Tens of thousands of people have staged an anti-government rally in Niger’s capital Niamey, protesting against corruption, media censorship and what they said was the failure of the country’s president to improve living standards.
Demonstrators in one of the world’s poorest countries chanted “Down with the regime!” and “No to dictatorship” on Saturday in the country’s first major rally against President Mahamadou Issoufou’s rule since his 2011 election win.
“Mahamadou Issoufou promised an end to food insecurity but the population continues to be decimated by hunger and thirst,” said Amadou Hama, president of the National Assembly whose Nigerien Democratic Movement (MODEN) broke away from the ruling coalition this year and joined the opposition coalition.
Police said about 20,000 people took part in Saturday’s rally, while organisers put the figure at 30,000.
The protest, organised by a coalition of 15 opposition parties called the Alliance for the Republic, Democracy and Reconciliation in Niger (ARDR), was the first public show of strength after a court lifted a government ban on opposition marches last month.
‘Bad governance and corruption’
Seini Oumarou, opposition leader and former prime minister, condemned “the bad governance and corruption” in a country with worsening food security, education and health systems.
Oumarou also criticised the government’s oil deals with foreign firms and the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism’s control of the media.
“We are witnessing the organised looting of our national resources,” he said at an opposition meeting after the rally.
Niger, with a fast-growing population of 17 million people, has some of the lowest government revenues per capita in Africa despite the start of oil production in 2011. Output is running at around 16,500 barrels a day, the IMF said in September.
Niger, the world’s fourth largest uranium producer, is also seeking to renegotiate long-term mining contracts with French nuclear power firm Areva to increase tax revenues.