Niger saw its first transfer of power between democratically chosen presidents in the 2020–21 elections, though the polls were impacted by allegations of fraud and sometimes-violent protests.
The struggle to meet security challenges posed by active militant groups has served as an alibi for the government to restrict civil liberties. Security, transparency, and gender equality are limited.
- Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate of the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS Tarayya), won the second round of the presidential election in February, making the first transfer of power between elected presidents in Nigerien history. Former president Mahamane Ousmane, who came in second place, unsuccessfully contested the results, alleging fraud.
- Insecurity affected the immediate postelectoral period; protests were held in several towns as well as Niamey, where events turned violent, in late February. At least 2 people died, while 468 were arrested as of February 25. The government restricted internet access for 10 days beginning in late February. The government also claimed to foil a coup attempt in late March, days before Bazoum’s inauguration.
- In July, President Bazoum committed to repatriating 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their home villages by the end of the year. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 40,000 returned to their homes in its August update.
- Militants launched attacks against civilian and military targets throughout the year. Suspected militants killed 100 civilians when they attacked villages in the region of Tillabéri in January. In August, Boko Haram reportedly attacked an army outpost in Diffa Region; 16 soldiers were killed along with approximately 50 militant fighters.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
The president is directly elected to up to two five-year terms. The first round, held in December 2020, was marked by isolated reports of attempted vote buying and the disqualification of a major opposition candidate but was largely peaceful.
Mohamed Bazoum, a former interior minister and the candidate of the PNDS Tarayya, won 55.7 percent of the vote in the February 2021 runoff. His opponent, former president Mahamane Ousmane (1993–96), won 44.3 percent. The Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) reported a turnout of 62.9 percent. Domestic and international observers deemed the electoral process satisfactory despite irregularities. While Ousmane contested the results, alleging fraud, the Constitutional Court validated Bazoum’s victory in March. Bazoum was sworn in on April 2 to replace term-limited incumbent Mahamadou Issoufou, marking the first transfer of power between elected presidents in Nigerien history.
The postelectoral period was affected by insecurity. Protests were held in Niamey and several other towns after the second-round results were announced, with events in the capital becoming violent. The government reported that two people were killed during the protests on February 25. Internet access was restricted for 10 days beginning on February 24. The government also claimed to foil a coup attempt in late March, days before Bazoum’s inauguration.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the presidential election was more peaceful and credible than the previous balloting—despite postelectoral violence and a reported coup attempt—and marked the first transfer of power from one elected president to another.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
There are 171 seats in the unicameral National Assembly, 158 of which are directly elected from 8 multimember constituencies; 8 which are reserved for minority representatives, who are elected directly from special single-seat constituencies; and 5 that are reserved for Nigeriens living abroad.
Nigeriens abroad were unable to participate in the late December 2020 parliamentary elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but voters within Niger voted to fill the 166 domestic seats concurrently with the first round of the presidential contest. Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) observers called the elections relatively free and fair, and lauded the participation of young and female voters. The PNDS Tarayya won 80 seats, the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation (MODEN/FA Lumana) won 19, and the Patriotic Movement for the Republic and the National Movement for the Development of Society each won 13. The new parliament took its seats in March 2021.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the December 2020 parliamentary elections, whose results were finalized in early 2021, were more peaceful and credible than the previous legislative balloting.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The electoral code offers a framework for fair elections. However, the opposition, pointing to reports of widespread irregularities in recent elections, among other issues, has cast doubt over the impartiality of the CENI and the Constitutional Court, which together approve candidate lists and validate election results. In 2017, the government and the opposition disagreed over the appointment of a new commission to organize the 2020 elections; the government unilaterally appointed the new commission after the opposition boycotted the process.
Parliamentarians adopted a new electoral code and the CENI launched the process of enrollment in a biometric voter list in 2019. ECOWAS and the Organization of La Francophonie called the new voter file reliable after reviewing it in 2020.
While 41 candidates registered to participate in the 2020 presidential elections, 11, most of whom did not pay the registration fee, were disqualified by the Constitutional Court that November. MODEN/FA Lumana leader Hama Amadou was disqualified over a 2017 human-trafficking conviction which he called bogus.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||2.002 4.004|
By law, political parties may freely organize and conduct their activities. However, the PNDS Tarayya–led government has employed a variety of tactics to interfere in the operation of opposition parties, including persecution of opposition leaders and the co-option of key opposition figures. Over 150 political parties were registered as of November 2020.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||2.002 4.004|
In theory, the opposition can mobilize support and increase its membership. However, the opposition has suffered from a lack of leadership, partly due to the absence of Amadou, who previously served a prison sentence and lived in exile. Opposition parties have been divided into several coalitions and face serious difficulties in challenging the PNDS Tarayya’s dominance. In addition, a history of government-led repression and co-option has hindered their ability to gain power through elections.
