its political opponents to reach a new solution with the new mediation team. He says the Tandja government was hoping ECOWAS would reinstate Niger at the Abuja summit. But since none of its sanctions were eased, Djibo says the government will continue to work with the new mediation team.

Mamane Lokoko is a member of the opposition delegation to the regional negotiations.

Lokoko says ECOWAS is insisting on a return to constitutional order in Niger before it suspends its sanctions. He says expanding the mediation team internationalizes the conflict because including the African Union will more closely involve the European Union and the United Nations.

President Tandja says he needs more time in office to complete several large infrastructure projects including a Chinese-financed oil refinery and a French uranium mine.

ECOWAS Commissioner Toure says Niger's continuing isolation risks the very projects President Tandja has worked so hard to get started.

"Niger has achieved so much under President Tandja's leadership through these ten years through consensus. But if you break this consensus, the country with the international pressure is not going to achieve anything," said Toure. "All the big projects President Tandja is working for is because the international community is there to help them. If you do not have partners, what will you achieve? So this is the message ECOWAS is trying to send him."

Despite his regional isolation, there are no signs that any of President Tandja's big foreign investment projects are threatened by his ruling beyond the end of his second five-year term.