As India seeks to boost its engagement with West Africa, it is a measure of Niger's importance that the landlocked uranium and oil-rich country of 17 million - with which bilateral trade amounts to a little over $100 million - has been granted two lines of credit (LoCs) of nearly $60 million in one quarter.
"Within one quarter we get lines of credit worth $60 million, which we appreciate. This shows the dynamism of the cooperation between our countries,", Niger's Minister of Planning and Regional Development Amadou Boubacar Cisse, who was here to sign the latest LoC agreement, told IANS.
"We hope this is the initiation of major cooperation to come between our countries," Cisse added.
While the latest LoC of $25 million is for financing a drinking water system in Niger's rural areas, the previous one worth $34.54 million was for electrifying 30 villages through a solar photovoltaic system, and for setting up a 5MW solar plant.
Cisse said both lines of credit touched on Niger's core needs, with its largely agrarian, subsistence-based economy frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa.
"Our head of state (President Mahamadou Issoufou), in his speeches, is always highlighting the need for water and electricity. In Niger, kids in rural areas have to go to fetch water for their homes instead of going to school. In marriages, the most sought after item as dowry is the donkey, because it can help transport water," the minister explained.
Thanking India for quickly approving these essential lines of credit, Cisse promised to implement the projects quickly so that proposals for other projects could be subsequently submitted.
"We will submit more proposals for projects, mainly in the agriculture sector and for affordable housing," Cisse said.
"An important proposal concerns a railway project that has been promoted by every Niger government since independence (in 1960). It is a 1,000-km-long regional railway linking Niger with other West African countries like Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire, said Cisse, who is also the country's regional development minister.
Niger shares a common currency and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with the other seven members of the West African Monetary Union.
In recent years, Niger's economy has been hurt by rebellious Tuareg ethnic groups in the country's north, and by the spillover from the conflict of Islamic militants and the government in neighbouring Mali. Successful offensives in 2009 limited the rebels' operational capabilities.
India's Exim Bank has so far extended four lines of credit to Niger, one of $17 million in 2005 for procuring buses, trucks, tractors, flour mills, motor pumps and the like and another of $20 million in 2008 for power supply and electrification projects. Both these lines of credit have been utilized, the bank said.