Source: Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)
As the polls approach, deep divisions focus more on candidates’ personal backgrounds than Niger’s security and development challenges.
by Ornella Moderan and Habibou Souley Bako
On 13 and 27 December, some 7.4 million Nigeriens vote in the country’s local, legislative and presidential elections. The polls could mark the first peaceful transfer of power between two elected presidents – a potentially significant outcome for a country that has seen four coups since independence in 1960 and repeated interruptions of its democratic processes.
But political dialogue has stalled over the past five years, and divisions have depended over the individual candidates running for election rather than the country’s needs. This situation threatens the prospect of a peaceful handover after the coming polls.
It’s not the first time the authenticity of leaders’ citizenship is being questioned. Former presidents Mahamane Ousmane and Mamadou Tandja underwent the same treatment. Given the recurrence of such controversies, civil registration reform has more than administrative value. It could prevent certain political conflicts by improving the veracity of documents legally required to run for office.
A reliable registration system would also strengthen public belief in future voter registers. It would smooth the administration’s functioning and individuals’ access to their civil rights. Given the ongoing security crisis in Niger, a sound civil register would also improve the country’s capacity to track suspects, as changing identity would be harder.
A law dealing with a stronger civil registration system was adopted in 2019, reflecting the government’s commitment to upgrading Niger’s public records capacity. The incoming government will need to maintain momentum and ensure the legislation is implemented.
The task may seem daunting, given the size of Niger’s territory (1 267 000 km² – the sixth largest country in Africa) and the accumulated backlog. But the electoral commission’s mobile court hearings between 2018 and early 2020 showed that results are possible. The campaign took civil registration services to people even in remote areas and delivered over 5.8 million civil status documents in just a few months.