Niger (country) (French République du Niger), republic in western Africa, bounded on the north by Algeria and Libya, on the east by Chad, on the south by Nigeria and Benin, and on the west by Burkina Faso and Mali. It has a total area of 1,267,000 sq km (489,200 sq mi).
|II||LAND AND RESOURCES|
Niger may be divided into three zones, the northern, central, and southern. The northern zone, covering more than half of the total area of the republic, lies within the Sahara. It is a highland region of plateaus and mountains and, except in scattered oases, has little vegetation. In this zone is Monts Bagzane (2,022 m/6,634 ft), the highest elevation in the country. The central zone, known as the Sahel, is semiarid and lightly wooded. The southern zone is a fertile, forested area that benefits from adequate rainfall and, in the southwest, from the periodic overflow of the Niger River, virtually the only river in the country. On the southeast, the nation borders on one of the largest lakes of the continent, the shallow Lake Chad.
The climate of Niger is hot and, in most areas, dry. Rainfall, negligible in the north, increases to 813 mm (32 in) a year in the south. In the south a rainy season lasts from June to October. The average annual temperature at Niamey, in the southeast, is 29°C (85°F).
|B||Plants and Animals|
The northern desert of Niger has little vegetation. In the south are extensive savanna grasslands and, in the lowlands, a variety of trees, including baobab, tamarind, kepok, and a species of mahogany. Animal life includes elephant, buffalo, antelope, giraffe, and lion.
Niger has diverse mineral resources, most of which remain to be exploited. Large deposits of high-grade uranium ore are found in the north. Other minerals present include coal, tin, gold, phosphate, iron ore, and copper.
Soil erosion and desertification resulting from overgrazing and poor land management have reduced the productivity of the country’s farmland. Burning wood and other traditional fuels accounts for 80 percent of the country’s energy consumption, and the need for firewood is contributing to deforestation.
Niger’s poorly developed infrastructure contributes to the spread of infectious diseases. Only 61 percent (1990-1998 estimate) of Niger’s population has access to safe water, and only 19 percent (1990-1998 estimate) of the population is serviced by adequate sewage systems.
About 7.7 percent (1997) of Niger’s land is officially protected. Although Niger has banned hunting throughout the country, rampant poaching seriously threatens wildlife populations.
Niger has ratified international treaties protecting biodiversity, endangered species, wetlands, and the ozone layer.
The majority of the population of Niger is composed of black peoples, primarily Hausa and Djerma, who are subsistence farmers in the south. Of the remaining quarter, most are Tuareg and Fulani, peoples who follow a nomadic life.
The population of Niger is 13,272,679 (2008 estimate). The overall population density is only 11 persons per sq km (27 per sq mi), but approximately 90 percent of the population lives near the southern border.
|B||Political Divisions and Principal Cities|
Niger is divided into one capital district and seven departments, which are subdivided into districts and communes. Niamey is the capital, and largest city; Zinder, Maradi, Tahoua, and Agadez are the other principal towns.
|C||Religion and Language|
Muslims, most adhering to Sunni Islam, make up about 90 percent of Niger’s population. Most of the remainder adheres to traditional beliefs; less than 1 percent is Christian.
French is the official language, but Hausa is the language of local trade. Other African languages, such as Fulfulde, Tamachek, and Djerma, are also used extensively.
Schooling in Niger is free and compulsory between the ages of 7 and 12. Because of a shortage of teachers and the wide dispersion of the population, however, only 44 percent of primary school-age children receive an education. In the 2000 school year 656,600 pupils attended primary schools. Secondary schools enrolled only 7 percent of the relevant age group. Advanced training is given at the University of Niamey (1971).
Municipalities in Niger have state-run libraries, and several private organizations maintain libraries. The National Museum of Niger, in Niamey, includes both a library and a museum. Islamic influences from North Africa have had a powerful effect on the culture of Niger.