Members of the opposition have expressed concern over the rising insecurity in several regions, particularly in the opposition stronghold of Tillabéri. Such insecurity has hindered the parties’ ability to campaign and disturbed polling operations there. Tillabéri voter-enlistment agents have been targeted by militants, who threatened to attack anyone participating in elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2.002 4.004|
Niger has experienced several military coups, most recently in 2010, and the influence of the military still looms over the political sphere. The government claimed to foil a coup attempt in March 2021. In the month that followed, at least one officer and several soldiers were arrested for their alleged involvement. The government claimed to foil coup attempts in 2015 and 2018.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
The law provides for equal opportunity for all Nigeriens to seek political office and participate in political processes. However, women have been underrepresented both in elected and cabinet positions. A parity law adopted in 2020 calls for women to hold 25 percent of parliamentary seats and 30 percent of cabinet positions; 25.9 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women after the December 2020 elections, an improvement over the 14.6 percent figure in the previous parliament. However, the percentage of women in Bazoum’s cabinet stood at about 15 percent. The quota does not guarantee that women participate equally once elected or appointed to cabinet positions.
While the Hausa and Zarma (or Djerma) ethnic groups have dominated many government positions, ethnic minorities are increasingly visible in politics, particularly Tuareg and Arabs. Nomadic groups, including the Fulani, are underrepresented in elected positions and have difficulty registering to vote.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 due to the increased political representation of women after the December 2020 parliamentary elections and because of increased political representation of Tuareg and Arabs.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||2.002 4.004|
Elected representatives were duly installed into office following the 2020–21 polls. However, systemic harassment has impacted government legitimacy.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||2.002 4.004|
Several anticorruption authorities and programs exist. The High Authority for Combating Corruption and Related Crimes (HALCIA) is the official anticorruption body. The government operates an anticorruption hotline and has established an anticorruption initiative focused on the judiciary. The HALCIA actively tracks corruption cases and informs the public of its activities. However, the government often has refused to carry through HALCIA recommendations or pursue identified corruption cases in court. Bribes are sometimes required to gain access to public services.
In 2021, the police arrested Ibou Karadjé, a former government official who is accused of embezzling more than 8 billion CFA francs ($14.5 million) between 2012 and 2017. In June, the Bazoum administration cancelled a contract signed by the former government for buying military aircraft because of suspected corruption.
A government audit completed in 2020 reported that as much as 76 billion CFA francs ($130 million) in public money was diverted due to the manipulation of defense procurements between 2014 and 2019. In December 2021, the government announced that it waived its right to bring civil charges against the suppliers, who agreed to compensate Niamey.
In recent years, the International Crisis Group has found increasing evidence of relationships between traffickers and politicians.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||2.002 4.004|
Implementation and enforcement of the 2011 Charter on Access to Public Information and Administrative Documents has been uneven. Government information related to the mining, uranium, and oil sectors, and state-operated companies, is often not disclosed.
In 2020, Niger resumed its participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). In 2017, Niger, a global leader in uranium production, withdrew from EITI after the organization suspended the country; EITI cited its failure to meet standards for transparent licensing allocation and contract disclosure, lack of a comprehensive public license register, and other concerns.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
In 2010, Niger adopted a press law eliminating prison terms for media offenses and reducing the threat of libel cases. However, journalists still face difficulties, including occasional police violence while covering protests, and detention or prosecution in response to critical or controversial reporting.
Journalistic activity is also affected by the 2019 Cybercrime Law. In September 2021, journalists Moussa Aksar and Samira Sabou appeared before a Niamey court on charges related to violations of that law; the journalists had reported on drug trafficking earlier in the year. Their case was still ongoing at year’s end.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of religion is legally guaranteed, but there are some constraints on religious expression and worship in practice. The rise of militant groups has increased the threat of violence against Christians.
In 2019, citing security concerns, the government adopted a law that imposed greater control over religious activities, including building places of worship, preaching, and religious education. Places of worship were shuttered for part of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
Academic freedom is generally upheld, but insecurity and heavy-handed responses to campus protests can impede academic freedom.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of expression is generally upheld in Niger. However, the government has shown some intolerance of criticism, and prosecuted people over social media comments. Authorities restricted internet access for 10 days in beginning in late February 2021 and prosecuted social media users for their activity during election-related unrest. Nigeriens reportedly self-censored after internet access was restored in March.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2.002 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed, but authorities do not always respect this right in practice, and police have at times used force to break up demonstrations. In 2017, the government announced the prohibition of public protests on “business days.”
