Niger (07/94)

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


Official Name:
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. 500,000). 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 (1993 est.): 8.6 million.
Annual growth rate (1992): 3.5%.
Ethnic groups: Hausa 53%, Djerma-Songhai 21%, Fulani 10%, Tuareg 10%, Beri Beri (Kanouri) 4.4%; Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche 1.6%.
Religions: Islam (98%); remainder traditional and Christian.
Languages: French (official), Hausa, Djerma.
Education: Years compulsory--6.  Attendance--19%.  Literacy--12.5%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (1992)--123/1,000. Life expectancy--44 yrs.
Work force (3.5 million): Self-employed/work for family (primarily agriculture and herding)--90%.
Employed by private sector--8%.  Government--2%.

Type: Republic.
Independence: August 3, 1960.
Constitution: Approved by referendum December 26, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president and prime minister.  Legislative--unicameral national assembly (83 MP's). Judicial--Court of Appeals, Supreme Court, High Court of Justice, and Court of State Security.
Political parties: 18; 9 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 (Post devaluation adjustment of FY 1993): $291.4 million (167.6 billion CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) francs at 575 CFA=US$1).
Investment budget (capital and development expenditures) $190 million.
Current Operations (personnel wages plus material and transport) $141 million.
Flag: Three horizontal bands--orange, white, and green from top to bottom with orange orb representing the sun centered on white band.

All figures pre-devaluation.

GDP (1993): $2.3 billion.
Annual growth rate (1990-91): 1.9%.
Per capita GDP (1993): $285.
Avg. inflation rate (1993): less than 0.4%. (Figure for the first 2 months after devaluation is 6-8% per month).
Natural resources: Uranium, gold, oil, coal, iron, tin, phosphates.
Agriculture (20% of GDP): Products--millet, sorghum, cowpeas, peanuts, cotton, rice.
Industry (1% of GDP): Types--textiles, cement, soap, beverages.
Trade (1993 est.): Exports (Freight on Board (FOB))--$235.5 million: uranium, livestock, cowpeas, onions. Major markets--France, other EC countries, Nigeria. Imports (FOB)--$241.4 million: petroleum, foodstuffs, industrial products. Major suppliers--France, other EC countries, Nigeria.
Official exchange rate (April 1994): 575 CFA francs=US$1.

Membership in International Organizations
UN and some of its specialized and related agencies, Council of the Entente, West African Economic Community (CEAO), West African Monetary Union (UMOA), Liptako-Gourma Authority, Niger River Basin Commission, Lake Chad Basin Commission, Organization of African Unity (OAU), Economic Organization of West African States (ECOWAS), Organization of the Islamic Conference, Nonaligned Movement.

The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who are also 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 (222 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 (19%), including 23% of males and only 15% 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. 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.

Niger's new constitution was approved in December 1992. It provides for a semi-presidential system of government in which executive power is shared by the president of the republic, elected  by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a prime minister named by the president. The
unicameral legislature is comprised of 83 deputies elected for a five-year term under a proportional system of representation.

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 country is 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 1992 constitution provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials.

Niger's 1991 National Conference allowed political voices that had been silenced for years to express themselves freely and publicly. The debate was often contentious and accusatory, but under the leadership of Professor Andre Salifou, the conference developed consensus on the
modalities of a transition government. It established three governmental organs to run the country during a 15-month period. The government's primary tasks were to stabilize the economy, deal with a growing rebellion by Tuareg rebels, and pave the way for multi-party elections. 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 three nationwide elections, all of which were free, fair and non-violent. Freedom of the press flourished with the appearance of several new independent newspapers.

The first multi-party legislature since independence, containing nine political parties, was elected on February 14, and installed on April 9. Mahamane Ousmane was elected President of the Republic on March 27, 1993, and took the oath of office on April 16. On the eve of the establishment of the Third Republic, Northern-based rebels of the FLAA (Front for the Liberation of Air and Azawak) released their hostages and gave renewed hope that a peaceful settlement could be reached with the new authorities. Since then, rebel factions have agreed to a number of cease-fires, but talks between the Government and various rebel factions have stalled.

Principal Government Officials
President and Chief of State--Mahamane Ousmane
Prime Minister--Mamadou Issoufou
President of the National Assembly--Moumouni Adamou Djermakoye
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Abdramane Hama
Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations--Adamou Seydou

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 3.3 percent population growth rate and the declining world demand for uranium have undercut an already marginal economy. Deteriorating terms of trade due to persistently high domestic wage levels and currency devaluations in Nigeria have also contributed to economic decline. Many of the modern sector's private and parastatal industries have shut down, leaving only a handful of companies engaged in light industry that mostly transform imported inputs (textile manufacturing, corrugating steel sheets, drink bottling, soap production). The northern-based Tuareg rebellion has impacted negatively on tourism since early 1992.

Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 10-15 percent of the population. 12-13 percent of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production (camels, goats, sheep and cattle), said to support 29 percent of the population. Only about 12 percent of land is arable. Rainfall varies, though Niger has seen relatively good rains in recent years. When there is not sufficient rainfall, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements. Rains, which were good in 1990 and 1991, were less well-distributed in 1992 and 1993, creating food deficits in certain regions. Millet, sorghum and cassava are Niger's
principal rain-fed 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 68 percent of national export proceeds. Industry officials have been working to
reduce excessive costs of production, including personnel, electricity, transportation, hospital administration, mining town management fees and debt. Niger's two uranium mines (SOMAIR's open pit mine and COMINAK's underground mine) are primarily owned and operated by French interests. COMINAK is partially by other shareholders including Japan, Germany, Spain and Niger, all of which negotiate to purchase and sell certain quantities of uranium. In recent years, only
France and Germany have contracted to sell  uranium. American participation in Niger's uranium industry ended in 1983, when CONOCO gave its shares in the Imouraren concession back to Niger.
Large reserves of low-grade uranium at Imouraren remain untapped due to the depressed state of the global uranium market.

Hunt Oil of Texas began exploring for petroleum in 1992 in the Djado plateau in northeastern Niger. The French company Elf Aquitaine (62.5 percent) and Exxon (37.5 percent) have a joint exploration permit for the Agadem basin, north of Lake Chad. Elf conducts the actual exploration and has found significant quantities of petroleum to justify further exploration and development.

Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. The government of Niger recently adopted a new Mining Code and hopes to obtain commitments soon from interested foreign investors. 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. Parastatal tin production stopped in 1991 and tin is currently
produced at artisanal levels.

While France and Taiwan provided significant budgetary assistance in 1992, Niger accrued lower total assistance in 1991-1992 from its other major donors, which include the United States, Germany, Canada, Saudi Arabia, the European Community and the UN Development Program (UNDP). In early 1994, the IMF and Niger agreed to a stand-by agreement which ended Niger's isolation from the international financial community.

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.

Economic Reform
In 1993, Niger's newly elected government inherited a tangle of financial and economic problems including: past-due salary and scholarship payments (5 months of arrears), increased debt, reduced
revenue performance, and lower public investment. The CFA franc was devalued in January 1994, doubling Niger's external debt (quantified in dollars) overnight. The rectification of exchange rates should increase demand for Nigerien exports and create a larger domestic market.

The government of Niger is also currently taking actions to streamline civil services, reduce corruption, reorient expenditures in the education sector, and enhance revenues. In February 1994, Niger signed a stand by agreement with the IMF. They are currently negotiating for an Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility.

Foreign Aid
The United States was the third largest bilateral donor to Niger and the fourth largest donor overall. Total U.S. aid in averages around $15 million per year though this figure is expected to increase. Other major donors include: France, Germany, The World Bank, The European Economic Community, and The United Nations. The importance of donor activity in Niger's development plans is best demonstrated by the fact that about 97 percent of the GON's investment budget derives from
donor resources.

Niger's 1993 elections were smooth and successful, in part due to the donors' 56 percent contribution (25 percent of the total from the French) to the election budget.

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 3,500 personnel, in addition to 1,500 national gendarmes and 1,500 members of the Garde Republicaine. The air force has four operational transport aircraft, including two C-130s. The armed forces include a general staff, two paratroop companies, two light armored squadrons, and six motorized infantry companies located in Tahoua, Agadez, Dirkou, Zinder, N'Guigmi, and N'Gourti.

Niger's defense budget is modest, accounting for less than 3% of government expenditures. France provides the largest share of military assistance to Niger: approximately 55 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. Germany provides general engineering assistance. 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. In 1987 the attache office was converted to a Security Assistance Office.

U.S. relations with Niger have been close and friendly since Niger attained independence. A substantial U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) program focuses on agriculture and natural resource management as well as demography and family health. The U.S. Peace Corps program, started in Niger in 1962, has about 106 volunteers.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--John S. Davison
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ravic R. Huso
Director, AID Mission--James Anderson
Economic/Commercial Officer--James Stewart
Consular Officer--James Stewart
Director, Joint Administrative Office--James Stitt
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Shirley Stanton
Peace Corps Director--Vacant
Chief, Office of Defense Cooperation - Major Stefan Arredondo

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.