On 14 March the Prime Minister of Niger, Mr. Brigi Rafini, was clear in a meeting my colleague Dylan Gélard and I had with him about the government’s intention to work towards rejoining the EITI.
Niger is one of the world’s poorest countries. It faces important challenges. It has the world’s fastest demographic growth, now standing at probably just below 20 million and doubling every 18 years, with something like 49 % of the population below the age of 15. On top of its domestic challenges, it faces transnational threats on just about all its borders. Strategically straddling the Sahara, it is estimated that as much as 80 % of migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean to Europe have crossed Niger’s dangerous desert.
Niger has a democratically elected government. It is a young democracy, but a vibrant one. It is an ethnically diverse but cohesive nation, yet there seems to be strong collaboration and understanding across divides. There is an active political opposition.
Niger joined the EITI in 2005
Niger’s relationship with the EITI has not been straight forward and we at the EITI must take some responsibility and draw lessons. It was one of the first countries to commit to implement the EITI back in 2005. It published EITI reports and had a national commission that kept meeting and overseeing the process. Niger became compliant in accordance with the EITI Rules in 2011. Niger initiated Validation of its progress against the EITI 2016 Standard in 2017. The EITI Board found that quite a number of the requirements were inadequately met and subsequently suspended Niger. This led to Niger leaving the EITI. We were in Niamey last week at the invitation of the government to explore a route back to the EITI.
We should all have done better
The Board’s conclusion last year about Niger’s implementation revealed that Niger had not made satisfactory or even meaningful progress across a wide range of EITI requirements. Many of the weaknesses related to its EITI reporting, and some related to how implementation was governed.
At the EITI, we believe strongly in the national ownership of implementation. It follows that all stakeholders have to take responsibility for that progress had not been greater. The EITI reporting had not evolved much since 2006 and significant payments were not covered. The EITI itself also created a challenging transition from the earlier Rules to the 2016 Standard. Under the earlier arrangements, Niger was one of many countries that were “compliant”. This could be understood as the end goal had been achieved. Under the 2016 Standard, the EITI introduced several levels of progress, seeking to incentivize continues improvements and reforms. In Niger and beyond, we could probably have done a great deal better at communicating this.
New opportunities – what we must do now.
The EITI ought to be useful to Niger. The mining sector is of national importance and the oil production is growing. Uranium and oil today account for half of Niger’s exports.
There is a long-running debate about the extent to which uranium exports to France and other countries have benefitted Niger and its citizens. The majority French state owned company Orano, previously Areva, has long been producing so called yellow cake in Niger. While Niger is the fourth largest producer of uranium in the world, it now represents about one third of Orano’s global production, and a shrinking proportion of this is exported to France. The Uranium price have in recent years been dramatically lower than they have been for a long time. Anyone reading Niger’s EITI reports can quickly see the devastating consequences this has had on the government’s income from the sector, with a drop of 28% in extractives revenues in 2014.
Niger’s young oil and gas sector is set to expand rapidly, with plans to expand the Agadem oil field and to quadruple oil production in the coming years. Niger is now exploring ways to export part of its production to international markets. Most of Niger’s oil production, which started in 2011, is currently refined at the Agadez refinery, which in 2014 represented 20% of extractives revenues.
- Niger has now an opportunity to use the EITI differently, innovatively, drawing on earlier lessons in Niger and beyond. Concretely this means that the EITI reporting should be significantly improved and ultimately significantly more useful. The EITI Board has recently started to encourage the 51 implementing countries to work towards more integrated, mainstreamed, EITI reporting. This will lead to less duplication, more timely and better link with other government reforms and efforts to improve its accountability to its citizens.
- All national stakeholder should rally around the government’s re-engagement. The review of Niger’s EITI governance architecture provides a great opportunity. Having previously been called Comité National de Concertation, it could be renamed to better link to other reform efforts by the government. Companies need not only to have some representatives on this body, but bring along its peers and work with the government in using the information made available. It is only by using transparency that it becomes meaningful transparency. We had very good meetings about this with Orano’s management in Niger. Niger’s vibrant civil society needs to be widely represented. The government needs to ensure that civil society representatives can actively play their roles and that civil society participation is broad and inclusive.
- We at the EITI now have a duty to support the government in whatever ways we can to prepare for Niger rejoining the EITI.
- The international community needs to support the government. This is in part about making sure that the financial resources required are available. But it is more than that, it is also about facilitating dialogue and acknowledging reforms. The international community must also support civil society in its efforts to mobilise, analyse, and make use of transparency data.
All our meetings in Niamey suggest that everyone is willing to be onboard the next phase of the journey. With its young population, its young democracy, harsh geographic and economic climate, and growing transnational threats , Niger is in a fragile environment. We would do well in supporting the government in whatever way we can now. Helping the government rejoining the EITI is the kind of small, targeted efforts they need many of to build a stable future.
Some of the information in this blog and much more can be found in the EITI Validation report. For anyone interested in an introduction to the governance of the mining sector in Niger, I recommend it.
Dylan Gélard and I visited Niamey on 13-14 March. We discussed with the government the holding a national conference later in the year, also bringing some neighboring countries to share their experiences. We hope it will be an opportunity to celebrate leadership and Niger leapfrogging and making up for lost ground by showing us all what innovative use of open data really means.