Print options

September 15, 2011

Niger Says Libyan Instability Undermines Security, Economy

by Scott Stearns

The instability surrounding the fall of Moammar Gadhafi is causing problems for some of Libya's neighbors, most notably Niger.

More than 150,000 people from Libya have already crossed the border into Niger. Some are ethnic Tuareg who fought in the Gadhafi army and are now fleeing revenge attacks under Libya's interim council.

Seeking help

The new civilian government in Niamey is asking for international help to better secure that long desert border and to care for such a large influx of people to a country that faces chronic food crises.

Ahmed Haidara, who heads a Tuareg Contact Group established by Niger and Mali to smooth relations between the Tuareg and Libya's new rulers, says the international community had the money for a war in Libya, so it should now assume the consequences. He says they should also find the money to help Niger face the insecurity now threatening its borders and find the money to finance development projects to best contain the influx of refugees.

Haidara says these are the consequences of a war that Niger did not want. So now Niger must find the best way to deal with its negative impacts.

Economic impact

Justice Minister Marou Amadou says the expense of increased patrols along the northern border are holding back Niger's development agenda at a time when the flow of arms across the Sahel could further destabilize a region where al-Qaida affiliated terrorists are already active.

Melegue Traore, a parliamentarian from neighboring Burkina Faso, met with political leaders in Niger this week to discuss regional security in the wake of the Libyan crisis.

Traore says the influx of weapons from Libya cannot but strengthen al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. He says this is clearly a golden opportunity for them, an opportunity that he believes Western governments did not anticipate.

Regional stability

Shehu Sani heads Nigeria's Civil Rights Congress and is the author of the book Civilian Dictators of Africa. He says Gadhafi's fall threatens regional stability.

"There is no doubt about it. If a post-crisis program is not unfolded immediately for Libya, we may end up with a lot of crises in the West African sub-region,” Sani said.

Sani says Gadhafi's legacy as a patron of rebel movements in West Africa poses a direct threat to Libya's new leaders.

"The peace and security of the new government in Libya is dependent on their relationship with their neighbors," noted Sani. "Gadhafi has over the years built a strong relationship with almost all rebel movements in Africa, not only in the Sahel and Niger Republic. And as such, the only way to ensure that perhaps members of his own government do not use such persons to threaten the stability of Libya is to reach out to them.”

Growing instability in northern Niger threatens one of the country's biggest outside investments - the huge French uranium mine in the town of Arlit. Terrorists from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb are still holding four French hostages taken from the mine during an attack last year.