A large, landlocked West African country surrounded by Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali.
The River Niger flows through the country in the extreme south-west, and the northern tip of Lake Chad lies in the extreme south-east. From these points the land rises to the high plateaux of the Sahara.
Agriculture is the principal economic activity, concentrating on livestock and the cultivation of millet, ground-nuts, sorghum, and other arable staples. Drought has continued to be a problem. Uranium accounts for almost three-quarters of exports, and livestock and vegetables are also exported.
Archaeological evidence shows that the area was inhabited in the Palaeolithic period. The Tuaregs occupied parts of Niger in the 11th century ad and their kingdom of Agadès grew during the 15th century. In the 17th century the Zerma established an empire around the River Niger. The Hausa, who had been moving into the area since the 14th century, expanded their territory during the 18th century, displacing the Tuaregs. In 1804 the Fulani, ancient competitors for Hausa land, defeated the Hausa in a war and established the kingdom of Sokoto. The French first arrived in 1891, but the country was not fully colonized until 1914. A French colony (part of French West Africa) from 1922, it became an autonomous republic within the French Community in 1958 and fully independent in 1960, but there were special agreements with France, covering finance, defence, technical assistance, and cultural affairs. From 1974, it was governed by a Supreme Military Council, and all political associations were banned. Political activity was re-legalized in 1988. In 1989, under President Ali Saibou, a new constitution was approved by referendum, which set up a new ruling council. Saibou remained opposed to establishing multiparty democracy but strikes and demonstrations throughout 1990 prompted him to agree to implement reforms. Following a National Conference in 1991 a transitional government was formed. A multiparty constitution was approved by a referendum in 1992 and in 1993, following open elections, a coalition government took office and Mahamane Ousmane became President. In 1995 a peace agreement was made with ethnic Tuareg rebels, based in the north of Niger, who had been clashing with government forces since 1991. In January 1996 army officers staged a coup, throwing Ousmane out of office. After pressure from France a presidential election was held, which was won by the military leader Ibrahim Mainassara. His assassination in 1999 was followed by a brief period of military rule. Mamadou Tandja was elected President later that year and re-elected in 2004.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
1,267,000 sq km (489,062 sq miles)
1 CFA franc = 100 centimes
Sunni Muslim 90.7%; traditional beliefs 8.7%
Zerma-Songhai 25.7%; Tazarawa 14.9%; Fulani 11.1%; Hausa 6.6%
French (official); Hausa; Songhai; local languages
UN; AU; Franc Zone; ECOWAS; Non-Aligned Movement; WTO