A year long violation of its constitution, it’s time to publish details of Areva deal with Niger

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Last year, on 26 May 2014, the Nigerien government and Areva signed an agreement to renew their partnership on the extraction of uranium. Negotiations had lasted over six months, as Areva were keen to be exempt from certain provisions in the 2006 Mining Code. During that time, Nigerien civil society, parliamentarians, media as well as government called for a better deal between Areva and Niger, with the hope of seeing more revenue from uranium reach Niger’s state coffers and spur the country’s development.

Areva argued that Niger’s new mining code would make it unprofitable for the company to operate in country due to an increase in royalty fees. However, despite this concern, an agreement was finally reached between Areva and Niger’s government. Did the government waive the royalty fees? Did they offer another form of tax exemption? Or did Areva simply accept the conditions of the new mining code?

As contracts still haven’t been published, we don’t know what the details of the agreement are, despite the fact that its publication is compulsory as part of the 2010 Constitution. In a press statement, the Niger’s government guaranteed that the agreement was signed within the framework of the country’s 2006 mining code, but remained evasive and gave few details. The little we know indicates a power asymmetry between Areva and Niger’s government, with the latter having previously conceded to Areva’s demands by adapting the tax system and allowing the company to carry out mining activities after the initial agreement had expired.

Niger’s civil society’s civic space has, in the meantime, been threatened. When planning a peaceful demonstration asking for transparency in the extractives in Niger to coincide with the visit of French president Francois Hollande, ten transparency campaigners were arrested, including Ali Idrissa, Coordinator of ROTAB PWYP Niger.

Uranium plays a critical role for Niger, as the country is currently the world’s fourth largest producer of this valuable resource. A third of French nuclear power is based on uranium from Niger and the majority of Niger’s uranium activities are run by Areva. Despite this, Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world. This is fueled by the fact that its uranium contributes to less than 6% of the country’s GDP. Given its importance for French nuclear power, Niger’s uranium should be an opportunity to raise significant revenues to accelerate the development of the country. It could contribute to funding key public services in a nation where 60% of the population lives under $1 per day. Instead, Niger remains at the bottom of UN’s Human Development Index and less than 10% of the Nigeriens live without electricity, whilst paradoxically their uranium lights 1 in 3 light bulbs in France. This lack of transparency needs to stop, or Niger won’t be able secure its own sustainable future.

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