Under construction: ‘Niger is like a newborn country’

Ranked among the poorest countries in terms of development despite its position as fourth largest global uranium producer, for a long time Niger has been characterised by an image of a poor economy and population.

In September 2001 I had my first real contact with the country, as a habitant. From then to 2012 nothing changed, except for the construction of a new bridge in the capital in 2011. The picture in 2001 was the same as in 2012, with no hope for a better future for the economy and population. The country is still at the bottom of the Human Development Index ranking, and no major measures have been taken to change the situation.

In December 2013 I went back to Niger and my first impression was, what happened to this country? In a year I have seen more changes than I did in the previous 10 years. With a big smile on my face I started to rediscover the capital and I was positively surprised to see all the infrastructure projects taking place.

Private and foreign investors are finally realising that being the least developed country in the world is not necessarily a handicap. With a pretty stable political environment, Niger is like a newborn country in which everything needs to be built. What an opportunity for investors. The country needs roads, highways, bridges, supermarkets, movie theaters, hotels, hospitals, everything.

If big infrastructure projects are the responsibility of the government of Niger, there is still a place for young investors (why not national investors?) on the retail market. With only three supermarkets in the capital, not often responding to customers’ demands in terms of quality and needs, a lot of profitable investment can be done in this segment.

At a first look, infrastructure and retail are the two markets in which you think of investing in Niger. But the country also needs investments in sanitation, private or public. Niger has qualified doctors but they don’t have adequate equipment with which to practice. The country’s electricity supply is also a problem, but this can be resolved by large investments in solar energy as Niger is sunny all year round. The government started in this way, using solar energy for public lighting, but there is still much space for new investments, especially by private investors.

China was the first country to become aware of the opportunities in Niger, and is now collaborating with groups in Niger in order to develop the country in a win-win partnership in sectors such as infrastructure, oil and retail.

With the start of oil production, its future exportation via the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and the renegotiation of Areva’s uranium mining contract, the country will see more money flow in, certainly far more than it usually receives. Thinking about the strategic development plan made by authorities and approved and supported by international financial institutions, all the 50 plus conventions signed between the government and foreign investors, Niger is expecting to rise in the West African landscape as a solid economic system in the next 10 years.

The country is a real construction site, which gives the young population hope for a better future, changing its face from the poorest country in the world to a growing economy.

Gaïcha Saddy is an analyst at Infomineo.

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