Sometimes-violent protests took place after Mohamed Bazoum was named the winner of the presidential election in February 2021. The home of a Radio France International (RFI) journalist was damaged during the protests, as were other publicly and privately owned buildings. On February 25, the government reported that 2 people died in the unrest while another 468 were arrested. Hama Amadou was arrested in March for his alleged role in postelectoral violence, though was allowed to travel to France for medical treatment in April.
The government banned some rallies during 2021. An opposition rally was banned in late March, as was a planned December rally against the presence of foreign troops in Niger.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||2.002 4.004|
The government occasionally restricts the operations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and a lack of security in certain regions also impedes their functioning. The government has restricted the movement of UN personnel and aid workers without military escort in some areas, impacting the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In 2020, staff members of NGO ACTED were among eight people killed by armed assailants at a wildlife reserve.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
While the constitution and other laws guarantee workers the right to join unions and bargain for wages, a large portion of the workforce is employed informally and lacks access to formal union representation. The legal definition of “essential” workers not permitted to strike is broad, and mandatory arbitration processes can be invoked to settle strikes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and courts have shown some level of independence, though the judicial system is subject to executive interference. Rulings against opposition leaders and civil society activists have decreased trust in the judiciary.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||2.002 4.004|
Arbitrary arrests and imprisonments are frequent. Many people accused of crimes are held in pretrial detention for extended periods of time, sometimes in the same population as convicted individuals. In 2018, several military officers accused of plotting a 2015 coup received 5- to 15-year prison sentences, after spending over 2 years in pretrial detention.
States of emergency declared in several regions allow the army to engage in mass arrests and detain those suspected of links with terrorist organizations.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Nigeriens face insecurity due to ongoing militant activity. Several militant groups, including Boko Haram, are active within Nigerien territory and are known to attack civilians and military personnel.
Armed attacks took place throughout 2021, especially in Tillabéri and Tahoua. In January, suspected militants killed at least 100 civilians when they attacked two villages in Tillabéri. In March, at least 137 people were killed when gunmen attacked three villages in Tahoua. In August, Boko Haram reportedly attacked an army outpost in Diffa Region; 16 soldiers were killed along with approximately 50 militant fighters.
A reliance on nonstate armed groups to conduct counterterrorism operations has inflamed intercommunal tensions near the Niger-Mali border, leading to instances of violence. The government has imposed states of emergency within the regions of Diffa, Tillabéri, and Tahoua over ongoing insecurity.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The rights of ethnic minority groups are protected by law. While two ethnic groups, Hausa and Zarma (or Djerma), have dominated economic leadership positions, Tuareg and Arabs are increasingly represented. Same-sex sexual activity is not illegal in Niger, but same-sex relationships are highly stigmatized, and there is no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation. Although the 2010 constitution prohibits gender discrimination, women suffer widespread discrimination in practice. The application of the law by customary courts often discriminates against women.
Niger has made efforts to accommodate Malian and Nigerian refugees as well as IDPs. In July 2021, the Bazoum administration committed to repatriating 100,000 IDPs to their home villages by December. The government also promised to take extra measures to guarantee the security of IDPs and refugees. Several international NGOs voiced their concerns over the risk of exposing these communities to further violence upon their repatriation. In an August operational update, the UNHCR reported that 40,000 people returned to their home villages.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but this is hampered by militant activity and bribery by security officials who guard checkpoints. COVID-19-related movement restrictions were also imposed for part of 2020. Air travel resumed in August 2020 and land borders reopened in June 2021, though travel was still governed by pandemic measures at the end of 2021.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Several complications undermine legal guarantees of the right to own property. Few people hold formal ownership documents for their land, though customary law provides some protection. The enforcement of both state and customary law often gives way to tension and confusion. Women have less access to land ownership than men due to inheritance practices and inferior status in property disputes.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Family law gives women inferior status in divorce proceedings. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was criminalized in 2003 and has declined, but it continues among a small percentage of the population. Penalties for rape are heavy, but societal attitudes and victims’ fears of retribution discourage reporting, and when rape is reported it is often poorly investigated. Domestic violence is not explicitly criminalized, though women may lodge criminal allegations of battery against partners. Some cases have resulted in convictions, but reporting is similarly discouraged in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Although slavery was criminalized in 2003 and banned in the 2010 constitution, it remains a problem in Niger. Estimates of the number of enslaved people vary widely but is generally counted in the tens of thousands. Niger remains a source, transit point, and destination for human trafficking.
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Global Freedom Score51 100 partly free