09 Feb Interview with Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri, Ambassador of the Republic of Niger to the US
BF: How important has the relationship between Niger and the US been since your country gained independence from France in 1960?
Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri: The US was one of the first nations to sign a cooperation agreement with the Republic of Niger, which happened two years after we gained independence in 1962. Since then, in one form or another, the US has been a permanent ally. We don’t only value our partnership with the US, but it is our largest bilateral donor at the moment and it gave us more aid funding than any other country in 2023.
In terms of how the US supports us, we cooperate in three key areas. The first, which is both important and urgent for us, is security. In the Sahel region, we have insurgents, Jihadists and Islamists that are trying to attack and bring down established states. All the countries in the region are facing security threats from these groups. In Niger, we have them at all our borders: to the south with Boko Haram; to the north with Libya, where there has been basically no state since the collapse of the Gaddafi regime and where there are many armed groups conducting illegal arms, human, cigarette and drug trafficking; to the west, we have the two main Jihadist groups, Isis and Al-Qaeda, in Mali; and we have local denominations of the same groups on our border with Burkina Faso. We are basically fighting a war against these groups.
The US is supporting us in this by providing intelligence, training our militaries and special forces in Niger, and we have military officials in the US who are studying at academies in Washington DC and Indianapolis. That support vital for us. The US is also providing equipment — for example, we have received three C-130 aircraft to transport troops. The US is a main partner in our efforts in this area and we feel the war we are fighting is a global war: we believe US security starts in the Sahel.
Secondly, the US is supporting our economy and development. We have a compact with the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) involving roughly $500 million over five years. This is helping Niger to tackle one of our biggest historical challenges, which is to change our agriculture sector. Because of climate change, and since we are a landlocked country just below the Sahara desert, we don’t receive enough rain to grow our crops.
With the help of the MCC, we are in the process of transforming our agriculture sector by utilizing large-scale irrigation systems for the first time in our country’s history. This will completely change our agriculture and make it less dependent on rain, which is unpredictable and erratic because of climate change.
So far, 50% of the US’s aid portfolio to Niger has been for humanitarian efforts: as a result of wars, we have refugees coming here from Chad, Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere, mainly because we are the least destabilized place in the region. We also have internally displaced people due to Islamist attacks. The US’s humanitarian assistance includes shelters, schools, food and so on for these displaced people.
The US has also helped us to strengthen our democratic governance and our institutions. Two years ago, we were able to achieve a democratic transfer of power between two elected presidents. The US is enabling us to sustain democracy, our institutions and the rule of law, as well as to support our judicial system, civil society and freedom of the press. That is not only helping the government, it is helping the entire country and the people of Niger.
In addition, the US and the MCC are assisting us to do something else very important: fight poverty. Niger has the highest annual population growth rate worldwide. It grows by 4% a year, which means that we double our population every 14-18 years. Practically, this means that, every year, you have more children to enroll in school and immunize. Because of the population growth, our economic growth and gross domestic product per capita do not grow. For example, between 2000 and 2020, the economy of Niger grew by an annual average of slightly under 7% but, because of high population growth, GDP per capita has barely increased by 1% or 1.5%.
One more important US program I need to mention targets women, particularly in education. We believe that, if we can keep girls at school for longer, they will start to have babies later in life, which will result in lower population growth. In fact, almost all US programs in Niger include or target women and girls, from education initiatives to other forms of empowering them.
In summary: the US is Niger’s biggest partner, we are happy with our partnership and we expect it to continue and grow.
BF: You have spoken about aid, cooperation and, with reference to the economy, agriculture. The US is also investing in the country’s infrastructure, including road links between Niger and Benin. Meanwhile, President Mohamed Bazoum has repeatedly stressed that Niger open to more investors. What are the most important industries or areas of development that your government is promoting that could have a major impact on the economy and attract US investment?
Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri: The government has a development plan for Niger. One pillar of that is a large infrastructure development program. You mentioned the road with Benin that is being funded by the US, but in fact we have to improve all our infrastructure.
A second priority for development is our mineral sector. Niger has oil reserves, but at the moment we are producing barely 25,000 barrels a day, which is very low. In the coming months, we intend to raise that to 100,000 barrels. We also have many areas open for exploration. In September last year, when our president visited the US for the UN General Assembly, he spent three days in Houston, Texas and that was not by chance. We think US companies do not have a large enough presence in our oil exploration, exploitation and export sectors. Currently, we are only working with Chinese companies, simply because they were the only ones willing to take the risk initially.
We have plenty of opportunities in mining overall. For instance, uranium is our traditional mining export and we have fields open for exploration of that mineral as well. Notably, Niger has a brand new investment code that gives tax exemption for five years to all companies under classic conditions.
Another priority sector for development is the digital economy, from the internet to other communication technologies. And, of course, while I mentioned that the MCC is helping to transform our agriculture sector, we are very open to more investments in this area. For example, through our livestock breeding, we have been important producers of meat, which also needs to be processed, stored, exported and so on.
When our president was in the US for the US-African leaders’ summit last December, I had the chance to meet a US senator from Arkansas, and we discussed potential investments in our rice sector. Our current productivity is very low, so we need investors that can improve this productivity, not only for our local market but to benefit the rest of Africa.
We are open and would be delighted to receive investments from the US private sector. As the Ambassador of the Republic of Niger, I am here in Washington DC, very open and willing to help anytime. If any businessperson wants to meet us, we will facilitate it to the best of our ability.