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Niger on the brink

Country votes on whether president can extend his authoritarian rule.

Opposition leaders talk of Tandja’s stealthy “coup d’etat” and warn of “a slide into authoritarianism.” They are not alone. At a June meeting of the regional bloc ECOWAS, neighboring countries were quick to criticise Tandja’s moves as “non-democratic.”

After military coups in Mauritania last August and Guinea last December, the double assassination of military and political leaders in Guinea-Bissau in March and a woeful election in Nigeria in 2007, ECOWAS is keen to ensure the region’s beleaguered reputation is not further sullied.

Denunciations have flowed in from the European Union (“very concerned”), the African Union (“extremely concerned”) and the United Nations (“deeply concerned”). The U.S. said that Tandja’s “decisions undermine … good governance and the rule of law” and the EU has delayed aid payments worth about $14 million.

But Tandja can rely on the backing of both Libya and China. The latter has a $5 billion plan for an oil pipeline through the Sahara desert and is investing $700 million in uranium extraction. With these friends with deep pockets, Tandja is able to ignore other international condemnation. A trickier voice to ignore would be that of France, the former colonial power. France's state-owned nuclear firm, Areva, is constructing a $1.7-billion open-cast uranium mine deep in the desert.

The Imouraren mine will be Areva’s third in Niger and is expected to produce 5,000 tons of uranium a year from 2012 adding to Niger’s current output of 3,300 tons — or 7.5 percent of world production — and elevating it to the world’s second biggest producer. Current prices
value uranium at $55 a pound.

But since nuclear power provides three-quarters of France’s electricity needs and much of this is fueled by Niger's uranium, President Nicolas Sarkozy is unlikely to bring any real pressure to bear. In March he visited Niger to cement the Imouraren deal, by then it was already clear that Tandja was scheming for an infinite agenda.

Africa’s Third Term Winners and Losers

Algeria: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 72. Elected president in 1999, removed term limits 2008, won his ‘third term’ in 2009.

Burkina Faso: Blaise Campaore, 58. Seized power in 1987, removed term limits 1997, won his ‘third term’ in 2005.

Cameroon: Paul Biya, 76. Became president in 1982, removed term limits 2008, due for ‘third term’ election in 2011.

Chad: Idriss Deby, 57. Seized power 1990, removed term limits 2005, won his ‘third term’ in 2006.

Uganda: Yoweri Museveni, 65. Seized power in 1986, removed term limits in 2005, won his ‘third term’ in 2006.

Malawi’s Bakili Muluzi, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obesanjo and Zambia’s Frederic Chiluba all tried and failed to remove term limits so were forced to stand down.


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