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. 1 million).
Other cities--Tahoua, Konni, Maradi, Zinder, Diffa, Dosso, 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 (2007 est.) 14,853,000.
Annual growth rate (2005): 3.3%.
Ethnic groups: Hausa 53%, Djerma (Zarma) 21%, Fulani 7%, Tuareg 11%, Beri Beri (Kanuri) 6%; Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche 2%.
Religions: Islam (99%); remainder traditional and Christian.
Languages: French (official), Hausa, Djerma, Fulfulde, Kanuri, Tamachek, Toubou, Gourmantche, Arabic.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--45% (men), 31% (women). Literacy (2005)--28.7% (15% for women).
Health: Infant mortality rate--150/1,000. Life expectancy--54.5 yrs.
Independence: August 3, 1960.
Constitution: The constitution of December 26, 1992 was revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999.
Branches: Executive--president and prime minister. Legislative--unicameral National Assembly (113 MPs). Judicial--Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, High Court of Justice.
Political parties: Seven are represented in the National Assembly.
Suffrage: The constitution provides for universal suffrage for Nigeriens age 18 or older.
Administrative subdivisions: Eight regions subdivided into 36 districts (departments) and 265 communes (local councils).
GDP (2006): $3.54 billion.
Annual growth rate (2006): 4.8%.
Per capita GDP (2006): $273.
Avg. inflation rate (2006): 0.1%.
Natural resources: Uranium, gold, oil, coal, iron, tin, and phosphates.
Agriculture (27.9% of GDP): Products--millet, sorghum, cowpeas, peanuts, cotton, and rice.
Industry (10.5% of GDP): Types--textiles, cement, soap, and beverages.
Trade (2006): Exports (freight on board--f.o.b.)--$275 million. Types--uranium, livestock, gold, cowpeas, and onions. Major markets--France 34.8%, Nigeria 16.7%, Japan 13.3%, Spain 9.5%, U.S. 0.3%. Imports (f.o.b.)--$792 million. Types--consumer goods, petroleum, foodstuffs, and industrial products. Major suppliers--France 16.3%, China 13.1%, U.S. 7.1%, Nigeria 6.6%, Cote d'Ivoire 6.3%, India 4.7%, Japan 3.9%.
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, along with the Gourmantche, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country. The remainder of Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples--Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders are increasingly threatened.
Niger's high infant mortality rate is comparable to levels recorded in neighboring countries. However, the child mortality rate (deaths among children under age of 5) is particularly high (198 per 1,000) due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children. Nonetheless, Niger's fertility rate (7.8 births/woman), is among the highest in the world, and is far higher than the sub-Saharan African average of 5.4. Two-thirds (66.7%) of the Nigerien population is under age 25. Primary school net enrollment rate is 49% for boys and 31% for girls. Additional education occurs through thousands of 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 its 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 reorganization 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 that overthrew the Diori regime. Lieutenant Colonel 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, Brigadier General 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 into 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 1993 led to governmental paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Bare Mainassara a rationale to overthrow the Third Republic and its President, Mahamane Ousmane, 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 presidential election in July 1996 and his party won 90% of parliament seats in a flawed legislative election in November 1996. When his efforts to justify his coup and subsequent questionable elections failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic assistance, a desperate Bare ignored an international embargo against Libya and sought Libyan funds to aid 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 into the military and, with French assistance, help others return to a productive civilian life.
In April 1999, Bare was overthrown and assassinated 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 coalition of the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS), Mamadou Tandja won the presidency.
In July 2004, Niger held municipal elections nationwide as part of its decentralization process. Some 3,700 people were elected to new local governments in 265 newly established communes. The ruling MNSD party won more positions than any other political party; however, opposition parties made significant gains.
In November and December 2004, Niger held presidential and legislative elections. Mamadou Tandja was elected to his second 5-year presidential term with 65% of the vote in an election that international observers called generally free and fair. This was the first presidential election with a democratically elected incumbent and a test to Niger's young democracy.
