Civil society leaders arrested in Niger as President Hollande visits

Monday, 21 July, 2014

West African civil society coalition ROTAB has made a few appearances on these pages in relation to the Escher-like staircase of agreement between Areva and the Niger government over Areva’s uranium concerns in that country (see here here and here for examples). For those that don’t know, ROTAB is the Niger chapter of the Publish What You Pay (PWYP) coalition, a civil society group dedicated - in their own words - to “an open and accountable extractive sector, so that oil, gas and mining revenues improve the lives of women, men and youth in resource-rich countries.” 

In Niger, PWYP/ROTAB has “focussed on several issues, including the implementation of EITI, budget transparency, capacity building and raising awareness among of mining related issues (e.g use of cyanide in gold mining) in extractive communities. The coalition has also been involved in advocacy at the national level."

This hasn’t been easy:

“For years, PWYP activists were subject to arrests and intimidations for their work. However, the situation for civil society and natural resource transparency has greatly improved under the new government, installed in 2011. Niger's new constitution has enshrined the principle of natural resource transparency and the current Minister of Justice, Marou Amadou, had been active in the Publish What You Pay coalition before the government change.”

Well, you might think - given that entente over Areva has finally broken out in Niger [] - that things go easier for ROTAB & co. these days. Not so. 

For we learn via PWYP that just as President Hollande made his recent visit to Niger, on 18 July ten members of ROTAB were arrested in Niamey. Their statement:

Publish What You Pay condemns the arrest of Ali Idrissa, ROTAB and PWYP Niger coordinator, taken from his home by Nigerien police at 04:00 am this morning. Ten other members of ROTAB were arrested later this morning. These arrest followed yesterday's press conference where Mr. Idrissa discussed AREVA’s recent deal with Niger and the visit of the French President François Hollande to West Africa. Mr. Idrissa had called on AREVA to respect Niger’s laws and denounced aspects of the France - Niger relationship as neo-colonial. Mr. Idrissa had been briefly arrested yesterday, immediately after the conference, but released the same day.

The French President Hollande is due to arrive in Niamey today as part of his tour of West Africa. 

Ali Idrissa is the coordinator of ROTAB and PWYP Niger and has long campaigned on issues of extractive transparency and natural resources. He is also on the International Board of EITI (Extractive Transparency Industry Initiative) Most recently, he led a campaign to ensure that Niger got a fair deal for its uranium in the country’s renegotiation of their contract with AREVA. He was named man of the year in Niger 2013 and among Africa’s most 100 influential people. Niger is an EITI implementing country and had enshrined the principle of the transparency of its natural resources in its 2010 constitution. 

Publish What You Pay calls upon the Government of Niger for the immediate release without conditions of Ali Idrissa and for the respect of freedom of expression and association of civil society.”

All activists were eventually released last Friday evening,  but in some cases were told that “once Hollande’s visit is over, the authorities will come to pick [them] up and take [them] to a judge.”

This is not encouraging for transparency or for business’ relations with civil society in Niger. Here’s hoping for a positive outcome, but as PWYP states that it “remains vigilant,” it seems sensible that anybody interested in the potential for positive business in that country should do the same.