Niger is a landlocked country in West Africa that is named after the Niger River. Nigeria and Benin border it to the south, Mali and Burkina Faso to the west, Libya and Algeria to the north, and Chad to the east. Its total area is 1,270,000 sq. km and 80 percent of Niger is covered by the Sahara. Its population of more than 22,919,867 million people are mostly Muslim and live in the south and west. Niamey is the capital city.
Desertification and drought threaten the non-desert locations. Subsistence agriculture is a major part of the economy outside export areas in the fertile south and uranium ore. Poor education, poverty, the landlocked desert terrain, poor infrastructure, and environmental degradation handicap the country.
The country has diversity that comes from the histories of its ethnic groups. Niger has been on the edges of several large states. There have been five constitutions and three periods of military rule since independence. Most people live in rural areas and do not have access to education.
Five thousand years ago, the area that is now Niger was fertile grasslands, Paintings of wildlife, domesticated animals, and chariots date to at least 10,000 BCE.
Early Historical Period
In the 15th century, the Songhai Empire expanded into Niger and reached to Agadez before collapsing in 1591. A series of Songhai states then formed, with the Dendi Kingdom the most powerful. Tuareg nomads moved south in the 13th century in large federations and displaced existing residents. These Tuaregs ruled northern Niger.
Fula pastoralists migrated into the Liptako area in the 18th century. Smaller kingdoms, like the Zarma, fought the Fulani Empire of Sokoto. The expansion of the Kanem Empire and Bornu Empire to the area around Lake Chad moved Kanuri and Toubou rulers and their states as far west as the Kaouar and Zinder Oases by the 17th century.
Europeans arrived in the area to explore in the 19th century to search for the Niger River’s source. The French began to attempt to pacify dissident groups prior to 1900 but they were not subdued until 1922 when the area became a French colony.
The French conferred citizenship to the territory’s inhabitants and governed it from Dakar, Senegal. The French constitution in 1946 allowed for limited political participation for local assemblies.
The Overseas Reform Act in 1956 reorganized the territories. This also provided for more self-government. Niger became an autonomous stated after the Fifth French Republic was established in 1958. Niger gained full independence on August 3, 1960.
Single Party and Military Rule (1961-1991)
Niger was run by a single party regime under President Hamani Diori for its first fourteen years. Drought and corruption accusations in 1974 resulted in a coup. Seyni Kountche and a small group ruled until he died in 1987.
Ali Saibou, his Chief of Staff, succeeded him. Saibou freed political prisoners, liberalized laws, and forged a new constitution. By the end of 1990, Saibou agreed to allow a multi-party democratic system.
A national peace conference convened in 1991 and new political parties formed. This started the road to free elections and a new constitution. A plan for a transitional government resulted from Prof. Andre Salifou’s leadership.
A transitional government began in 1991 to govern until the Third Republic was installed in 1993. The economy faltered under the transitional government, but the elections that were held were considered free and fair. Independent newspapers also started.
The election resulted in a rival president and prime minister. The resulting governmental paralysis gave Col. Ibrahim Bare Mainassara an opportunity to overthrow the Third Republic in 1996.
Military Rule and the Fourth Republic
A military authority ran the government for a six month period of transition. Bare gathered a group of specialists to draft a new constitution, which was announced as the Fourth Republic in 1996. During elections held that year, Bare replaced the electoral commission. The new commission found Bare the winner and his party won a majority of the parliament’s seats.
Due to the coup and the flawed elections, economic assistance did not come to Niger. Bare then ignored the embargo against Libya and sought its assistance to fund economic aid. Civil liberties were also violated by Bare’s government.
The government did sign peace agreements with Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been fighting the government since 1990.
Fifth Republic Since 1999
Bare was killed during a coup in 1999 led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanke. Wanke oversaw the drafting of new constitution with a French style semi-presidential system.
