Voters in Niger will return to the polls this Sunday for a runoff election that will determine outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou’s successor. The subsequent transition will mark the first time in the country’s history that one elected president replaces another. Beyond being a milestone for its democracy, this vote also holds real significance for Niger’s troubled neighborhood, an arid region just below the Sahara Desert known as the Sahel, where political and security conditions have deteriorated in recent years. To Niger’s west, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali was ousted in a coup last August, the second in less than a decade; to the east, President Idriss Deby, in power in Chad since 1990, has announced his controversial campaign for a sixth term in office ahead of elections in April.

Niger represents what is surely one of the most challenging governance contexts in the world. Landlocked and arid, it was…

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