By Kayleigh Redmond
Unlike the turmoil surrounding the most recent U.S. presidential election, Niger is anticipating a positive political milestone: an election that could result in the first peaceful transition of power in the country since it gained independence from France in 1960. An uncontested political changeover could mark a new era of democratic, economic, and social success for Niger and its people.
On December 27, 2020, more than 5.1 million Nigeriens cast their votes for a new president. In Niger, the president is elected to a five-year term by an absolute majority vote, which means that in order to win, a candidate needs to receive more than half of the total votes submitted. In this case, both main candidates – Former Minister of the Interior Mohamed Bazoum and Former president Mahamane Ousmane – failed to reach this threshold. A runoff election, which will finally determine the winner of the race, will be held on February 21st.
Outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou has said that he will respect the outcome of the election and, unlike his predecessors, not seek an illegal third term. To him, the election represents “a new, successful page in our country’s democratic history.” A transition of this nature would be a welcome change from what the people of Niger have dealt with in the past.
Source: UNCTAD XIII Opening Ceremony
Niger is a country with a long history of military coups and insurrection. In 2010, former president Mamadou Tandja was captured and removed from office after he established a constitutional referendum that extended his term for an additional three years and granted him more power. Niger’s parliament and the constitutional court declared the referendum illegal, but Tandja remained in power as a dictator. As a result, Niger was suspended from the Economic Community of West African States. The European Union and the United States imposed travel restrictions and put a hold on some forms of developmental aid to the country.
Political stability and the success of a country go hand in hand. The uncertainty that follows a forceful political takeover (like the aftermath of Tandja’s regime) can lead to reduced foreign aid and investment. As the poorest nation in the world, the Nigerien government depends a great deal on the support they receive from outside sources.
Quality of life is always affected by the quality of government. Human development has a better chance of being prioritized in a country with a stable and reliable political environment. When a country is respected for its political stability and democratic values, it is more likely to attract support from developed nations wanting to see it thrive. Niger is at that turning point, coming into its own as a strategic socio-political partner worthy of support in the long-term.
While the results of the election are yet to be determined, there is hope that an important precedent will be set later this month. If President Issoufou holds true to his word and peacefully passes the torch to the winning candidate, this could be the start of an upward trend in political stability and greater prosperity in Niger.