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Cablegate: Niger: Pol/Econ Update for December 1 - 21, 2008

VZCZCXRO4457
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #1176/01 3590723
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240723Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4777
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NIAMEY 001176

DEPT FOR AF/W, AF/RSA, AND DRL/AE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON SOCI SCUL EAGR EAID NG
SUBJECT: NIGER: POL/ECON UPDATE FOR DECEMBER 1 - 21, 2008

1. The following is an Embassy Niger compilation of political and
economic highlights for the first three weeks of December 2008 not
otherwise covered in mission reporting. This report covers the
following issues:

-- PNA Convenes; Jackou Declares Presidential Candidacy;
-- SONITEL Employees Demonstrate Against DG, Interference;
-- AREVA Director General Visits; Uranium Sales Discussed;
-- IFC VP Calls on Pres. Tandja; Uranium Investment Funded;
-- Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Kicks Off;
-- Sahara Conservation Fund Visits re Addax Habitat; and
-- Tuareg Political Party Meeting Held.

PNA Convenes; Jackou Declares Presidential Candidacy
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. On November 29, the opposition Parti Nigerien pour l'Autogestion
(PNA) - Nigerien Party for Self-Reliance - held its fourth
convention. In his opening remarks, the party's president, Sanoussi
Jackou, praised the party's achievement in gaining national stature
despite 11 years of opposition standing. He said the PNA's
convention occurred at a critical moment in Niger's political life,
as some political and associative groups are taking a stand
regarding possible changes to the country's constitution. Jackou
stated, "We should consider this electoral issue as a historical
opportunity for us to promote a democratic alternation...(via)
democratic, just, and fair elections."

3. The convention passed a resolution selecting Sanoussi Jackou as
its candidate for the 2009 presidential election. Jackou, a member
of the National Assembly, is an academic as well as one of Niger's
key political figures. He was Minister of African Integration
(1996-1997) and Minister of Higher Education (June-November 1997).
He was Member of Parliament in 1993-1994, 1995-1996, 1999-2004, and
2004 to the present.

SONITEL Employees Demonstrate Against DG, Lack of Pay
--------------------------------------------- --------
4. On December 11, National Telecommunications Company (SONITEL)
workers staged a protest march to hand in a petition intended for
the Prime Minister. Demonstrators called for the resignation of the
company's director general, the termination of the contract between
the Government of Niger and the company's major shareholders (the
Chinese ZTE and the Libyan LAAICO). They also requested that the
National Assembly's investigative commission publish its findings on
SONITEL's management and investments. SONITEL's unions claim the
firm lost 40 billion CFA ($80 M) in investments, denouncing it as a
betrayal of the people of Niger. The unions further stated that
SONITEL had not kept current on salary payments due to its financial
problems, thus denying them the ability to provide for their
families on the holy day of Id Al-Adha (Tabaski). On December 13,
four major trade union confederations - the Union of Nigerien Trade
Unions, the Democratic Confederation of Nigerien Workers, the
Nigerien Labor Confederation, and the General Union of Nigerien
Workers issued a statement supporting their telecommunication
affiliates.
AREVA Director General Visits; Uranium Sales Discussed
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. Anne Lauvergeon, Chief Executive of French state-controlled
Areva, visited Niamey to participate in Niger's Republic Day
festivities and to support ongoing negotiations for the massive new
uranium mine at Imouraren. Areva's current uranium exports from
mines at Cominak and Somair are Niger's primary source of foreign
exchange, and when fully operational, the $1.4 billion new project
would make Niger the world's second largest producer. Lauvergeon
met with President Tandja on December 19 and appeared on state
television later that day to confirm that Areva will press ahead
with the project despite falling uranium prices and the faltering
global economy. In January 2008, Areva and GON signed new
agreements that increased by 50% payments for the production of
Areva's current mines at Cominak and Somair.

