This week, we shine the spotlight on Niger:

FRENCH AMBASSADOR SENT HOME
The French ambassador in Niger Antoine Anfré was discreetly removed from his position and sent back to Paris last Thursday. His forced departure — a first for a French ambassador in Niger — was demanded by Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou, according to Jeune Afrique. The French investigative website Mondafrique adds that the relations between Antoine Anfré and Nigerien authorities had recently deteriorated. Analysts say the 52-year-old, who became Niger's ambassador in March 2014, was "inflexible" in his demand for free and open elections in 2016.

Ouestaf reports that about 7.5 million people (out of a population of 17 million) are expected to vote in general elections next year. In June, President Issoufou said he also wanted transparent elections, as Jeune Afrique reported. But the opposition also accused the Constitutional Court, in charge of validating candidacies, of supporting the government in power.

Niamey's Saga Kourtey area — Photo: Jean Rebiffé

BATTLING BOKO HARAM
Like several of its neighbors, Niger is in the middle of a simmering war with Islamist terror army Boko Haram. Nigerien armed forces killed at least 30 Boko Haram fighters and captured three last week, including one senior leader, along the Yobe River that marks the border between Niger and Nigeria, according to the website Afrik. This comes after an attack by the Islamist sect on July 15 in the village of Gangara, near the Nigerian border, in which up to 15 locals were killed and four others injured, Radio France Internationale Afrique reports.

Defense Minister Karidjo Mahamadou encouraged the Nigerien army to "relentlessly pursue their noble mission for the defense of the integrity of the national territory and the protection of people and their goods." Niger and its neighbors Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad have been facing a rise in violence by Boko Haram since the beginning of the year.

In Niamey — Photo: Jean Rebiffé

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
The humanitarian situation in the southeastern region of Diffa, an area that has been desperately poor for years, has significantly deteriorated these past few months as both floods and droughts are now combined with the threat of Boko Haram, StarAfrica reports. At least 150,000 people have currently been relocated in the region, according to RFI. The few NGOs onsite are starting to be overwhelmed and aid programs are crumbling due to the increasing number of refugees fleeing Boko Haram.



About 17,000 refugees have been established in two camps, in Bosso and Nguigmi districts, after the evacuation of Lake Chad in late April, MSF reports. The malnutrition crisis the Diffa region faces every year is expected to worsen and become critical as trade has been halted and many fields have not been planted in the area. The imminent start of the rainy season, combined with malnutrition and poor sanitary conditions, is also set to ring an increase of malaria cases, especially for children.

Fishing on the Niger River — Photo: Jean Rebiffé

EID AL-FITR CELEBRATIONS
Like the majority of the global Islamic population, Muslims in Niger (between 80% and 94% of the country's population) celebrated Eid al-Fitr last week — a celebration which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In the capital Niamey, thousands of people, including President Mahamadou Issoufou as well as several government and diplomatic officials, braved the rain on their way to the Great Mosque to attend the ceremony, Le Sahel reports.

Imams throughout the country delivered sermons marked by requests for solidarity, compassion, mutual aid and sharing, according to Actu Niger. The president of Niger's Islamic Association Cheikh Jabir Omar Ismail, in addition to calling for peace and security, also encouraged the Nigerien security forces and military, wishing them "total victory" against terrorist forces.

Niamey's Great Mosque — Photo: Roland

POLITICIAN, WIFE ACCUSED OF BABY-TRAFFICKING
An appeal court in Niamey gave a green light to a criminal court to begin the trial of a baby-trafficking case involving the former head of the national assembly Hama Amadou, his wife and some 30 other members of the political and social elite, who could now face long jail terms, Jeune Afrique reports.

Hama Amadou, who, until the case appeared, was a potential opposition challenger for the 2016 presidential election, slipped out of the country before he could be questioned. He has since proclaimed his innocence. His wife and the other people involved in the scandal, however, have been charged with falsely claiming parenthood of about 30 babies born to women in Nigeria for the sole purpose of being sold to wealthy couples in Niger, Reuters reports.

The view from the minaret of Niamey's Great Mosque — Photo: Eric Haglund