Niger’s economic development
Although the term ‘Third World’ was at first used to refer to those countries that were neither supporting the West nor the East during the time of the cold war, it has evolved to become a term that it is associated with the ‘developing countries’ also referred to as emerging economies which are found in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin-American.
Ever since Niger gained independence from France in 1960, she has not had an ample chance at developing and growing economically. For the first four decades after gaining independence Niger was under either dictatorial single party or military rule. It was not until 1993 that Niger had a democratic government which after facing deep internal rifts came to an almost complete collapse in 1996 when Colonel Ibrahim Bare led a coup de tat against the government (CIA, 2008). Over the years the political situation has continued to deteriorate. In February 2007, the Nigerien Movement for Justice (NMJ) was formed and their activities have brought the country onto the edge of an insurrection (CIA, 2008).
Political stability is the core factor that spurs development in a nation therefore, the internal civil unrest within Niger has been a hindrance to economic growth. She is one of the world’s most deprived countries (CIA, 2008). Niger’s economy is agricultural based with farmers who practice small scale subsistence farming and use traditional tools. There are usually long stretches of drought which disrupt farming since irrigation is carried out minimally. This not withstanding, Niger faces several environmental challenges such as the erosion and wearing out of soils, cutting down of trees leading to severe deforestation and the threat of most wildlife going extinct because of poaching (CIA, 2008).
Why Niger is considered a third world country
According the Human Development Index (HDI) for the year 2007/2008, used by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Niger is ranked at position 174 out of the 177 countries indicated, with an HDI of 0.374. The HDI for a country is based on its GDP per capita (PPP), life expectancy at birth and adult literacy rates. This is in an attempt to measure the quality of human life, and not just economic growth (UNDP, 2008). UNDP data gives the life expectancy at the time of birth in Niger to be 55.8 years, which cannot be compared with Japan’s 82.3 years. Adult literacy rate which stands at a paltry 28.7%, cannot be compared to that of Georgia (100%) neither can the GDP per capita of 871US$ measure to that of Luxembourg which is almost eighty times greater (UNDP, 2008). A special index has been formulated by UNDP to classify developing economies known as the Human Poverty Index (HPI). This index, which concentrates on the number of people who live without even the most basic amenities, put Niger in position 104 out of the 108 countries listed. 54.7% of Nigeriens live in abject poverty (UNDP, 2008). If analysed by the measures that are internationally used as indicators of development then Niger lags far behind. Whether it is in sectors of education or availability of social amenities such as sanitation, health care and infrastructure, she has a long way to go.
The challenges faced and the steps that Niger needs to take in order to foster development and economic growth
The use of the expression ‘brain-drain’ became widespread in the 1960s in reference to the loss of skilled labour by poorer countries, more so to their richer counterparts. Doctors, nurses, engineers, educators and accountants were drawn by the ‘greener pastures’ abroad. They were lured by the prospects of higher pay, better working and living conditions (Amin, 1974). Brain-drain does not only target those who are already in the professional field but also students ho are aspiring for higher education. Brilliant students who have excelled at the high school level gain scholarships abroad and only a handful of these ever find their way back home (Amin, 1974).
Though the literacy levels are very low in Niger, the few professionals clamour for ways to leave the country, hence institutions are understaffed and do to provide quality service. Since a government cannot restrict emigration, the issue of brain-drain is one that is difficult to check. However, Niger and other affected countries are working on ways to curb this crippling issue (Amin, 1974).
The Nigerien government can formulate a system to stall professionals form leaving the country once they have finished their studies. This can be done by stipulating a compulsory period of public service before the professional is free to do as he or she wishes. This method can be better improved by certification being awarded only after the end of the service in the public sector is finished (Amin, 1974). Though emigration cannot be altogether stopped, it can be deterred by barring émigré destinations by implementing immigration policies that would see to this. The other option would be to counter the effects for immigration by replenishing the outgoing professionals by hiring professionals from poorer countries. However, for Niger this is not viable since Niger is at the bottom of the ladder. It would benefit the country if she had stronger links with her skilled labourers as well as those who are abroad (Amin, 1974).
Education is a key element in the quest for development. The world is going technological and it is essential that one be literate so as to be able to keep up with the advances of globalization. The education system of Niger is based on the same one as that of its former colonial master France and it has been only in recent years that adaptations have been made to incorporate the immediate needs and traditions of the nation. Primary education is compulsory for children between the ages of seven and fifteen with a literacy of 28.7% in the year 2006. The government only spent 3.4% of the GDP on the education sector. The main shortcoming of the education system in Niger is that it is underfunded and poorly structured. There needs to be done an extensive revision of the syllabus so that it tackles current issues and provides workable solutions for them (CIA, 2008).
