The Agadez region has often been negatively affected by shocks, although its population has shown a remarkable level of resilience in overcoming periods of strain. The effects of repressive migration policies could thus be placed in a longer-term perspective. This is especially relevant in a context in which migration governance in northern Niger is often considered a blueprint of migration governance in the region. If Agadez can be considered a micro-laboratory of migration governance in the Sahel, what implications can be drawn for policy makers and organisations implementing projects in the region?
To the European Union and its member states
(i) At a time when the EU and its member states are in the process of concluding discussions concerning the new Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021–2027 and are similarly revising the 2011 Sahel Strategy, it is important to critically rethink some of the concepts and assumptions that have underpinned its interventions in the past years.
Mobility is a crucial part of the Agadez region’s history, both culturally and economically. Policy makers should recognise that interventions aimed at altering such realities do not resonate locally and are unlikely to achieve positive results in the longer term. Niger’s international partners continue to approach Agadez primarily through a migration lens and regional audiences have to some extent learned to adapt to the dominant EU narrative. The EU and its member states should, however, be mindful of the fact that amid a history of mobility as a resilience mechanism, this adaptation is most notably a reflection of the conditionality of the dominant funding stream in the region that risks overshadowing other more pressing concerns. Four years after the implementation of migration Law 2015-36, the approach should be broadened to include issues of local governance and decentralisation.
Narratives in which migration is continuously framed as a problem and in which concepts like smuggling, trafficking and organised crime are conflated have not been helpful in devising policies that are grounded in local contexts. It is important that policies are based on analyses that take the political economy of Niger’s north into account in order to avoid single-issue policymaking that has negative effects on local economies and governance providers.
(ii) The EU proposal to significantly increase budgets earmarked for migration programming in its external action budgets currently under review could, in this context, be considered problematic. As previous Clingendael publications have indicated, the challenge for policy makers is to not put the cart before the horse but rather to invest in institution building while avoiding reliance on authorities for securitised collaboration on migration matters.
It is therefore important to keep the earmarking of migration funds in the new Multiannual Financial Framework to a minimum. The proposed ceiling of 10 percent constitutes a significant increase in earmarked migration funding and should be considered as the absolute upper limit – and preferably be revised down. In addition, funds made available for external action should not make receiving development funds conditional upon cooperation on migration matters.
(iii) The relative success of some sectors has shown that local populations are well able to redirect their energy towards sectors that can ultimately prove rewarding, when conditions permit.
In order to have a lasting impact on development in the region, investments in infrastructure (roads, electricity, water) should be considered as an enabler for a better business climate and a multiplier for economic development.
To organisations (UN, international NGOs, development agencies) implementing projects in Agadez region
(i) The absence of outright discontent or signs of new rebellion is more likely to be the consequence of successful national, regional and local conflict-management initiatives than of current programming being conflict sensitive.
Such initiatives should be supported, albeit indirectly – for instance through the financing of conflict resolution initiatives proposed as a result of consultative processes. International partners should be careful not to strengthen existing central state structures that might be perceived as exclusionary, and should rather focus on inclusive dialogue with a broad set of local governance actors.
(ii) In the city of Agadez, international implementing organisations are operating in a governance dynamic in which citizen discontent does not translate directly into electoral accountability and where – amid repeated postponements of municipal elections since 2016 – voting on local governance actors has not been registered since 2011. As a consequence, citizen input into local governance remains limited.
International partners of Niger should be mindful in their programming of the ways in which they are affecting municipal governance actors and the ways in which their actions might contribute to how these actors are viewed by their electorates.
(iii) Organisations implementing projects in Niger’s north should remain conscious that migration programming, or projects with a clear migration component, can undermine livelihood strategies and tower over governance structures in Agadez. They could therefore have a negative effect on the stability of the region.
While devising specific programming, framing traditional development projects through a migration lens should be avoided. Long-term commitments based on in-depth assessments of needs and with a clear understanding of the political economy of the north are key to avoiding negative side effects of programming.
While a large part of the economy is informal and some parts of it illicit, there are opportunities to enhance income generation through investments in the formal economy. Analysing the success of certain sectors for their potential merits to the wider economy would provide a good entry point for an organisation seeking to provide development assistance. Such investments would have the added advantage of offering an alternative to young people, who may otherwise be drawn to illicit activities.
(iv) Several respondents in this study noted the limited voice that municipal governance actors have in project implementation. They also indicated that they have come to perceive international organisations as some of the most relevant governance actors of Agadez.
As implementing organisations are de facto perceived as governance actors, they should take into account the microdynamics of governance in Agadez. As elsewhere in the Sahel, the involvement of local governance actors in project planning remains limited. Given the crucial role that traditional authorities play in managing discontent and tension at the local level, implementing organisations should aim to include their knowledge and experience in the project planning phase.
International actors need to avoid the perception that they are parallel governance actors towering over local authorities. At best, this is unsustainable as it runs counter to local authorities’ ability to effectively govern on their own terms. At worst, it risks the outright undermining of local authorities.