Obama calls for more democracy in Niger


US President Barack Obama has called for more democracy in the African state of Niger, whose President Mamadou Tandja is facing growing criticism over his moves to extend his time as leader.

“America looks forward to the day when Niger can celebrate both the proclamation of the republic and its firm transition to democracy,” Obama said in a message to Tandja ahead of Friday’s 51st anniversary of the founding of the Niger republic.

A copy of the message was provided to Reuters.

Last week the US Millenium Challenge Corporation froze $20 million in aid for the impoverished desert state in protest at Tandja’s rewriting of the constitution this year to extend his mandate and expand his powers.

The European Union has also frozen its development aid to uranium-producing Niger and West African regional bloc ECOWAS has suspended its membership from the grouping.

Tandja’s move was one of a string of disputed elections and controversial steps by incumbent leaders in West Africa this year to tighten their grip on power, prompting concerns that fragile democratic advances in the region have been undermined.

Tandja argues that he needed to extend his rule to oversee projects such as French energy firm Areva’s Imouraren uranium mine, a Chinese-funded oil project and a hydroelectric dam. His original term was due to end on December 22 but he has shown no sign that he is prepared to stand down.