Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Niger, a war for what's beneath the desert

A battle is unfolding on the stark mountains and scalloped dunes of northern Niger between a band of Tuareg nomads, who claim the riches beneath their homeland are being taken by a government that gives them little in return, and an army that calls the fighters drug traffickers and bandits. screenwriter badly needed... this plot won't make another news block buster!

Niger's northern desert caps one of the world's largest deposits of uranium, and demand for it has surged as global warming has increased interest in nuclear power. Growing economies like China and India are scouring the globe for the crumbly ore known as yellowcake. A French mining company is building the world's largest uranium mine in northern Niger, and a Chinese state company is building another mine nearby.

Uranium could infuse Niger with enough cash to catapult it out of the kind of poverty that causes one in five children here to die before their fifth birthday.

Or it could end in a calamitous war that leaves Niger more destitute than ever. Mineral wealth has fueled conflict across Africa for decades, a series of bloody, smash-and-grab rebellions that shattered nations. The misery wrought has left many Africans to conclude that mineral wealth is a curse.


The hardships of global warming and desertification, which eats away grazing land, further impoverished the Tuareg, forcing many to abandon herding. Yet as its fertility degraded, their land became increasingly sought after as the global price of uranium rose steadily. This paradox would prove explosive.

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