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07NIAMEY713 2007-05-22 11:36:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Niamey
Cable title:  

NIGER: MINISTRY OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS (MRA)

Tags:   PGOV PHUM PREL SOCI PINR NG 
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1. (SBU) Summary. Ambassador, accompanied by
locally-engaged staff Political Assistant (notetaker), paid a
May 16 courtesy call on the recently-appointed Cabinet
Minister for the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MRA), Issaka
Labo. The MRA's responsibilities include a security element
complementary to the Ministry of Interior and
Decentralization (MID) functions. Labo emphasized that the
MRA is not a ministry of Islamic affairs, that it will focus
on all religious denominations in Niger. The new Ministry
does not yet have an operating budget, but expects operating
funds to be drawn from the operating budgets of other
Ministries. End Summary.



2. (U) MRA Leadership. Minister Issaka Labo, appointed to
his position on March 1, 2007, is reported to be in his
mid-fifties. He is a Hausa speaker from the Maradi region
and is married. Prior to his current appointment, he was
Administrative and Financial Director at the Ministry of
Higher Education. He served as Government of Niger (GON)
Minister of Health from 1994-1995. He was the Administrative
and Financial Director at the National Agricultural Research
Institute (INRAN) from 1993-1994. His party affiliation is
Parti Social Democrate Nigerien (PSDN), an affiliate of the
Mouvement National pour la Societe de Developpement (MNSD).



3. (U) MRA Role. The establishment of the MRA, according to
the Minister, is long overdue and a Ministry that Nigeriens
have wanted for some time. He stated the MRA has begun its
social dialogue with various institutions, such as the
National Council for Political Dialogue (CNDP), the National
Council for Social Dialogue (CNDS) and the High Commission
for the Restoration of Peace (HCRP). Labo said that Niger's
society has a strong religious component which should be
taken into account in social and political dialogue, thus his
role and that of the MRA will be to ensure that the GON bears
in mind religious views in the implementation of government
policies and programs. For example, he mentioned that the
GON is sensitizing the population and religious leaders on
the Additional Protocol to the African Human and People's
Rights Charter Relating to Women's Rights in Africa (the
Maputo Protocol) and went as far as stating that the National
Assembly (NA) would pass the bill on May 17. (Note: The NA
has not yet started discussion on the Protocol (reftel B).
End note.) He emphasized that the MRA will focus on all
religious affairs and not solely focus on Islamic matters,
covering everything from humanitarian projects to visits of
religious leaders to establishment of religious schools. He
added that he expects to dialogue regularly with a
soon-to-be-established Christian Council, as he now does with
the Islamic Council established in 2006. Labo said he is
hopeful the MRA will help strengthen interfaith dialogue. He
believes that religious ethics can be used in conjunction
with educating the people on issues such as health, hygiene
and anti-corruption. He suggested the MRA will work to
restructure koranic schools, focusing on curricula and
payment to marabouts/teachers, the latter to stem problems
such as child begging and trafficking in persons. He stated
it is important for Nigerien youth to be educated in Niger
because when parents send children abroad the education that
they receive in foreign koranic schools sometimes creates
negative influences contrary to Nigerien values.



4. (C) Security role. Underscoring the MRA security role,
Labo noted that the MRA would combat religious extremism by
monitoring activities of suspected fundamentalist leaders and
groups. MRA will track the religious organizations' use of
money and other material resources. When asked whether that
was not already a responsibility of the MID, Labo responded
that the MRA will partner with the MID on collection of
information, using various surveillance activities, including
telephone tapping. The MRA will insist that future mosque
projects include components to contribute to the physical
well-being of people in the local communities, such as wells,
schools, health clinics, micro credit, etc.) He stated that
some organizations build mosques and do nothing to alleviate
the poverty among the Nigerien people. Moreover, he noted
that most religious/humanitarian non-governmental
organizations (NGO) are led by foreigners and their
management is suspect. Citing the African Muslim Agency
(AMA), he said AMA mobilizes more resources than it invests
in Niger. The MRA will insist on the placement of more
Nigerien citizens in management positions, as Nigeriens are
more familiar with the needs of the local community.
Further, he believes that having more Nigerien managers will
aid the security authorities' tracking of NGO activities and
financial transactions. Labo welcomed the courtesy call and
closed the meeting by requesting U.S. Embassy support to
build the capacity of the MRA. He also called for increasead

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cooperation and information sharing between the Embassy and
the MRA.
ALLEN