Through the Sahara: Contingency Planning In Niger

Remy Haggard, Security Specialist, recently returned from a trip to Niger to investigate the growing threat from Islamist militancy, validate our current risk ratings, and update our provider network. Below he shares his account of the trip.


I arrive at the new terminal of Diori Hamani International Airport (NIM) in Niger’s capital Niamey through the city’s largely traffic-free streets. A lot of things here are new, having been opened ahead of the African Union summit in July 2019. This includes my hotel.


Entering the hotel takes some time. Cars are beckoned forward one by one by armed security guards into a containment zone where external and internal checks are carried out. Hotels across the Sahel have become potential militant targets and it is clear they are taking no chances.


As part of our country trips, we assess hotels from a security perspective in order to update our internal database. The hotel’s security manager talks me through the measures they have in place to militate against evolving threats, from active shooter incidents to social unrest. We also discuss their lock-down capabilities, such as how long the water and food stocks will last if supply is cut off.


No seats on the plane
Land evacuations amid a deteriorating security situation might be necessary if airspace is closed. The presence of armed groups to the north and west of Niamey, and sprawling Sahara desert to the east mean the only safe corridor is south through Benin.


I set off early with our long-standing logistical partner towards the town of Dosso, our first point of call south east-of Niamey where I check in with base. This part of the route is smooth but everyone I spoke to told me the remaining two thirds are bone-breaking. Three hours past Dosso, the Toyota Land Cruiser continued to make slow but steady progress through ditches and fords, giving buses and freight lorries using this main artery a wide birth. Along the route I monitor the bars of cell network on my international and Nigerien SIM cards. For several miles there is no signal from either device.


My driver’s knowledge of Niger’s challenging roads and good reading of the temperature at police checkpoints get us safely to the town of Malanville, across the border in Benin, where I check in via satellite phone with our journey management team in London. The purpose of the road movement was to identify what problems our travellers might encounter should they need to evacuate by land. Key takeaways include the importance of having a 4x4 with a spare tire, a trusted local and knowledgeable driver (who knows how to replace a tire) and the need for a satellite phone. This on-the-ground information informs our contingency planning process.



Risk rating review
I met with representatives from our security provider and intelligence networks to get a view from the ground on criminal trends, hotspots, protest activity and popular sentiment. We had assessed the increasing risks from Islamist militancy as a key piece to monitor, and I discussed this with all our contacts, to ground-truth our assumptions.


Back in the Regional Security Centre, the insight gathered on the trip was used to inform our risk assessment process. This is a multi-layered assessment that incorporates insights from country visits with the analysis that is conducted by our 24/7 monitoring teams in the regional hubs.


Our risk ratings provide an overview of the threat posed to members in a location and act as a point of comparison to assist members and security managers in their decision-making. We consider variables such as terrorism, social unrest, and crime, the resilience of transport infrastructure, and the effectiveness of a country’ emergency response services.


Niger is currently at a tipping point, having remained largely immune from the instability and terrorist attacks that have afflicted its neighbours in the Sahel. The country has navigated through periods of political instability and levels of crime are very low by regional standards. However the country is having to face up to a growing number of complex humanitarian and security challenges. On this instance, we decided to reduce the risk rating for some regions of the country, but increase it for others.


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