Niger (12/01)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of Niger

Area: 1,267,000 sq. km. (490,000 sq. mi.); about three times the size of California.
Cities: Capital--Niamey (pop. approx. 700,000). Other cities--Tahoua, Maradi, Zinder, Arlit, and Agadez.
Terrain: About two-thirds desert and mountains, one-third savanna.
Climate: Hot, dry, and dusty. Rainy season June-September.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Nigerien(s).
Population (2002 est.): 11,342,000 million.
Annual growth rate (2000 est.): 3.4%.
Ethnic groups: Hausa 56%, Djerma 22%, Fulani 8.5%, Tuareg 8%, Beri Beri (Kanouri) 4.3%; Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche 1.2%.
Religions: Islam (95%); remainder traditional and Christian.
Languages: French (official), Hausa, Djerma.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--34%.Literacy--15%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2000)--118/1,000. Life expectancy--46 yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--90%;industry and commerce--6%;government--4%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 3, 1960.
Constitution: The constitution of January 1993 was revised by national referendum on 12 May 1996 and again by referendum on 18 July 1999.
Branches: Executive--president and prime minister. Legislative--unicameral national assembly (83 MPs). Judicial--Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, High Court of Justice, and Court of State Security.
Political parties: Five are represented in the National Assembly.
Suffrage: The 1992 constitution provides for universal suffrage for Nigeriens age 18 or older.
Administrative subdivisions: Eight departments subdivided into 36 districts (arrondissements).
Central government budget: $320 million.
Flag: Three horizontal bands--orange, white, and green from top to bottom with orange orb representing the sun centered on white band.

GDP (1999): $2.1 billion.
Annual growth rate (2001): 4.5%.
Per capita GDP (1999): $190.
Avg. inflation rate (2001 est.): 4.2%.
Natural resources: Uranium, gold, oil, coal, iron, tin, phosphates.
Agriculture (40% of GDP): Products--millet, sorghum, cowpeas, peanuts, cotton, rice.
Industry (18% of GDP): Types--textiles, cement, soap, beverages.
Trade (1999 est.): Exports (Freight on Board (f.o.b.)--$285 million: uranium, livestock, cowpeas, onions. Major markets--France 39%, Nigeria 29%, Japan 17%, C�te d'Ivoire 5%. Imports (f.o.b.)--$334 million: consumer goods, petroleum, foodstuffs, industrial products. Major suppliers--France 22%, C�te d'Ivoire 15%, China 8%, Nigeria 8%.

The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier. The remainder of the Nigerien people are nomadic or seminomadic livestock-raising peoples--Fulani, Tuareg, Kanouri, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of these two types of peoples have come increasingly into conflict in Niger in recent years.

Niger's high infant mortality rate is comparable to levels recorded in neighboring countries. However, the child mortality rate (deaths among children between the ages of 1 and 4) is exceptionally high (274 per 1,000) due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children. Niger's very high fertility rate (7.4%), nonetheless, means that nearly half (49%) of the Nigerien population is under age 15. School attendance is very low (34%), including 38% of males and only 27% of females. Additional education occurs through Koranic schools.

Considerable evidence indicates that about 600,000 years ago, humans inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara of northern Niger. Long before the arrival of French influence and control in the area, Niger was an important economic crossroads, and the empires of Songhai, Mali, Gao, Kanem, and Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control over portions of the area.

During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century.

In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers--notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)--explored the area searching for the mouth of the Niger River. Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.

Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered her West African colonies through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies.

A further revision in the organization of overseas territories occurred with the passage of the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956, followed by reorganizational measures enacted by the French Parliament early in 1957. In addition to removing voting inequalities, these laws provided for creation of governmental organs, assuring individual territories a large measure of self-government. After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on August 3, 1960, however, membership was allowed to lapse.

For its first 14 years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-party civilian regime under the presidency of Hamani Diori. In 1974, a combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant corruption resulted in a military coup which overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountche and a small group of military ruled the country until Kountche's death in 1987. He was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who released political prisoners, liberalized some of Niger's laws and policies, and promulgated a new constitution. However, President Saibou's efforts to control political reforms failed in the face of union and student demands to institute a multi-party democratic system. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands by the end of 1990. New political parties and civic associations sprang up, and a National Conference was convened in July 1991 to prepare the way for the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of free and fair elections. The debate was often contentious and accusatory, but under the leadership of Prof. Andre Salifou, the conference developed consensus on the modalities of a transition government. A transition government was installed in November 1991 to manage the affairs of state until the institutions of the Third Republic were put in place in April 1993. While the economy deteriorated over the course of the transition, certain accomplishments stand out, including the successful conduct of a constitutional referendum; the adoption of key legislation such as the electoral and rural codes; and the holding of several free, fair, and nonviolent nationwide elections. Freedom of the press flourished with the appearance of several new independent newspapers.

