Lessons from Niger – Setbacks are inevitable, so development requires a long-term and inclusive investment

This is the first Newsletter from the new Head of the JDC, Aissatou (Aisha) Dicko.

Aisha has over 15 years of operational experience with the World Bank in international development across the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. In her different roles she led dialogues with government officials and partners, helping operationalize development policy. Prior to joining the JDC, Aisha was supporting and overseeing the delivery and implementation of World Bank operations in Niger, the second largest World Bank portfolio in West and Central Africa.

Dear Colleagues,

Niger has a history of coup, but even those who know the history did not see this one coming.

Despite rising uncertainty in neighboring countries with important spillover effects in Niger, the country enjoyed a relative stability. This positioned it as a major partner in the region for various actors, who availed significant resources to support its poverty reduction and economic growth ambitions. Through structural reforms, and some transformational engagements in key sectors, such as education, health, and energy, progress was slowly being achieved.

So, when President Bazoum was detained by the Presidential Guard on the 26 July, it took most of us by surprise.

But, if there is one lesson I drew from Haiti, Yemen, and other fragile contexts where I have worked, it’s that you must accept that you will have setbacks. Niger’s current situation is yet another reminder. It’s because of the inevitable setbacks that you have to be in the development arena for the long term. If you don’t stick around, you won’t get results.

Niger is a huge country – larger than Scandinavia. And it is different from this region in almost every way. It is landlocked, eighty percent of the population is employed in agriculture and it has the highest fertility rate in the world, with an average of seven children per mother. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world, more than forty percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, and the effects of climate change are the worst I have ever seen anywhere. As other countries in the region, it is also affected by forced displacement, hosting more than 700,000 refugees, IDPs and asylum seekers.

Yet the people I met gave me hope. Zeinabou is a thirty-five-year-old mother with eight children that I met during a field visit of the economic inclusion program in the Tillabéri region (the most conflict-affected region in Niger). Women like her would use small recurring cash transfers from the program to transform their lives and those of their families. Rigorous evaluations of this program show that in the 18 months since it began, it delivered improvements in household consumption and reduced food insecurity. It also resulted in better mental health and social well-being in these communities.

There are many other beneficiaries like Zeinabou in Niger’s most fragile areas, where a close partnership between the UNHCR and the World Bank under the Niger Refugees and Host Communities Support Project (PARCA) is helping respond to the country’s displacement challenges. Over a million people from refugee and host communities are benefitting from the improved access to basic services and economic opportunities: a clear example of how the humanitarian and development collaboration is operationalized. These results are in line with findings from one of the articles summarized in our Literature Review Update which posits that in certain contexts, cash transfers or access to land can benefit the forcibly displaced and their host communities.

As the JDC nears the end of its first mandate, we realize that we have established ourselves as a credible actor in supporting the collection and analysis of socioeconomic data. Coming from Niger, I see our biggest challenge, or opportunity, to be how to have policymakers and operational teams use this data.

In the environments in which I have worked, I would always see the impact of the decisions I make on people like Zeinabou and this is going to be my focus. Not only for her sake, but to make sure that our work is sustainable beyond the next four years, beyond the life of the JDC. 

Yours sincerely,

Aissatou (Aisha) Dicko

Head of the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement