02 Jul The Poor Uranium Kingdom
In last February, I received an official invitation from Niger’s Parliament adviser, Dr. Mohamed Giraud to visit his country. I did not have a modern picture in mind for Niger other than that old historic one, for Niger was part of the ancient Kingdom of Bornu that ruled Central and West Africa from 1380 until 1893. On that quiet flight with few passengers on board and which lasted for more than ten hours, I found my memory forcing me to close my eyes and recall events from the year 2009 when I was destined to meet the peoples of Africa for the first time. From that moment up to the present, I have steadily been divided between belief in what I witnessed and uncertainty about what I believed in before 2009. In Africa, I learned that neither belief is necessarily strengthened by certainty, nor certainty necessarily deeply rooted, and nor roots necessarily stem from virtue. Yes, this is the law governing life in Africa, a continent that I left but which will abide with me forever.
Soon after I arrived in Niamey, capital of Niger, I kept hearing people in the streets talk about two points: the traditional Libyan role in Niger which culminated in the establishment of academic institutions at which West Africans received rich education, such as The Islamic Libyan Institute and The Libyan Arab Cultural Center that were inaugurated in the 1970’s and had substantial role in promoting culture and knowledge in Niger. These institutions discontinued their activities because of the ongoing situation in Libya since 2011. The second point being the extent of competition between the Arab, Iranian, Turkish, French and recently Chinese schools. I focused on these two issues which appear to touch the cultural aspect of our people in Niger, but as soon as I approached them I realized their deep political dimensions. Afterwards, l realized how these political dimensions controlled the African personality and turned it into stones driven by passion in every direction. I discussed all that I witnessed during a special academic symposium held at Ka’at International University; thanks to the university’s administration who gave me the opportunity to talk about the Niger-Gulf relations which still have a long way to go.
The volume of trade between the Gulf countries and Niger is still weak but Niger and West African countries can develop into major suppliers of minerals needed by the Gulf industries due to the abundant mineral resources in Niger and the rapid growth of the manufacturing sector in the Gulf countries.
Many of us didn’t hear of the Kanem-Bornu Kingdom which extended from Niger, across Nigeria, North Cameroon, Chad and South of Libya. In the late nineteenth century, Paris managed to transform Niger into a French territory having parliamentary representation till it gained independence in 1960. But Niger was consistently unstable because of the “France Frick Strategy” founded by Jacques Foccart, often referred to in French history as “Monsieur Afrique de l’élysée”. Paris imposed a strategy which the African national elite described as “a strategy for exploiting African states”; while from the declared French standpoint it was considered a cooperation network between Paris and its former colonies in Africa. Though, African people realized that Paris aims at expanding its military bases in Africa, thwarting African National Parties and guaranteeing seizure of vital resources such as oil, diamonds and uranium.
Today, Niger is among world’s largest uranium producers added to other natural resources, a thing that attracted international powers. For instance, China could obtain natural resources necessary for its economy by developing infrastructure through successful investment in the oil production sector. As for Washington, it moved from the stage of military cooperation to the stage of presence on the ground, where it promoted the “Power Africa” initiative, along with initiatives of combating terrorism in West Africa such as the “Africa Partnership Station”. But the real challenge facing Niger for decades is the French company AREVA that takes on extraction of uranium of which Niamey gets only a small portion. This impeded development and progress in the country and led to Niger being amongst the poorest countries in the world, a matter I witnessed in all state facilities starting from the airport, universities, ministries, and hospitals with corridors crammed with patients due to shortage of medications and beds.
It is almost impossible to believe that such things could happen in the leading kingdom of uranium in the world though I did after realizing how politicians view politics in Africa. Afterwards, I left Niger with the responsibility of honestly conveying all that I saw and heard, a thing that caused me to think no more of my hands much tired of carrying too many gifts bestowed by the locals.