After Mali, Front Line In War With Islamist Militants Could Shift To Niger

Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou
Charlotte Bozonnet

NIAMEY – The small restaurant sits on the corner of two sandy streets in Niger’s capital city, Niamey. It is here, at Le Toulousain, that two Frenchmen were kidnapped by AQIM (Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb) on Jan. 7, 2011.

The two young hostages – an aid worker and his friend – were killed during a failed rescue attempt, and their captors fled across the Mali border. In September 2011, the kidnapping of seven employees from French nuclear energy firm Areva working at the Arlit uranium mine in northern Niger, dealt another blow to the country.

Niger shares an 800-kilometer border with Mali. “The threats that exist in Mali constitute a domestic security problem for Niger,” Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou recently said.

Elected in 2011, Issoufou was one of the first heads of state to call for an intervention to get rid of the Tuareg Islamic militants who had taken control of northern Mali. “Never has a foreign intervention in Africa been as popular as the French one in Mali,” he declared.

Along with Togo, Niger was one of the first African countries to get involved in the UN’s African-led International Support Mission to Mali (AFISMA) – 680 Nigerien soldiers are currently stationed in Mali, most of them in Gao. “There was this belief that if we didn’t do anything, we’d be the next country on the list of narco-terrorist groups,” said Olivier de Sardan, a researcher at the Niamey-based Laboratory for Studies and Research into Social Dynamics and Local Development (LASDEL).

Niger has a lot to lose in the Malian conflict. One out of 12 million people living in Niger are of Tuareg ethnicity and the country has been through several insurgencies in the past, the last one being the Tuareg Rebellion of 2007-2009. Niger’s efforts to integrate the Tuareg into the political landscape while clamping down on armed groups has brought a somewhat fragile social peace. There is, however, still much discontent in the Tuareg strongholds of northern Niger, where the population – especially the younger generation – believes it is being cheated out of revenue from uranium mining. Northern Niger is home to one of the world’s largest deposits of uranium.

The most immediate threat for the country, however, is the arrival of Jihadist groups who are being run out of Mali. Northern Niger, with its mountainous terrain and easy exit routes to Chad and Libya in the east is the perfect region for Jihadists to regroup. These last few months, Niger has deployed 5,000 men at the Mali border. “Until now, these groups’ attempts to take refuge in the Aïr Mountains have failed,” assures a western diplomat: “AQIM’s goal is to get to south Libya where it has bases and contacts. Niger is worried its northern region will become a bridge to Libya.”

“Securing the Sahel”

Niger is a poor country, and war is expensive. The nation's army only has 12,000 troops and the territory they have to cover is huge. President Issoufou has repeatedly asked his Western allies – foremost France – for support. Since the beginning of the Mali crisis, Niger has been used by western countries as a base for military operations in the region, with Niamey airport being used for troop and equipment transport. French military instructors and liaison officers are also based here. “We are in favour of anything that will help us secure the Sahel region. We are in talks with several countries, including the U.S. and France,” said President Issoufou, when asked about plans for U.S. surveillance drone bases in Niger.

President Issoufou added: “I don’t believe the French intervention will end with the liberation of the cities of northern Mali. The object of this war should be not just to liberate Mali but to free the whole Sahel from this menace."

Niger’s geographic situation puts it at the center of the Sahel conflict. In the south, the country shares a 1,500-kilometer border with Nigeria, which is currently in the middle of a conflict with the Boko Haram Islamist militant group. The north, where the uranium riches lie, is a drugs and weapons smuggling route. “What Niger is most worried about is retaliation from AQIM or its allies. A new attack would be devastating for this country,” said an observer.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!