Africa’s struggle with mineral wealth and regional poverty has a new poster child, as Tuareg nomads in Niger take up arms for a greater share of the booming uranium trade there.
Niger is not only the continent’s leading uranium exporter, it is also one of the most impoverished — a situation exacerbated by progressively severe drought.
According to ISN Security Watch in Switzerland, a nascent rebellion by Tuareg rebels has claimed the lives of 50 soldiers, although the government claims the attacks were by drug smugglers and robbers, and has deployed “thousands” of troops to the region.
The situation is further complicated by the presence of foreign mining companies, which have been the target of rebel attacks — but are also blamed for exacerbating the violence.
In particular, the government blames Areva, a French company, which until recently had a monopoly on the uranium trade there, of exhorting rebels to attack its competitors.
The rebels, meanwhile, say they are victims of racism and political neglect, claim that China has offered military aid to Niger in return for favorable mining contracts, and also blame Areva for helping fund government oppression through uranium sales.
Libya, at the country’s northern border, has also been blamed for backing the rebels as it seeks greater access to the radioactive mineral.
The conflict is taking its toll on civil society in Niger.
According to the Media Foundation of West Africa, a government regulatory agency has suspended operations at several radio stations and newspapers since the Tuareg conflict began.
“Niger: The uranium curse”
ISN Security Watch, October 31, 2007
“Niger Tuareg rebels threaten Areva’s uranium mines”
Reuters, October 30, 2007
“Media Regulatory Body Threatens to Close Radio And Television Stations”
Media Foundation of West Africa, October 25, 2007