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Cablegate: Niger and the Maputo Protocol: A Cleric's

VZCZCXRO2507
RR RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDBU RUEHDE RUEHGI RUEHJS RUEHKUK RUEHLH RUEHMA
RUEHPA RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHNM #0703/01 1420918
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 220918Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3499
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUCNISL/ISLAMIC COLLECTIVE
XMT AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NIAMEY 000703

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT. FOR AF/W, BACHMAN; PRM FOR KENNELLY AND MUIRURI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV SOCI KWMN PHUM NG
SUBJECT: NIGER AND THE MAPUTO PROTOCOL: A CLERIC'S
PERSPECTIVE

REF: A. 06 NIAMEY 574
B. 05 NIAMEY 1434

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) After trying and failing to get the Additional
Protocol to the African Human and People's Rights Charter
Relating to Women's Rights in Africa (the Maputo Protocol)
adopted by the National Assembly last year (reftel A), the
Government of Niger (GON) is trying again. Women's NGOs, GON
officials, and even President Mahmadou Tandja are attempting
to persuade clergy and traditional leaders to acquiesce in
the protocol's adoption. However, it appears that little
headway is being made. In an extended conversation with a
prominent Nigerien Imam on May 13, Poloff got a first-hand
account of the clergy's passionate views on the Protocol. In
the face of continuing opposition - most of it by mainstream
clergy rather than the country's marginal Islamic
fundamentalists - the National Assembly has delayed its
scheduled debate and vote on adoption. Opposition to the
Protocol, and the tendency of its opponents to link it to
previous failed efforts to establish a secular family code,
suggest that issues of marriage age, divorce, inheritance,
and reproductive health are unlikely to be regulated by
modern legislation anytime soon. END SUMMARY

----------------------------
A SNAPSHOT OF THE OPPOSITION
----------------------------

2. (SBU) Imam Moustapha Antoma of Maradi is a busy man. He
is the Imam of the city's Grand Mosque; principal religious
advisor to the Chief of Katsina (Niger) Province; a member of
the National Islamic Council; President of the Maradi Chapter
of Niger's oldest Islamic association, the Association
Islamique du Niger (AIN); President of Maradi's interfaith
committee; traditional chief of his neighborhood; and, an
elected member of the Maradi city council. A Sufi Muslim of
the Tidjaniyya school (thus a follower of the late Senegalese
Sufi leader Sheikh Mohammed Niass), Antoma belongs to the
moderate, syncretistic strain of Islam characteristic of
Niger. His close association with the Province Chief, his
membership in the GON created "establishment" AIN, and his
appointment as Grand Mosque Imam in Niger's third largest
city all underscore his influence and his role as a leader of
mainstream Nigerien Islam.

3. (SBU) While Antoma otherwise expressed little sympathy for
the Izala school of Islam (a Wahhabist-style fundamentalist
movement prominent in northern Nigeria) he saw little
distance between their positions on the Maputo Protocol. Imam
Antoma argued that the current push for the Maputo Protocol
had its origins in earlier efforts by the GON to adopt some
form of modern, secular family code. He noted that every
Nigerien Government since that of General Seyni Kountche
(1974-1987) had advanced such a project in one form or
another. All of those efforts ran afoul of clerics, and all
failed. (NOTE: Antoma erred slightly. Two limited measures,
relating respectively to repudiation and inheritance, were
adopted by military governments in 1976 and 1989. END NOTE)
In the 1990s, Niger's first democratic government attempted
to "sensitize" traditional chiefs and Islamic clergy to the
need for a comprehensive family code to replace traditional
Islamic practices applied by clergy, chiefs, and Islamic
civil judges (Akalis). Support from UN agencies like UNFPA
and UNIFEM and European donors enabled large-scale national
efforts that brought some religious leaders on-board to
convince others. Western support for Nigerien advocacy
generated a predictable backlash against "foreign
interference," and Niger in 2007 appears no closer to a
family code than it was in 1985, when the Niger Women's
Association first began pressing the GON for a comprehensive
family law (reftel B).

4. (SBU) Antoma described the few Imams who support such
measures as "bought." He noted that conservative Imams had
prayed for the death of two preachers who advocated for the
family code in the 1990s; both later died in car accidents.
Antoma claimed that "there would be trouble" if the GON
adopted the Maputo Protocol. He claimed that traditional
clergy found the measure abhorrent for a wide variety of
reasons but listed his principal hot-button issues as
abortion, inheritance, and a fixed marriage age of 18, none
of which had Koranic grounding. Antoma noted that the GON's
strategy of "sensitizing" clergy on the contents of the

NIAMEY 00000703 002 OF 002


Protocol was a failure - the objections of the more prominent
and well-educated Imams were not grounded in ignorance of the
document's contents or in an inability to understand the
words' meaning, but in a keen understanding of their meaning
and their implications for Nigerien society. Antoma noted
that he had received and listened to many delegations
composed of Niamey based NGOs, some Imams, and working-level
GON officials. All had failed. He commented that Maradi was
due for another "sensibilization" tour the day after our
meeting - and that that too would fail. The missions "never
got a good response here," he added.

5. (SBU) Imam Antoma closed our discussion of the Protocol
with an interesting anecdote. President Tandja had summoned
Niger's most prominent Imams to Agadez for a Mouloud (Prophet
Mohammed's birthday) celebration. In one session, he sought
their views on the Maputo Protocol, and attempted to lobby
them on behalf of it. Antoma noted that he and several of his
colleagues got up and walked out, though this was not shown
or mentioned on Niger's national TV. Poloff has witnessed
similar reactions by clergy in other venues (reftel B).

--------------------------------
SLIM CHANCE FOR PROTOCOL PASSAGE
--------------------------------

6. (SBU) While donor per diem can ensure the attendance of
Islamic clergy at sensitization sessions, the content of
those sessions has had little impact on their views - nor is
it likely to. While advocates of progressive gender and
family legislation ascribe clerical opposition to a lack of
understanding, or to the effects of sensational rumors about
the legislation, this view is oversimplified and naive.
Niger's most prominent clerics oppose the Protocol from a
position of understanding, while conservative Imams like
Antoma are neither fundamentalists in the Izala sense nor
particularly anti-western. (Antoma actually lobbied Poloff
for more US military cooperation in Niger). Their views are
the views of mainstream Nigerien clergy and, frankly,
resonate with most Nigeriens. The views of conservative
clergy appear to both mirror and reinforce those of the
people, while support for the Protocol appears limited to
Francophone elites in Niamey. In a democracy, that's not a
recipe for success. Even if, through deft floor management
and intense lobbying, the GON adopts the Protocol the second
time around, it remains doubtful that its policies will be
implemented in any meaningful way.

7. (U) Tripoli, minimized considered.
ALLEN

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