as a partner for regulating global migration flows
01 — The key questions for the Partner-Atlas
RELEVANCE: What relevance does Niger have for Germany with regards to "regulating global migration flows"?
The unstable security situation throughout the Sahel region reveals the weakness of state authorities in the region. Niger’s security forces are also struggling to exercise effective control of the country. Several terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State or Boko Haram, regularly attack military bases and also civilians. Niger is also one of the poorest countries in the world and is wrestling with numerous governance problems, including regular accusations of corruption against government representatives or officials. There were several demonstrations against the rampant corruption and bad governance in the past. In 2020, protests erupted over the anti-Covid policies of the government. During the last Presidential elections (2020/21), there were also violent protests triggered by accusations made by the opposition that the elections were rigged. However, by holding these elections, Niger has, for the first time, successfully managed the transition from one elected President to another. In the past, the country suffered numerous military coups.
Niger is an important transit country for migration from Africa to the Mediterranean coast. The so-called “central Mediterranean route” leads – especially via the Nigerien city of Agadez – towards the Algerian and Libyan borders and continues on to the Mediterranean coast. Many Nigeriens are involved in transporting migrants through the Sahara, an activity that is as lucrative for the traffickers as it is dangerous for the migrants. Niger is also a transit country for returnees from Libya or for African migrants expelled from Algeria. Germany and the EU as a whole have a considerable interest in supporting Niger, as one of the hubs of African migration, in overcoming these challenges, and in preventing illegal migration flows at a point that is as close as possible to where they originate.
WILLINGNESS: To what extent is Niger willing to work with Germany in realising this interest?
In recent years, Niger has proven itself to be a reliable partner for Germany and the EU in many policy areas. Already under the Issoufu Presidency, the Nigerien government was committed to the fight against illegal migration flows and was prepared to take action against trafficking networks in its own country. This was demonstrated, for example, by the adoption of an extremely strict law in 2015, which is intended to prevent human trafficking by threatening severe punishments (up to 30 years in prison). Niger consistently enforces this policy and is taking on illegal migration; numerous smugglers’ vehicles have been confiscated.
However, the government’s position is not popular with large sections of the Nigerien population, and there is open criticism of its approach, especially in the Agadez region. Given this situation, a distinction must be made between a government that is largely willing to cooperate and sections of the population (especially in the north), who are losing a lucrative source of income, the transport of migrants, and who are, to some extent, also critical of their own government’s migration policy.
STATUS QUO: How close is Germany and Niger's current cooperation in this area?
Niger is regarded as a reliable partner for Germany. Former President Issoufou and Chancellor Merkel met several times in the last few years. The newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum paid a visit to Berlin in early July 2021. On this occasion, the Nigerien President emphasised the “excellent” quality of relations between the two countries. As a transit country, Niger is supported by a whole range of measures for regulating migration flows. It is important to stress that Niger – as one of the poorest countries in the world and in view of the considerable security policy challenges in the region – is dependent on strong development assistance and security policy cooperation, irrespective of the migration issue. The deterioration of the security situation in the Sahel region since 2013, for example, has contributed to an overall expansion of international engagement, because further destabilisation of the region would also have negative effects on the Sahel’s West African neighbours.
Bilateral cooperation with Germany is part of this overall engagement by the international community. Recently, Germany has considerably enhanced its development policy commitment. A total of more than 115 million euros was pledged to Niger for the period 2018 to 2020, almost twice as much as in the period of 2014 to 2017. An example of this is Germany’s support for projects in the Agadez region that are intended to create employment prospects outside of human trafficking. Niger is also one of the priority countries in the EU migration partnership and is part of the G5 Sahel institutional framework. Important donors, including Germany, have come together in the Sahel Alliance in order to coordinate their support for the G5 Sahel. As an important local player with a nationwide footprint, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) supports migrants who are willing to return. In cooperation with the Nigerien authorities, the IOM has also managed to save thousands of migrants along dangerous routes.
POTENTIAL: What is the potential for strengthening the partnership between Germany and Niger in this area?
Against the background of its own immense challenges in the areas of security and development, the Nigerien government is interested in expanding cooperation. Germany also has a strong interest in intensive cooperation, not only with regard to the issue of migration, but also because of the possible consequences that further destabilisation of the Sahel would have for the whole of West Africa (such as threats from terrorism and organised crime). Niger and Germany share an interest in stabilising the countries of the Sahel region.
