The European Union will provide support for Niger’s transition back to democratic rule and aid worth around €470 million could be gradually reinstated if the bloc approves of its progress, the EU said.
Donors, including the EU and the United States, cut development aid to Niger last year in protest against former President Mamadou Tandja’s moves to extend his time in power. The country is facing a hunger crisis but food aid still flows.
A transitional government put in place after soldiers ousted Tandja in a February coup has slashed this year’s budget and promised elections by February next year, hoping donors will, in return, resume aid to the poor West African nation.
“The EU will be able to provide some targeted support, step by step, for progress that is made” towards restoring democracy, the EU said in a statement after meetings with interim Prime Minister Mahamadou Danda.
“We will propose to the EU Council a gradual reinstatement of cooperation depending on the progress noted in the transitional process,” the EU statement added.
Aid accounts for a large chunk of Niger’s budget and the government said earlier this month it had cut this year’s budget by more than 13%, to 638.2 billion CFA francs due to the aid cuts.
Ahead of the prime minister’s trip to Europe, which will also take in France, a former colonial power and major investor with uranium miner Areva, an official in the finance ministry said the resumption of aid was imperative.
“In fact, only an immediate mobilisation of external aid will enable the junta to carry out a successful transition,” the official said, asking not to be named.
After a series of coups in an already unstable region, the swift overthrow in February was officially condemned for being unconstitutional. But diplomats also privately recognised it offered the nation an opportunity to end a simmering political crisis that had risked turning violent.
Earlier this month, the US, which last year cut $30 million in assistance and imposed travel restrictions on members of Tandja’s government, welcomed the transitional authorities’ decision to hold elections by February next year.
No statement has been made on the resumption of aid.
Key steps donors will be watching include the drafting of election laws and the drawing up and agreement by referendum of a new constitution.
Then local, parliamentary and presidential elections must be held.
Although donors have maintained aid to the millions of people in Niger likely to go hungry this year, some analysts fear the food crisis could distract the authorities, weighing on hopes for a swift return to civilian rule.