The fiftieth anniversary of Niger’s independence
Niger is celebrating this year, like its peers in the sub-region, the 50th anniversary of its independence obtained on Wednesday 3 August 1960. Shortly before this date, it had initiated an institutional experiment as part of what is known as Deferre’s ‘loi cadre’ (Deferre Overseas Reform Act), with the establishment of an autonomous government in 1957. Djibo Bakary was its first leader. He led it until the referendum of September 1958 which marked the entry of Niger in the Franco-African community, the installing of Diori Hamani as vice president in the Cabinet government and the gradual withdrawal of Djibo Bakari from political life. The political class was then torn between supporters of immediate independence in 1958 (led by Djibo Bakari and his party, SAWABA) as Guinea had done, and supporters of keeping Niger in the Franco-African community (led by Diori Hamani and the RDA). Finally, independence was granted by France against all expectation through the systematic setting up of legal instruments, without any preliminary preparations. In a country like Niger, which was emerging from around sixty years of domination, everything needed to be set up given the inadequacies of the colonial legacy: a poorly developed school system, an embryonic health system, national construction to be consolidated in a vast country twice the size of France, administration with limited human resources, etc. Howeverin fifty years what a distance covered but also still remains to be done.
While Niger had just joined the Franco-African community following the referendum of 1958, here it was, a few months after, beginning a process of empowerment which would lead it to independence. From 18 December 1958, Niger became a member State of the community and took the name of the Republic of Niger. On the same day, the Legislative Assembly became an appointed assembly with its main mission to establish a constitution for Niger. On 30 December 1958 a constitutional committee was set up to draw up and submit to the government of the Republic of Niger a draft constitution. On 23 November 1959 a law decided on Niger’s flag and currency. Another law dated 24 December 1959 set the official holidays of the new republic. On 11 July 1960, a special agreement between France and Niger on the devolution from the Community would enable Niger to obtain ‘with the full consent and respect of the French Republic, international sovereignty and independence’. On 30 July 1960, a law established the Legislative Assembly of Niger as the National Assembly. On 1st August 1960, the 60-45 law effectively transformed Niger into an independent and sovereign Republic. This independence would be proclaimed on 3 August 1960 midnight by Diori Hamani himself in front of a room-full of guests. The rank, prerogatives and powers of the Head of State are conferred to the President of the Cabinet of Ministers. Diori Hamani became the Head of State. It was not until 12 July 1961 that a national anthem, La nigérienne was chosen by the new power. The Republic’s coat-of-arms would be adopted much later. Thus, Niger would achieve independence quietly, adorned with its new symbols and thus setting a new dynamic in motion that would enable the young State to make its entrance on the international scene.
Those who lived through this period and accompanying events remember this period with much emotion and pride. They consider that independence enabled them to obtain dignity and governmental responsibility, as well as distinguished administrative duties. For them, the future took a new turn and new avenues of hope.
Of course this independence was not prepared or planned. It was, however, completely assumed by the authorities who were already exercising power but who from then on, had paraded the new finery of the sovereign State and full member of the international community. It should be said that Niger’s particular situation did not very much predispose the new leaders to break with the former colonial power. The latter was present with its army spread across the territory, but also with its senior administrative staff turned technical assistants, but kept in their posts and who exercised responsibility at all levels. France’s presence had even increased. Political or formal independence was discussed as if saying that other aspects of independence still had to be conquered. This was a discourse widely shared in particular among the militant left, symbolised by militant students in FEANF (Federation of Students of Black Africa in France) or the USN (Union of Nigerien Academics), but also by politicians from the former SAWABA party and its allies, since then discredited or forced into exile.
A real but mixed result
This report can be examined by considering several angles:
Politically, Niger, in 50 years, has gone from a one-party regime (1960-1974) to military dictatorship (1974-1987). It only really began its process of democratization in 1990, under the Second Republic. This was certainly turbulent due to the numerous coups d’état which left their mark. In fact, since its national conference (July- November 1993), three military coups d’état and four constitutions were adopted in less than twenty years. One can only hope, however, that this chaotic evolution gradually creates a basis for a satisfactory sustainable democracy. Very soon, next October, a new constitution will be submitted for adoption by the Nigerien people to create again the basis for a new start. It will be the seventh since its accession to independence.
Internationally, Niger experienced very dynamic diplomacy but whose place has gradually declined. Thus, Niger was very present in cooperating with African countries within Francophonie, with President Hamani Diori who was largely responsible for setting up international organisations such as OCAM (African and Malagasy Common Organisation) and ACCT (Cultural and Technical Cooperation Agency). It was also under his presidency that Nigerien diplomacy took off with the nomination of ambassadors throughout the world, official trips and the structuring of its diplomatic administration. During Seini Kountché’s military regime, placements in internationally renowned organisations were made: Idé Oumarou as the head of the Organisation of African Unity, Hamid Algabit at the head of OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Conference), Brah Mahamane at the head of CILSS (Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel). Nigeriens could also be seen participating in various and diverse posts as part of the international civil service, in particular in UN peace-keeping missions. Thereafter, this tended to slow down, and even stagnate compared to the dynamics of the beginning of the 1960s. The persistence of political crises and the bad economic situation have a bearing on this decline in performance.
In addition, Nigerien administration – in a very early embryonic State at the moment of independence - gradually expanded with national civil servants and today covers most sectors in economic and social life. Despite the difficulty it has to function (‘stock dilution’ of the best management into politics, international civil service, and expertise, etc.) in this context of a generalized crisis, it must be admitted that it exists and continues, even if corrupted by malfunctioning which dangerously compromise its efficiency in executing its duties as a public service.
For its part, the Nigerien economy from the beginning was based on income from groundnuts, and then uranium and today new mining prospects are opening up with new partners such as China. However, it must be said that it is a country greatly dependent on external aid, in particular for its public investments and to a large extent its functioning.
Ultimately, it is Nigerien society that has greatly changed. It has undergone many mutations. For example, the youth represent a large demographic weighting that due to the country’s high fertility rate, points to a population that will double its number in the next twenty years. The question arises of course, of generating resources to deal with, in terms of public policies, these changes.
Challenges for the future
Today, numerous challenges have arisen in the country. Independence has been obtained but is facing a food crisis with disastrous consequences. Here is the issue of its food sovereignty that arises. Beyond this crucial and topical problem, it is all about the economic direction of the country. Not only that it does not go beyond an economy based on natural resources, widely considered as a prospect for the future, but that the use of income that has accumulated through mining exploitation has not generated a firmly embedded national economy, part of the world economy, and capable of respond to people’s expectations in terms of jobs and well-being, and eradicating poverty which affects more than two-thirds of the Nigerien population. In addition the challenge of democracy and governance is openly asked as seen by the recurrence of military coups d’états that unquestionably shows the need for institutional stabilization indispensable to begin economic development.
Mahaman Tidjani Alou
Professor Agrégé in Political Science
Abdou Moumouni University of Niamey.