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Niger: Vive La Françafrique! Who Benefits From Niger's Uranium?

France needs Niger's uranium, while Niger needs French assistance. But the relationship is and always has been unequal.

Last December, as negotiations dragged on between the Nigerien government and the French state-owned mining company Areva over royalties, the latter suddenly stopped production.

At the time, Niger had been demanding a better deal for its uranium for over a year and Areva's decade-long mining contract was about to expire at the end of the month.

As its mining activities came to halt, Areva claimed it had suspended production for maintenance, but many saw it as a political move aimed at putting pressure on the Nigerien negotiators.

After all, Niger's economy is heavily dependent on its huge uranium reserves and its population is already one of the world's poorest. Turning off that tap could have huge repercussions.

However, in a sense, it is that very discrepancy - between the country's vast mineral wealth on the one hand, and widespread poverty on the other - that the government was in negotiations to re-assess.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Areva's global revenues of nearly $13 billion in 2013 make the French firm almost twice as big as Niger's whole economy, and as Areva's revenues have risen - partly off Niger's uranium - Nigeriens have remained poor.

In the end, Areva restarted production at the start of this month, but the talks are still ongoing. Niger is reportedly demanding that the royalties Areva's mines pay increase from 5.5% to 12%, bringing them closer to the 13% Areva pays in Canada and the 18.5% paid in Kazakhstan.

However the French-owned company, which has posted losses in recent years, insists that such a change would not make their operations worthwhile.

The result of the deadlocked talks could prove highly significant for Niger, but this is not the first time the West African nation has found itself in this position.

In fact, the current negotiations are merely the latest chapter in a long history of France-Niger relations, and unfortunately for Niger, a look back at previous chapters of the story doesn't offer too much hope for a positive outcome in the one being played out today.

Forming Françafrique

Franco-African relations first began in the late-14th or early-15th century with trade with the coastal regions of what are now Gambia and Senegal.

But it was only in the early 17th century that France "began granting trading charters in specified areas as part of an attempt to extend France's power and wealth," in the words of political scientist Victor Le Vine.

Like most of the European powers, the French initially didn't venture far inland as trading slaves and resources didn't require more than a port and a few merchants.

However, as the nature of trade shifted so did the means by which to plunder the continent, and by the 19th century, France, along with the rest of Europe's colonial powers, was moving inland, starting in Senegal.

After its 1871 defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, colonialism was seen as a way of regenerating nationalist sentiment and elevating France's global status, and with enhanced efforts, by 1900 France had become the second largest colonial power in the world.

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