The constitution was approved in 1999 in elections generally viewed as free and fair. Presidential and legislative elections were held that year and Mamadou Tandja won the presidency. He led a coalition of the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS).
A military junta took over the country in 2010 in response to Tandja’s attempt to extend his presidential term. The Supreme Council for the restoration of Democracy led the junta.
The 1999 constitution restored the semi-presidential system. The unicameral National Assembly was expended. In order to gain a seat, a party must attain at least 5 percent of the vote.
The first successful local elections took place in 2004. Decentralization laws were passed in 2002. Niger now has 8 regions and 36 districts. The executive appoints each regional governor.
Seven political parties were part of the legislature elected in 2004. President Tandja was re-elected in 2004 and re-appointed Hama Amadou as his Prime Minister. The parliament elected Mahamane Ousmane as its head. There was military unrest in 2002, but the government was able to restore order.
A vote of no confidence forced Hama Amadou out as prime minister in 2007. He was replaced by Seyni Oumarou.
Tuaregs rebelled for a second time in 2007 in northern Niger due to economic problems and failure to achieve political progress.
In 2009, Tandja dissolved parliament after the constitutional court rejected his plan to have a referendum to allow him a third term. This sparked a clash between Tandja and his opponents.
In April 2011, incumbent president Mahamadou Issoufou took office.
Niger is a West African nation on the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. The country’s area is 1,267,000 sq. km. Niger’s size is comparable to Angola and the U.S. state of Texas.
The country borders seven others and the longest border is with Nigeria. It also borders Chad, Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Libya.
The country’s highest point is Mont Idoukal-n-Taghes at 2,022 meters.
Niger has a hot and dry subtropical climate. Much of the country is desert with sand dunes. Flat to rolling savannas are in the south.
Regions, Departments, and Communes
There are seven regions and one capital district. These regions are divided into 36 departments which are then broken down into communes.
Niger’s foreign policy is moderate and it is friendly with the West, the Islamic world, and non-aligned countries. It has a close relationship with France and its West African neighbors.
Niger is a charter member of the African Union and the Wes African Monetary Union. It belongs to other regional groups such as the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The International Court of Justice solved a border dispute with Benin in Niger’s favors in 2005.
The defense budget is 1.6% of GDP percent of government expenditures. The French give the most military assistance but Algeria, China, Morocco, and Libya have also contributed. The U.S. has provided assistance to the military in the form of transportation, logistics, and training.
In 2010, the military staged another coup that ousted President Tandja Mamadou.
The transport subsector has benefited from the2014 revision of the Investment Code aimed at increasing its attractiveness, including an exemption from tax on industrial and commercial profits (BIC).
The road network covers over 20,083 kilometers of primary and secondary roads. All imports transshipped through coastal ports are transported by truck to their final destination in Niger. The volume of imports carried by truck has increased rapidly, underpinned by strong demand for basic foodstuffs.
There is no fully operational railway in Niger: the country jointly operates the Benin-based Cotonou to Niamey railway line with Benin under the auspices of OCBN (Organization Commune Benin Niger), but progress in connecting the two cities has been slow. Although President Issoufou inaugurated the railroad in January 2016 with a ceremonial voyage between Dosso and Niamey, the segment is still under construction.
Niger’s air transport sector has recovered from the decline experienced at the beginning of the century, boosted by market liberalization. Niger has six major airports including three international air terminals – Niamey, Agadez and Zinder and a number of smaller airstrips. Nevertheless, the market remains relatively underdeveloped, and funding to upgrade facilities remains a problem.
For long distance travel, roads are the main form of transport. Of the 10,100 km of roads, only 798 km were paved in 1996. The first paved highway was built for uranium transportation and is part of the Trans-Sahara Highway system.
The Diori Hamani International Airport at Niamey is the main airport. Other airports are in Agadez and near Zinder.
GDP growth is projected to be 4.5% in 2017. Security threats at the borders with Mali, Libya, and Nigeria and persistently low commodity prices expose Niger to serious macroeconomic risks.