Agriculture employs 8 percent of Niger’s labor force, which includes many subsistence farmers and pastoralists. In spite of the general aridity of the country, agriculture provides 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), second only to services, which provide 43 percent. Agriculture has largely recovered from the effects of the disastrous Sahel drought of the early 1970s. Manufacturing enterprises are mostly very small. In 1993 the national budget included $400 million in expenditures and only $188 million in revenues.
|A||Agriculture and Fishing|
Livestock raising is the principal agricultural activity. In 2006 the livestock population included 7.7 million goats, 4.9 million sheep, and 2.4 million cattle. Cowpeas and cotton are cultivated for export. Millet, sorghum, cassava, pulses, and rice are grown for local consumption. Fishing is conducted in Lake Chad and the Niger River, and the catch is consumed locally.
|B||Mining and Manufacturing|
Niger has tin, gold, and uranium mining operations. Large deposits of uranium are located in northern Niger; these reserves, which are estimated at more than 160,000 metric tons, were being exploited at a rate of 3,000 metric tons per year in the early 1990s. Uranium accounts for more than three-fourths of the country’s annual mineral exports. Salt is also mined in Niger in small quantities. Industry is limited mainly to food processing and construction.
|C||Currency and Banking|
The unit of currency in Niger is the CFA franc (522.90 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). It is issued by the Central Bank of the West African States. Several commercial and development banks operate in the country. An exchange rate of 50 CFA francs to 1 French franc was in force from 1948 to 1994, when the CFA franc was devalued by 50 percent.
In 2003 Niger exported goods amounting to $209 million, with uranium accounting for the bulk of the value. Imports totaled $558 million. Two-thirds of all exports go to France. Other major purchasers of exports are Côte d’Ivoire, and Italy. Chief sources of imports are France, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Japan.
|E||Transportation and Communications|
Niger has 14,565 km (9,050 mi) of roads, of which about one-third are paved. International airports serve Niamey and Agadez, and the country has more than 20 smaller airfields. Government-controlled radio and television services broadcast in several languages. There were an average 127 radio receivers and 39 television sets for every 1,000 inhabitants in 2000. A daily newspaper, Le Sahel, is published in Niamey.
After a military coup in 1974, the Supreme Military Council, headed by a president, became Niger’s main governing body. A new constitution approved by referendum in September 1989 nominally returned the country to civilian rule. In 1991 this constitution was suspended and a transitional government established. Another constitution was ratified in 1992. After another military coup in January 1996, the National Assembly was dissolved, and a new constitution, designed to consolidate executive power in order to avoid deadlock between the president and the legislature, was approved by public referendum. Following a 1999 coup, this constitution was amended to balance the powers of the executive and legislative branches of government once again.
|A||Executive and Legislature|
The president, elected for a maximum of two five-year terms, is the head of state. The prime minister, appointed by the president, is the head of government. The legislative body is the National Assembly, composed of 113 directly elected representatives who serve five-year terms.
District magistrates’ courts, labor courts, and justices of the peace are located throughout Niger. The Court of State Security and an appeals court sit in Niamey. The High Court of Justice, empowered to try government officials, was authorized in 1991.
|C||Health and Welfare|
Niger, in cooperation with world health services, is attempting to control widespread diseases such as yaws and helminthiasis. The government enforces the provisions of some labor and health legislation, but most welfare services are left to the complex, traditional tribal and family social system. In 2008 the average life expectancy at birth was 44 years; the infant mortality rate was 115 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008.
In 2004 the armed services of Niger included an army of 5,200 members and a small air force. Paramilitary forces numbered 5,400 personnel. Niger has bilateral defense agreements with France.
During the Middle Ages the Niger region was on the central caravan route from North Africa to the Hausa states and the empires of Mali and Songhai. The area was therefore penetrated early by Muslim missionaries. The Hausa states were dominant in southern Niger from before the 10th century until the early 19th century, when they were conquered by the Fulani under Usuman dan Fodio. Songhai was for almost a thousand years the supreme power in the western part of the country, while the Kanem-Bornu Empire exerted a powerful influence in the east. In the 14th century the Tuareg populated the Aïr Plateau, where they subsequently established the sultanate of Agadez.