Amy Chua (2002) tackles head on the question of how policies put in place by international neo-liberal institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation limit the development efforts of third world economies. These institutions constantly make the mistake of believing that they have tailor made and instant solutions to the problems of underdeveloped countries. Chua (2002) argues that this approach is completely wrong since the west’s guidelines to democracy cannot work for third world countries because there are glaring discrepancies between the west and these developing countries. Chua (2002) focuses on how the exportation of western democracy can do more harm than good if there are no proper institution in place within the targeted country to support it. This is because in countries with several ethnic groups, western democracy might b the channel that empowers a particular minority while in turn oppressing the others. This brings about a scenario where rivalry is high and inter-ethnic hatred is strongly felt and the frustrated majority groups are stirred to take action. For this trend which Chua (2002) refers to as ‘Market-Dominant minorities’ she gives the example of the Chinese dominating the East Asian market, the Jews in Russia and whites in Zimbabwe. These minorities within their countries are in control of a large amount of the resources within their countries.
Niger has five major ethnic groups: the Hausa, who make up slightly over 50% of the national population, the Djerma Sonrai who constitute 21%, the Tuareg and Peuhl who make up 9% each and the Kanour Manga making up 4.7%. The remaining 1% is a mottle of Fulani, Toubou, Kanuri and Arabs (CIA, 2008). The Tuaregs and the Toubou ethnic groups had, since 1990, been in opposition of the government since they felt that they had been sidelined. To curb their rebellion, the government signed a peace treaty with the two minority groups in April 1995. However, the insurgences culminated in the overthrowing and subsequent assassination of the then president Ibrahim Bare (CIA, 2008). In 2007 the Tuaregs formed the Niger Movement for Justice to voice their needs which they felt that were not being properly addressed. They have resorted to the use of landmines and attacking military bases. This has resulted in a drop in revenue earned from tourism and deterred investments in mining (CIA, 2008).
Chua’s rationale can apply to the case of Niger, though more of in a political sense. Niger was under French rule for over a century, before it was introduced to western democracy. However neither the French nor the democratic ideals of the west put into account the pre-existing ethnic divisions. The implosion of suppressed hatred and differences is being experienced in the current day with no end in sight. What this spells out clearer than words that African countries, Niger included should be allowed to formulate their own democracies (Chua, 2002). Chua (2002) acknowledges that talking about ethnicity is sensitive, but it is an issue that cannot be simply brushed under the carpet. She, however acknowledges that these minority groups cannot be entirely blamed for violence poured out at them but calls for the seeking of a solution that will strike the most suitable equilibrium for all parties concerned
It is a well known fact that colonisation of African countries did not end with declaration of independence for African states; it just evolved and took a different and more oppressive form. Why neo-colonialism is so dangerous is because there is the illusion of freedom hence the colonised do not feel the need to rise in rebellion or protest.
Niger has limited international trade be it in imports or exports. She imports commodities such as machinery, vehicle spare parts, petroleum, cereals and other foodstuffs. It comes as no surprise that her chief trading partner is France accounting for 15.5% of her imports, and is also her former colonial master. France is Niger’s largest export partner as well, taking up 50.45 of her exports. This tie to former colonial masters dissuades African countries from seeking out new and more profitable markets. Though they get a ready market for their goods, it is not always at the best price (CIA).
Niger is a country that has a long steep climb ahead of it if it is to work towards development. The challenges are myriad and complex and for any serious improvements to be made there would have to be a complete restructuring inside and out. Niger has to boost its education system; the government should work at getting the educators needed to ensure that students at all levels of learning acquire a quality education; there should also be established more centres of learning, be they primary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities. The Nigerien government should allocate more funds in the national budget to education.
It is about time that Niger strived for a more technological bent. This would result in better farming methods that could make use of irrigation, better services in public institutions such as hospitals and improved learning in schools. Niger is endowed with natural resources such as deposits of iron ore, coal and petroleum which the Nigerien government should develop the capacity to exploit. It is past time that Niger strove to establish a true democracy with fair and open elections. Civil strife is the death knell for economic development and no true progress can be made without political stability. These hurdles, if looked at in their sum total may appear almost insurmountable. It must however not be forgotten that any journey has to start with a single step and no matter how small the step may be, it is greater than standing on the spot or moving backwards.
Central Intelligence Agency (2008). The World Fact book – Niger
Last retrieved on December 5th 2008 from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ng.html#People
Chua Amy (2002) World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. NY, Random House Publishers.
Samir Amin (1974) Neo-colonialism in West Africa .NY, Monthly Review Press
United Nations Development Program (2008) Human Development Index: country Fact Sheets – Niger
Last retrieved on December 5th 2008 from http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/country_fact_sheets/