Aug 12 2009

Dictatorship in the Desert

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 10:26 AM

President Obama request to aging, tired and unimaginative African leaders that they make way for a new generation isn’t being heard in the poor, landlocked nation of Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja, long oblivious to his country’s urgent problems, has this month shamefully rigged an election that revises the country’s “constitution” in order to permit him to remain in office for another three years — and then stand for re-election indefinitely.

Tandja’s move, in his tenth year in the presidency, amounts to the imposition of dictatorship. In a message to critics, Tandja has jailed one opposition leader who the BBC reports has been beaten in jail.

There is little outsiders can do to end the folly in Niger. Aid agencies already prop up the state for “humanitarian” reasons. The French, who could force through a change, are showing less willingness to undermine African leaders under Sarkozy. And the French may feel preoccupied with the sudden power gap in Gabon, where Omar Bongo’s death creates a succession challenge. Niger also offers few strategic benefits. Except for uranium, the country has nothing essential for the world.

Niger is an important bellwether for Muslim Africa. The country runs across the top of northern Nigeria and inhabits a belt of savannah of environmental signficance to the region. At best, outsiders should begin pleading with Niger’s president to announce a date when he will permanently retire from office. The best hope will be for Tandja to decide that three more years in office is enough. Maybe Mo Ibrahim, the African philanthropist and former telecom king, can be persuaded to give Tandja a hefty payment — and perhaps in France — as an inducement to leaving Niger alone.

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