Rivalries within a ruling coalition elected in 1994 led to governmental paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Bar� Ma�nassara a rationale to overthrow the Third Republic in January 1996. While leading a military authority that ran the government (Conseil de Salut National) during a 6-month transition period, Bare enlisted specialists to draft a new constitution for a Fourth Republic announced in May 1996. After dissolving the national electoral committee, Bare organized and won a flawed election in June 1996. When his efforts to justify his coup and subsequent questionable election failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic assistance, a desperate Bare ignored the international embargo on Libya seeking funds for Niger's economy. In repeated violations of basic civil liberties by the regime, opposition leaders were imprisoned; journalists often arrested, beaten, and deported by an unofficial militia composed of police and military; and independent media offices were looted and burned with impunity.

In the culmination of an initiative started under the 1991 National Conference, however, the government signed peace accords in April 1995 with all Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990 claiming they lacked attention and resources from the central government. The government agreed to absorb some former rebels in the military and, with French assistance, help others return to a productive civilian life.

In April 1999, Bare was overthrown in a coup led by Maj. Daouda Mallam Wanke who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for a Fifth Republic with a French style semi-presidential system. In votes that international observers found to be generally free and fair, the Nigerien electorate approved the new constitution in July 1999 and held legislative and presidential elections in October and November 1999. Heading a MNSD/CDS coalition, Mamadou Tandja won the presidency.

Niger's new constitution was approved in July 1999. It restores the semi-presidential system of government of the December 1992 constitution (Third Republic) in which the president of the Republic, elected by universal suffrage for a 5-year term, and a prime minister named by the president share executive power. The unicameral legislature is comprised of 83 deputies elected for a 5-year term under a proportional system of representation. Political parties must attain at least 5% of the vote in order to gain a seat in the legislature.

Niger's independent judicial system is composed of four higher courts--the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice and the Court of State Security.

The Constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials, which are expected to take place after all political interests agree upon a governmental decentralization plan. The country is currently divided into 8 departments, which are subdivided into 36 districts (arrondissements). The chief administrator (prefet) in each territorial unit is appointed by the government and functions primarily as the local agent of the central authorities.

The current legislature elected in October 1999 contains five political parties. President Mamadou Tandja was elected in November 1999 and appointed Hama Amadou as the Prime Minister. Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS, was elected President of the National Assembly (Parliament). The first government of the Fifth Republic was installed on January 5, 2000, and a government reshuffle occurred on September 18, 2001.

Principal Government Officials
President and Chief of State--Mamadou Tandja
Prime Minister--Hama Amadou
President of the National Assembly--Mahamane Ousmane
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Aichatou Mindaoudou
Ambassador to the United States--Joseph Diatta

Niger maintains an embassy in the United States at 2204 R Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel. 202-483-4224/25/26/27) and a permanent mission to the United Nations at 417 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022 (tel. (212-421-3260).

One of the poorest countries in the world, Niger's economy is based largely on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 3.4% population growth rate and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut an already marginal economy. Traditional subsistence farming, herding, small trading, and informal markets dominate an economy that generates few formal sector jobs.

Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 18% of the population. Fourteen percent of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production (camels, goats, sheep and cattle), said to support 29% of the population. The 15% of Niger's land that is arable is found mainly along its southern border with Nigeria. Rainfall varies and when insufficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements. Although the rains in 2000 were not good, those in 2001 were plentiful and well distributed. Millet, sorghum, and cassava are Niger's principal rainfed subsistence crops. Irrigated rice for internal consumption, while expensive, has, since the devaluation of the CFA franc, sold for below the price of imported rice, encouraging additional production. Cowpeas and onions are grown for commercial export, as are small quantities of garlic, peppers, potatoes, and wheat.

Of Niger's exports, foreign exchange earnings from livestock, although impossible to quantify, are second only to those from uranium. Actual exports far exceed official statistics, which often fail to detect large herds of animals informally crossing into Nigeria. Some hides and skins are exported and some are transformed into handicrafts.

The persistent uranium price slump has brought lower revenues for Niger's uranium sector, although uranium still provides 72% of national export proceeds. The nation enjoyed substantial export earnings and rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s after the opening of two large uranium mines near the northern town of Arlit. When the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s, however, the economy stagnated and new investment since then has been limited. Niger's two uranium mines (SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine) are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French interests.

Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. Substantial deposits of phosphates, coal, iron, limestone, and gypsum also have been found. Numerous foreign companies, including American firms, have taken out exploration licenses for concessions in the gold seam in western Niger, which also contains deposits of other minerals. Several oil companies have explored for petroleum since 1992 in the Djado plateau in northeastern Niger and the Agadem basin, north of Lake Chad but have made no discoveries worth developing. Niger's known coal reserves, with low energy and high ash content, cannot compete against higher quality coal on the world market. However, the parastatal SONICHAR (Societe Nigerienne de Charbon) in Tchirozerine (north of Agadez) extracts coal from an open pit and fuels an electricity generating plant that supplies energy to the uranium mines.