Despite showing a moderate risk of debt distress in 2014, Niger must continue to closely monitor its debt sustainability, owing to the rapid increase in external public debt from 27% to 35% of GDP between 2014 and 2016. This ratio is expected to climb to 37% in 2018, before declining as investment projects in the extractive industries are completed. The overall fiscal deficit improved and is forecast to be 7.5% in 2016.
Niger does have one of the largest uranium deposits in the world, but subsistence crops and livestock are major parts of the economy. The high population growth, droughts, and drop in uranium demand have hurt the economy.
Niger’s currency, the CFA franc, is shared with seven other members of the Wes African Monetary Union. These countries also share a common central bank. Niger belongs to the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
Internal markets, subsistence farming, and exporting raw commodities form the basis of Niger’s agricultural economy. Most residents involved in crop production are in the nation’s south center and south west areas.
Rainfall is unpredictable and when it is not adequate, the country cannot feed its population and it relies on food aid. Droughts can last for years, such as the one from the 1960s through the 1980s.
The largest export is uranium, followed by livestock. These statistics fail to account for herds that informally cross into Nigeria. There are also deposits of coal, iron, phosphates, limestone, and gypsum in Niger. Gold mining has also recently started.
The 1994 CFA franc devaluation contributed to 3.5 percent economic growth in the mid-1990s. The current GDP growth rate is 5.7 percent.
Economic Restructuring and Debt
In 2000, the new government came to power with serious economic problems. That year, the country qualified for debt relief from the IMF.
This government sought changes to the economy to move toward IMF’s privatization model. This included privatizing telecommunications and water distribution. Price protections on petroleum products were removed.
There is also a plan to reduce poverty and corruption. The attempt to privatize the power company failed in 2001 and 2003. The telephone operation was renationalized in 2009.
France, the IMF, the EU, the World Bank, and U.N. agencies are important donors to Niger. Others are the U.S., Germany, Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia.
A famine in 2010 struck the Sahel after crops failed to develop in the heat. Record breaking temperatures were seen in the region and 350,000 faced starvation. Illness, starvation and nutrition were killing and sickening many people. The new junta appealed for overseas aid.
Half of the people are part of the Hausa group, which is also the major group in Nigeria and the Zarma-Songhai. Both groups are sedentary farmers.
The remaining Nigeriens are the Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou, who make up 20 percent of the population. Livestock producers and agriculturalists have begun to fight over natural resources in recent years.
Niger has a high infant mortality rate that is similar to other regional countries. The infant mortality rate is 86.27 deaths for every 1,000 live births. Despite this, the country has the world’s highest fertility rate at 6.89 births per woman. Half the population is under 15 years old.
There is six years of compulsory education. Attendance rates are low, particularly for girls. Girls rarely attend school for more than a few years. Children are often required to work rather than attend school and children in nomadic communities do not have access to education.
Culture and Religion
Niger’s culture is varied. The area that became Niger under French rule came from four distinct cultural areas.
Each community brought their own traditions to the country. Despite governmental effort, it has been difficult to create a national identity.
The Niamey and Zarma dominated the government until the 1990s. Other areas looked to other countries for direction due to their shared cultures.
In the 10th century, Islam spread from North Africa and now more than 90 percent of the population is Muslim. There are small communities of Christians and Animists.
Most Muslims are Sunni and Sufi. Only about 5 percent are Shi’a. Niger has a tradition of being a secular state and has good interfaith relations.
A small percentage of those in Niger practice indigenous beliefs. In some areas, animist festivals are practiced.
In the late 1990s, a diverse media developed. Before this time, there were only state run media outlets. Now, there are many outlets, some owned by the government and some private. Since televisions are beyond the buying power of the poor, radio is the most important outlet. There are broadcasts in French and English.
While freedom exists at the national level, journalists often received pressure from local authorities.