last thought on Niger and Gadaffi

Little did I know Niger was going to be thrown into the headlines as much as it was last week when a lone French military source quoted by Reuters suggested that Colonel Gadaffi may be planning his escape route across the vast, unpoliced desert border between Libya, Niger and Algeria. I’d deliberately chosen Niger for a visit because it seemed to be one of those forgotten places, and I was keen to do some feature reporting instead of getting dragged into the media frenzy. How wrong I was!

Niger faced a stark choice – if Gadaffi was on his way, they owed him big time for hundreds of kilometres of tarmac roads, donations of agricultural equipment such as tractors, and oh, the small matter that Gadaffi has funded the political campaigns of the President Mahamadou Issoufou in the past. On the other hand, the widely-praised achievement of democracy in February this year meant that EU sanctions against Niger were recently lifted and the US had begun to re-engage.

What do you do when the World’s Most Wanted Man turns up on your doorstep? Can you afford to throw away that hard-earned international (western) respect?

Thankfully for Niger, it seems Gadaffi is not finished yet. Some time has been bought to decide what to do with Libyan refugees.

But the whole story has really served to shed light on the enormous impact the disintegration of Libya is having on its African neighbours. Even if Gadaffi doesn’t show up, Niger still has to deal with at least ’32 senior members of his inner circle’ who are now in Niamey, the hundreds of armed Tuareg fighters (who led a rebellion against the state from 2007-9) who are said to be returning, and the more than one hundred thousand ordinary Nigeriens who have fled Libya since the start of the uprising, and crossed thousands of kilometres of desert to arrive back in Agadez.