IFC VP Calls on Pres. Tandja; Uranium Investment Funded
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. On December 15, Thierry Tanoh, Vice President of the
International Finance Corporation (IFC), called on President Tandja
during Tanoh's first visit to Niger. The IFC seeks to support
Niger's private sector, including agribusiness, and Tanoh sought
President Tandja's support for implementation of reforms identified
in the IFC-World Bank Investment Climate Report that would
facilitate private sector development in Niger.

7. On December 17, the West African Development Bank, Sonibank, and
BSIC-Niger signed an agreement to provide 15 billion CFA ($30 M)
funding to uranium producer COMINAK for a two-year investment
project designed to increase production from 450,000 to 600,000
metric tons of ore per annum. COMINAK owns and operates the uranium
mine at Akouta, Niger and is jointly owned: 34% by AREVA (France),
31% by Onarem (Government of Niger), 25% OURD (Japan), and 10% ENUSA

NIAMEY 00001176 002 OF 002


(Spain).

Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Kicks Off
--------------------------------------------- ----------

8. On December 5, the Permanent Secretary of the Extractive
Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) - Niger presented the
organization's Plan of Action and priorities for 2008-2010 at a
meeting with numerous representatives of donors and international
financial institutions. The Director General of the Prime
Minister's Office convened the meeting, which was sponsored by the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. The GON has signed a
number of high-value exploration and development contracts for
petroleum and minerals in recent months, but has been less than
forthcoming about the actual terms of those contracts; donors
actively seek greater transparency.

9. The EITI - Niger project will not focus on terms of the GON -
private sector contracts, but rather on providing better information
on financial flows by reconciling government receipts with private
sector data on actual payments to the government. In both cases
they will use audited figures (which implies considerable delay) and
will aggregate income from different firms rather than provide
information on the contribution of individual companies. EITI
representatives commented that civil society's role is to advocate
for better use of government revenues from extractive industries,
and that the information provided by the project will facilitate
this. The information developed will be available on the group's
website. A major portion of the $800,000 two-year budget for the
EITI - Niger project will be funded by the World Bank, although
additional funds are sought. The World Bank representative at the
meeting pressed for the EITI - Niger project to provide more
information on the terms of the contracts themselves and on the
methods of payment.

Sahara Conservation Fund Visits re Addax Habitat
--------------------------------------------- ---

10. Sahara Conservation Fund representative John Newby visited
Niger from Switzerland recently to review habitat preservation for
the addax, an endangered open-desert antelope indigenous to Niger.
There is an established protected habitat area in the northwest of
100 sq km where roughly 200 addax live; their habitat is threatened
by oil exploration-related activities, such as the security
presence, use of vehicles, and firing of weapons in the Chinese
exploration and development blocks, although Newby does not regard
resource development as conflicting with habitat preservation.
Inter-ministerial coordination, however, is important to preventing
hunting - either by locals or hunters from Libya, Qatar, or the UAE.
Rainfall has been good in recent years, with vegetation cover
improving to the benefit of the addax.

Tuareg Political Party Meeting Held
-----------------------------------

11. On the 18th anniversary of the Union for Democracy and Social
Progress (UDPS) party, a predominantly Tuareg political group, the
party's executive board made a public statement regarding its
internal as well as national and international political affairs.
UDPS requested a speedy completion of national voter register in
compliance with laws and regulations, said it strongly supports
respect for the constitution and would challenge any violation or
attempt to violate constitutional provisions, and called upon
President Tandja to protect the foundation of Niger's nascent and
fragile democracy by preventing any misrepresentation of the
constitution. UDPS indicated that the persistence of the armed
conflict in the north hinders economic and social activities and
deals a heavy blow to peace and societal welfare. UDPS called on
parties to the conflict to "favor candid and sincere dialogue for a
rapid and final resolution of this painful and deadly
confrontation." UDPS further urged the government to exercise "more
vigilance" in granting research and exploitation permits, "which up
to now do not very much take into consideration the occupied pasture
spaces."
ALLEN

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