On Sunday, December 27, Niger will hold its 2020 general election for President and National Assembly. Sunday’s election will be historic for Niger as it marks the first peaceful transfer of power in the country’s history.
- Context: Previous transfers of power in the country have been marred by a consistent trend of coups and civil violence.
Niger gained independence from its status as a French colony in 1960, and held its first elections in 1965. At that time Niger was a single-party state, with predominantly uncontested elections. Elections remained relatively unimpeded until 1993 when the country had its first multi-candidate presidential election. Since then, however, each passing of power has been demarcated by significant violence, often in the form of military coups. Niger will hope to buck this trend and demonstrate progress in its democratic institutions both for the sake of optics on the global stage, and for the health and well-being of the country’s people.
Incumbent President Mahamadou Issoufou is stepping aside after two terms in office - a constitutional mandate. This move by Mahamadou is, in itself, significant when compared to the presidents of Guinea and Ivory Coast, who amended their countries’ constitutions to run for third terms earlier this year. Both won re-election.
There are over 30 candidates in this year’s Nigerien election, many of whom are first-time presidential hopefuls. And up until recently, there were only two candidates who were considered serious contenders to hold presidential office in Niger in 2021: Mohamed Bazoum, who sat as president of the incumbent’s parliamentary party until this past summer, and Hama Amadou, a former Nigerian Prime Minister. The race also involves former President Mahamane Ousmane who was ousted in a 1996 coup.
Amadou’s bid for candidacy in this year’s election was rejected in November by Niger’s Constitutional Court, however, due to a 2017 criminal conviction for his involvement in a child-trafficking scandal. Amadou has maintained that these allegations are the product of political sabotage.
Given Amadou’s disqualification from this year’s race, several media outlets have deemed Bazoum to be the clear front runner in the election. This is especially true given his historical relationship with the incumbent.
On the global stage Niger has grown in relevance both as a strategic security partner, and as a trade partner. Landlocked, and bordering Algeria, Mali, and Libya.
Niger is a Saharan buffer zone against the rampant terrorism moving down from North Africa.Two countries that border Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, scored a 0 out of 10 in political risk firm Verisk Maplecroft’s Global Risk index, encumbering the large nation with even more security concerns.
The greatest of these concerns has been Boko Haram, a ruthless African-based terrorist organization that peaked in activity in 2014 and 2015. Whereas terrorist-related deaths in the Middle East have been on the decline in the last half-decade, groups like Al-Qaeda have established franchises in Africa and much of that violence has moved there. While violence caused by groups like Boko Haram and AQIM has generally been contained within Northern and Western Africa thus far, it threatens to move further south.
One of the hottest countries on the planet, Niger has become a strong partner in combating the numerous existential issues that threaten the African continent. With respect to terrorism, Niger has become a key member of African Union’s efforts to stymie efforts by Boko Haram to inflict damage in West Africa and North Africa. Niger has also been active in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WARMU) to support regional security and trade integration between African nations.
Economically, Niger is home to the world’s largest Uranium deposits. While the commodity severely fell in favor after the Cold War, and its recyclability has lessened the need for Uranium discovery, the element still holds value. France, for example, derives 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, although the country hopes to reduce this significantly by 2035. Furthermore, as nuclear energy becomes a central source of electricity for emerging economies, many of which are located on the African continent, Niger may become a more important player both regionally and continentally.
Uranium is even traded on public markets through vehicles like North Shore Global Uranium Mining ETF (NYSEARCA: URNM).
Niger is also a consistent exporter of agriculture, gold, and oil. As Uranium prices continue to decline, former president Mahamadou Issoufou, and ostensibly his successor Mohamed Bazoum, are working to attract private sector foreign investment in both Niger’s oil and gold production, in order to reduce the country’s dependence on waning Uranium. To this end, Niger has already broken ground on an oil pipeline from Niger to Benin which is expected to be completed in 2021.
With Niger now under the watchful eye of the IMF, and forthcoming investment from countries like China in Niger’s energy sector, Bazoum will be expected to not only maintain, but increase Niger’s already stable GDP YoY growth which is nearing 6%.
- Context: Niger's GDP-per-capita fell steadily from 1960 until 2000.
An increase in gold production could contribute to a contraction in the commodity’s price next year, which may be likely to occur irrespective of Niger given investors’ positive sentiments around the future of COVID-19.
There is a 10.55% chance Mohamed Bazoum clears 50%+1 of the vote in the first round of voting. Our prediction has an 89% confidence interval [9%, 15%] to account for authoritarian back-sliding and other factors. There is a 89.45% chance the election goes to a sound round vote.
If the election goes to a second round vote, there is a 91.69% chance Bazoum will win it. Our prediction has an 89% confidence interval [89%, 96%].
Overall, there is a 92.57% chance Bazoum becomes the next President of Niger, making him highly favored to win.
As discussed earlier, Niger’s history with elections has been riddled with controversy. Several coups and interwoven periods of single-party dominance have set the stage for what is expected to be the first peaceful transfer of power in Niger’s history - a momentous occasion on paper.
To that end, Niger’s most recent elections have been bereft of pattern. Since 1999, every general election in Niger has progressed to a second round of voting.
In 2016 incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou was forced into a second round of elections by his competitor, Hama Amadou. A coalition which had formed prior to the election, in order to support whichever party opposed Issoufou in a potential second round, instead boycotted the second round, leaving Issoufou to win effectively unopposed. The election before that followed Niger’s most recent coup.