In view of the precarious security situation, providing stronger support for government structures offers some potential, e.g. by implementing actions under the German Enable & Enhance initiative (Ertüchtigungsinitiative) in the field of security. The Nigerien government’s constructive approach also offers opportunities for cooperation in other contexts, such as in the United Nations (Niger was elected as a member of the UN Security Council in 2020/21).
POLICY RECOMMENDATION: What in German foreign policy has to change in order to fully exploit this potential?
German support for Niger is already at a very high level. In addition, other players make substantial funding available to the country; further financing commitments have already been made, for example as part of the G5 Sahel support. Therefore, in the future, increasing financial resources will play a less important role than focusing on the most urgent needs and on increasing efficiency. Security policy cooperation will play an increasingly important role in this context, because Niger is facing considerable challenges given the threats posed by terrorist groups in the tri-border region of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, as well as in the Lake Chad region.
Already existing programmes for strengthening the Nigerien security forces (armed forces, police, and gendarmerie) should therefore be expanded as an instrument of German support. In addition, other core functions of the Nigerien state should also be strengthened (e.g. the judiciary, territorial administration). In order to be able to keep making a sustainable contribution to the regulation of migration flows, Niger needs to be assisted in improving the security situation in the country and in making progress in the field of development. Neither will be possible without the government being an effective and efficient actor that is visible throughout the country.
Thomas Schiller heads the KAS Sahel Regional Programme.
Last update: September 03th, 2021.
02 — Foreign Office
Regional Programme Sahel
B.P. E1274 Quartier Badalabougou-Est - behind the embassy of Nigeria
04 — The region
According to Federal Minister Müller, Africa is to become the “green continent of renewable energies”. South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, is pursuing ambitious goals in this field, similar to what is being debated in Germany. Examples include the reduction of CO2 emissions and minimizing the dependence on coal. In order to do so, South Africa has introduced a carbon tax in 2019.
- Population: 59,308,690
- Capital: Bloemfontain, Capetown, Pretoria
Kenya is the most stable country in East Africa and is an economy that is oriented toward the west. With consistently strong economic growth in the twelve years before the coronavirus crisis and a GDP of just under 88 billion US dollars (2018), Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa and a growth engine for the entire region. Thanks to the port of Mombasa and the airport in Nairobi, the country is an important hub for trade and finance. Many international companies have chosen Kenya as the seat of their (East) Africa branches.
- Population: 53,771,296
- Capital: Nairobi
Despite its relatively small population of approximately 28 million inhabitants, Ghana is growing in relevance for Germany. This is evident not least of all from the fact that Ghana has been included in the Compact with Africa project since 2017 and became one of Germany’s reform partner countries in the same year. Ghana’s willingness to accept reforms in the economic and fiscal policy sector, along with its framework, which is relatively stable and reliable compared to many other Sub-Saharan African countries, made Ghana an interesting partner for the G20, and especially for Germany (as a reform partnership).
- Population: 31,072,940
- Capital: Accra
With a population of around 200 million, Nigeria is not only the largest country in Africa, but it has also been the continent’s largest economy for some years now. The country is rich in oil and gas and is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Nonetheless, Nigeria faces immense security and economic problems, which are worsening as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and could further destabilise the entire region in the medium to long term, posing major challenges for Europe. This applies both to the European interest in supporting the Sahel states in their fight against terrorism and to reducing irregular migration from Africa.
- Population: 206,139,589
- Capital: Abuja
The unstable security situation throughout the Sahel region reveals the weakness of state authorities in the region. Niger’s security forces are also struggling to exercise effective control of the country. Several terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State or Boko Haram, regularly attack military bases and also civilians. Niger is also one of the poorest countries in the world and is dealing with numerous governance problems, including regular accusations of corruption against government representatives or officials. There have even been deaths during demonstrations by young people against the rampant corruption and bad governance. The Nigerien government’s measures against the coronavirus, especially the closure of mosques, have also led to violent clashes between mainly young demonstrators and the security forces. Amnesty International is also protesting against the use of the controversial cybercrime prevention law to suppress voices critical of the government in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Population: 24,206,644
- Capital: Niamey