After the economic competitiveness created by the January 1994 CFA franc devaluation contributed to an annual average economic growth of 3.5% throughout the mid-1990s, the economy stagnated due the sharp reduction in foreign aid in 1999, which gradually resumed in 2000, and poor rains in 2000. Reflecting the importance of the agricultural sector, the return of good rains was the primary factor underlying a projected growth of 4.5% for 2001.

In recent years, the Government of Niger promulgated revisions to the investment code (1997 and 2000), petroleum code (1992), and mining code (1993), all with attractive terms for investors. The present government actively seeks foreign private investment and considers it key to restoring economic growth and development. With the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), it has undertaken a concerted effort to revitalize the private sector.

Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with six other members of the West African Monetary Union. The Treasury of the Government of France supplements the BCEAO's international reserves in order to maintain a fixed rate of 100 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) to the French franc (to the Euro as of January 1, 2002).

Economic Reform
In January 2000, Niger's newly elected government inherited serious financial and economic problems including a virtually empty treasury, past-due salaries (11 months of arrears) and scholarship payments, increased debt, reduced revenue performance, and lower public investment. In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries and concluded an agreement with the Fund on a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF).

In addition to strengthening the budgetary process and public finances, the new government has pursued economic reform with the privatization of water distribution and telecommunications and the implementation of flexible a petroleum product pricing structure tied to world market prices. Further privatizations of public enterprises are in the works. In its effort to consolidate macroeconomic stability under the PRGF, the government also is taking actions to reduce corruption and, as the result of a participatory process encompassing civil society, has devised a Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan that focuses on improving health, primary education, rural infrastructure, and judicial reform.

Foreign Aid
The most important donors in Niger are France, the European Union, the World Bank, the IMF and other United Nations agencies (UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, and UNFPA). Other principal donors include the United States, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. While USAID does not have an office in Niger, the United States is a major donor, contributing nearly $10 million each year to Niger's development. The U.S. also is a major partner in policy coordination in such areas as food security and HIV/AIDS. The importance of external support for Niger's development is demonstrated by the fact that about 45% of the government's FY 2002 budget, including 80% of its capital budget, derives from donor resources.

Niger pursues a moderate foreign policy and maintains friendly relations with both East and West. It belongs to the United Nations and its main specialized agencies and in 1980-81 served on the UN Security Council. Niger maintains a special relationship with France and enjoys close relations with its West African neighbors. It is a charter member of the Organization of African Unity and the West African Monetary Union and also belongs to the Niger River and Lake Chad Basin Commissions, the Economic Community of West African States, the Nonaligned Movement, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The Niger Armed Forces total 8,000 personnel, in addition to 2,700 national gendarmes and 4,000 members of the Garde Republicaine. The air force has four operational transport aircraft, including one C-130. The armed forces include a general staff, two paratroop companies, four light armored squadrons, and nine motorized infantry companies located in Tahoua, Agadez, Dirkou, Zinder, N'Guigmi, N'Gourti, and Madaweli.

Niger's defense budget is modest, accounting for about 6% of government expenditures. France provides the largest share of military assistance to Niger. Morocco, Algeria, China, and Germany also provide military assistance. Approximately 10 French military advisers are in Niger. Many Nigerien military personnel receive training in France, and the Nigerien Armed Forces are equipped mainly with materiel either given by or purchased in France. U.S. assistance has focused on training pilots and aviation support personnel, professional military education for staff officers, and initial specialty training for junior officers. A small foreign military assistance program was initiated in 1983 and a U.S. Defense Attache office opened in June 1985. After being converted to a Security Assistance Office in 1987, it was subsequently closed in 1996. A U.S. Defense Attache office reopened in July 2000.

U.S. relations with Niger have generally been close and friendly since Niger attained independence. Although USAID does not have an office in Niger, $10 million in official aid is administered through American NGOs with programs addressing food security, HIV/AIDS, and democracy and governance. The U.S. Peace Corps program, started in Niger in 1962, has about 100 volunteers in country.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick
Deputy Chief of Mission--W. Stuart Symington
Director, Joint Administrative--Carol Stricker
Economic/Commercial/Consular Officer--Matthew McKeever
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Lou Lantner
Peace Corps Director--James Bullington

The U.S. Embassy in Niger is located on the Avenue des Ambassadeurs. The telephone numbers for the embassy are (227) 72-26-61 through 65, and the fax number is (227) 73-31-67. The mailing address is B.P. 11201, Niamey.