The first Europeans to enter the area were Scottish explorer Mungo Park in 1795 and 1805 and German explorers Heinrich Barth and Eduard Vogel in 1850. The French occupied the area about 1890. It was made a military territory in 1900, an autonomous territory in 1922, and an overseas territory in 1946. Proclaimed an autonomous republic of the French Community in 1958, Niger became fully independent on August 3, 1960.
In 1960 Hamani Diori was elected president by the legislature. In 1964 the government crushed a rebellion aimed against the Diori regime, and in April 1965 the president survived an assassination attempt. He was reelected in 1965 and 1970. Niger was one of six sub-Saharan nations affected by a five-year drought, which was broken by summer rains in 1973. Accused of corruption and of mishandling the famine, Diori was overthrown in a military coup d’état in April 1974. After the coup, Niger was ruled by a Supreme Military Council, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché. His first priority was economic recovery after the drought, and to that effect a new agreement with France was concluded in 1977.
Plots and coup attempts occurred during Kountché’s first years in power, but by 1980 he was confident enough to release former president Diori from detention. Most cabinet posts in the government were gradually filled by civilians, but a drop in uranium prices left Niger’s economy in a severely weakened condition. In November 1987 Kountché died of a brain tumor and was succeeded in the presidency by Ali Seybou, the army chief of staff. Seybou was reelected president in 1989 after introducing a new constitution that returned Niger to civilian rule under a single-party system. A wave of strikes and demonstrations in 1990 led him to legalize opposition parties. The same year, the nomadic Tuaregs of northern Niger began to rise up in favor of an independent Tuareg state. The Tuaregs, many of whom had left Niger in the early 1980s to escape a prolonged drought and had recently returned in large numbers, claimed that Seybou’s government had failed in its promises to adequately aid the returning nomads. After violent clashes with Nigerien forces the separatist movement became a full-scale rebellion. A constitutional conference, convened in July 1991, stripped Seybou of his powers and established a transitional government, headed by André Salifou. A constitution instituting a multiparty electoral system was ratified in December 1992. In elections in early 1993 Mahamane Ousmane of the Alliance des Forces du Changement (AFC; Alliance of the Forces of Change), a nine-party coalition, was elected president, and AFC candidates won a majority of the seats in parliament. In late 1994 the cabinet was dismissed by a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. Ousmane called for legislative elections in January 1995. A coalition of four opposition parties won a majority in the National Assembly, with the Movement National pour une Société de Développement (MNSD; National Movement for a Development Society) taking the largest number of seats. Friction between Ousmane and Prime Minister Hama Amadou, head of the MNSD, soon created a governmental deadlock. This slowed the implementation of an April 1995 peace accord signed with the northern Tuareg rebels.
In January 1996 Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara seized power in a military coup, arrested President Ousmane and Prime Minister Amadou, and banned all political parties. Mainassara cited the yearlong deadlock between Ousmane and Amadou as the reason for his coup. Ousmane and Amadou were released from prison in early February. A new constitution, consolidating the president’s power and limiting the prime minister’s role, was quickly drafted and approved in a May public vote in which only 35 percent of the nation’s registered voters participated. The ban on political parties was lifted, and Mainassara announced his candidacy for president in upcoming elections; Ousmane also declared his candidacy. In July Mainassara won presidential elections under suspicious circumstances. The independent electoral committee was fired during the two-day elections and replaced with a committee handpicked by Mainassara. Several opposition candidates, including Ousmane, were placed under house arrest.
Mainassara failed to garner a broad base of political support. In April 1999 Mainassara’s presidential guard unit assassinated him and assumed control of the country. The coup leaders drafted constitutional amendments that restored the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches and absolved the participants in both the 1996 and the 1999 coups. The revised constitution was approved by referendum, and presidential and legislative elections were held in October and November 1999. MNSD candidate Tandja Mamadou was elected president, and the MNSD again took the largest number of seats in the National Assembly. Mamadou was reelected in December 2004.