Moreover, Niger receives a “Partly Free” score from Freedom House, with poor scores for free and fair elections. This low score was largely driven by election “irregularities including vote buying, underage voting, and rigging of election results.”
As illustrated above, it is clear that Niger’s history with elections has been inconsistent. As such, the outcome of this year’s election is in a similar state of uncertainty. With that being said, however, we at Global Guessing were able to combine historical voting data from Niger’s past elections with polling data conducted by Navanti and the Clingendael Institute (Netherlands Institute for International Relations), and apply appropriate weighting to both datasets to arrive at a prediction that we feel comfortable supporting.
Experts are saying that Mohamed Bazoum is the favorite in this year’s election, and our prediction does not deviate far from that forecast. Collectively, however, we have more confidence in a win for Bazoum after two rounds of elections, than after one.
Our approach to the Niger presidential election is similar to the ones we used for Ghana and Burkina Faso. We first calculate what the base-rate is for the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), Bazoum and Issoufou’s party, using historical election data dating back to 1999. Next, we calculate the current position of Bazoum in the 2020 pre-election surveys. We calculate both of these values for round 1 and round 2 voting.
With the historical base-rate and current position, we run a Bayesian prediction model in R with 20,000 simulations for each round of voting (code and data available at the end). We then sort the simulations and calculate the percentage of instances where Bazoum clears 50%+1 of the vote. Finally, we create a human-designed 89% confidence interval to account for democracy score and uncertainty of the data.
Determining the base-rate was more challenging in Niger than either Burkina Faso or Ghana. In the instance of Burkina Faso, there was only one other election to reference making the calculation extremely simple. And in Ghana there was a long 20+ year history of continuance of democratic election. By contrast, Niger has had frequent interruptions to democratic rule. Moreover, the 2016 election round 2 vote is a troubling data point to use since the opposition protested the election.
For the round 1 historical base-rate for the PNDS candidate, we weighed the 2016 election at 0.83, 2011 at 0.12, 2004 at 0.04 and 1999 at 0.01. We then adjusted this calculated average by adding 15% of the vote total earned by Amadou, with this value being based on how historical opposition votes in presidential elections tend to be distributed as well as a comparison of the round 2 votes for Issoufou compared to total votes case in round 1 (adjusted for average vote decrease between round 1 and round 2).
Found the second round base-rate, we weighed both the 2016 and 2011 elections at 0.44, with 2004 being weighted at 0.10 and 1994 at 0.02. To calculate a more accurate result for 2016, we calculated the votes President Issoufou won in the second round of voting, discounted by 75%, as a share of the round 1 total votes: This generated a 2016 round 2 vote share of 62.11% versus the official 92.51%. Finally, we reduced the calculated average by 2% to account for the lack of incumbency effect in this year’s election.
Determining the current position of Bazoum was equally as complicated as the base-rate due to a lack of opinion polling in Niger. For determining the first round current position, we primarily relied on a poll conducted by Navanti and Clingendael, making adjustments based on an online survey primarily answered in Niger’s capital, Niamey, that was primarily answered by younger Nigeriens (important, since Navanti found increased voter intention for youth in comparison to 2016).
We also adjusted the poll results by including a +4, -4 variant since the poll was framed as “In your opinion, who will win the election?” We made our adjustment based on the accuracy of US polls focused on predictions rather than vote intentions.
Unlike our predictions for Ghana and Burkina Faso, we were unable to reach the same opinion on weights of these different results. As a result, we independently weighed the options then calculated the average: 46.9525%.
Andrew weighed the options at the first result at 0.2 due to Niger’s inconsistent election history and potential of a real opposition, the second at 0.65 because it is the common sense narrative (think Occam's Razor), the third at 0.1 since it is highly unlikely Bazoum drops below 45% in the first round due to Amadou’s bid being rejected and Issoufou campaigning for Bazoum, and the last at 0.05 based on historical results versus current polling.
Clay, by contrast, weighed the first option at 0.60, deciding to favor, on balance, the un-adjusted results. Next, he weighed #2 at 0.15 and #3 at 0.20. The slight preference for the third option over the second was due to Niger’s continuing extreme-poverty (44.50% in 2014, 41.40% in 2020) and terrorism problems, as well as Issoufou’s diminishing popularity. Finally, #4 was weighed at 0.05 due to the extreme variance from the original adjusted-poll results but still factoring in its possibility as an extreme outside chance.
Calculating the round 2 current position was much easier. We discounted the base-rate of Round 2 by how much the current position of Round 1 fell behind the 2016 Round 2 performance of Issoufou: 53.38%.
All eyes are on what happens on December 27th and beyond. We are watching whether elections in Niger are conducted in a free and fair manner, including voting, tabulation, and any intervention by the Issoufou administration which would unfairly tilt the scale in Bazoum's favor.
We are also watching if there will be any election-day violence by terrorist groups or other actors, as well as any post-election violence and disruption.
- Only a week ago, a Boko Haram attack left 28 dead, 100 injured, and 800 homes burned.
Should the election go to a second round vote, the actions taken by government and non-government actors will be crucial to watch.
No matter who becomes the next president of Niger, the most important issues will be addressing rampant unemployment and continually high poverty rates, as well as addressing the security situation. At the same time, the president will also need to ensure that GDP growth in maintained and, ideally, accelerated.