In the 2004 legislative elections, the National Movement for the Development of Society (MNSD), the Democratic and Socialist Convention (CDS), the Rally for Social Democracy (RSD), the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP), the Nigerien Alliance for Democracy and Progress (ANDP), and the Social Party for Nigerien Democracy (PSDN) coalition, which backed Tandja, won 88 of the 113 seats in the National Assembly.
A previously unknown group, the Mouvement des Nigeriens pour la Justice (MNJ), emerged in February 2007. The predominantly Tuareg group has issued a number of demands, mainly related to development in the north. It has attacked military and other facilities and laid landmines in the north. The resulting insecurity has devastated Niger's tourist industry and deterred investment in mining and oil. The government has labeled the MNJ criminals and traffickers, and refuses to negotiate with the group until it disarms.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Niger's new constitution was approved in July 1999. It restored 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. As a reflection of Niger's increasing population, the unicameral legislature was expanded in 2004 to 113 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 Constitutional Court. In January 2007, the National Assembly voted to divide the Supreme Court into three high courts--an Administrative Court, a Supreme Court of Justice, and an Audit Court.
The constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials, and the first-ever successful municipal elections took place July 24, 2004. The National Assembly passed in June 2002 a series of decentralization bills. As a first step, administrative powers have been distributed among 265 communes (local councils); in later stages, regions and departments will be established as decentralized entities. A new electoral code was adopted to reflect the decentralization context. The country is currently divided into 8 regions, which are subdivided into 36 districts (departments). The chief administrators in each region (Governor) and department (Prefect) are appointed by the government and function primarily as the local agents of the central authorities.
The current legislature elected in December 2004 contains seven political parties. President Mamadou Tandja was re-elected in December 2004 and reappointed Hama Amadou as Prime Minister. Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS, was re-elected President of the National Assembly (parliament) by his peers. The new second term government of the Fifth Republic took office on December 30, 2004. In May 2007, Hama Amadou stepped down as Prime Minister following a vote of no confidence by the National Assembly related to allegations of his involvement in a corruption scandal, and President Tandja appointed Seini Oumarou Prime Minister as head of a new cabinet.
Principal Government Officials
President and Chief of State--Mamadou Tandja
Prime Minister--Seini Oumarou
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation--Aichatou Mindaoudou
Ambassador to the United States--Aminata Maiga Djibrilla Toure
Niger maintains an embassy in the United States at 2204 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 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).
Next Elections Scheduled
Presidential elections--November/December 2009, two rounds; no date selected.
Legislative elections--December 2009; no date selected.
Local elections--Not scheduled, but expected in 2009. Last local election was in July 2004.
One of the poorest countries in the world, ranking last on the United Nations Human Development Index, Niger's economy is based largely on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Traditional subsistence farming, herding, small trading, seasonal migration, and informal markets dominate an economy that generates few formal sector jobs.
Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 20% 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. In 2004 localized drought and locust infestations contributed to a drop in global harvests of 11% and led the Embassy to make a disaster declaration. This decrease, combined with chronic structural food insecurity, high malnutrition, and other market factors, triggered a food crisis which began in May-June of 2005. Although food security continues to be a concern, the food crisis has ended as a result of good cereal harvests in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Millet and sorghum are Niger's principal rain-fed subsistence crops. Cowpeas and onions are grown for commercial export, as are limited quantities of garlic, peppers, gum arabic, and sesame seeds.
In 2006, foreign exchange earnings from livestock (14.7%) were second only to those from uranium (55.4%), followed by gold (13.6%) and agricultural products (9.9%). Actual livestock 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.
Recent global price increases have led to higher revenues for Niger's uranium sector, which provides approximately 55.4% of national export proceeds. The nation enjoyed substantial export earnings and rapid economic growth during the 1960s and 1970s; however, when the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s the economy stagnated. The French nuclear power concern AREVA owns controlling shares in Niger's two national mining companies. As a result of higher world prices in 2007, AREVA agreed to pay the Government of Niger double what it had been paying for uranium. In 2007 the U.S. public utility holding company Exelon Corporation signed a contract with the Government of Niger to buy 300 tons of uranium each year for the next 10 years. Although AREVA controls the only two existing uranium mines in Niger (COMINAK's underground mine and SOMAIR's open pit mine), in 2007 the Government of Niger awarded 122 new mineral exploration licenses to companies from France, China, Canada, Australia, India, South Africa, and the United States.
Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. On October 5, 2004 President Tandja announced the official opening of the Samira Hill Gold Mine in the region of Tera and the first Nigerien gold ingot was presented to him. This marked a historical moment for Niger as the Samira Hill Gold Mine represents the first commercial gold production in the country. Samira Hill is owned by a company called SML (Societe des Mines du Liptako), which is a joint venture between a Moroccan company--Societe SEMAFO Inc.--and a Canadian company--ETRUSCAN. Both companies own 80% (40% - 40%) of SML and the Government of Niger 20%. In 2006, gold was Niger's third most important export, accounting for 13.6% of the country's total exports. In 2007 the Anglo-American company Caracal Gold Burkina was awarded two permits to explore for gold in the Tillaberi region.
Niger has oil potential. In 2006 an ExxonMobil-Petronas joint venture ceased exploration activities at what may be Niger's largest oil deposit, the Agadem block, located north of Lake Chad. In 2007 nineteen companies vied for exploration and production rights to the Agadem block, but none of these bids were accepted. The Government of Niger was expected to award the Agadem block in 2008. 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. There are additional coal deposits southwest of the current mines. Substantial deposits of phosphates, iron, limestone, and gypsum also have been found in Niger.
Niger enjoyed increased economic competitiveness following the January 1994 devaluation of the Communaute Financiere Africaine (CFA) franc. Annual economic growth rates vary widely, due largely to the effect of rainfall on agricultural output. In 2005 the economy showed strong growth (7.1% real GDP growth) as a result of the agricultural sector's recovery from the poor harvests of 2004, and the continued growth of non-agricultural sectors. In 2006, the real GDP growth rate was at 5.1%.
The 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. It revised the investment code (1997 and 2000), petroleum code (1992 and 2007), and mining code (1993) aimed at attracting investors.
Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with seven 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 656 CFA to the euro.
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 (IMF) program for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund on a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). In January 2001, Niger reached its decision point and subsequently reached its completion point in 2004. The debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing about $40 million per year over the coming years for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction. Debt service as a percent of government revenue was slashed from nearly 44% in 1999 to 10.9% in 2003 and will average 4.3% during 2010-2019. The debt relief cut debt service as a percentage of export revenue from more than 23% to 8.4% in 2003, and decreases it to about 5% in later years. In 2005, the IMF canceled all of Niger's debts to it (approximately $111 million) incurred before January 2005. In 2006, the African Development Fund canceled $193 million in debt for Niger. Furthermore, the World Bank announced that approximately $745 million in debt relief for Niger would be phased in over the next 37 years.
In its effort to consolidate macroeconomic stability under the PRGF, the government is also taking action 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, agricultural production, environmental protection, and judicial reform. In late 2006, Niger qualified for the Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC) Threshold Program. Niger will focus its MCC efforts on promoting girls' education, fighting corruption, and improving the business environment.
Under the auspices of the World Bank, the government launched a major privatization effort in 1998 to divest itself of monopolies in water, power, and telecommunications and to transfer other public enterprises to private sector management. In 2001 Niger successfully privatized its telecommunications monopoly; however, the privatization of other industries has stalled. The privatization of the state-owned electric utility (NIGELEC) and the national oil distribution company (SONIDEP) are on hold indefinitely.
The most important donors in Niger are France, the European Union, the World Bank, the IMF, and UN agencies--UNDP, UNICEF, FAO, WFP, and UNFPA. Other donors include the United States, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, China, Italy, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Denmark, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. While the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) does not have a Mission in Niger, the United States is a major donor, contributing on average $30 million each year to Niger's development. In early 2008 Niger concluded an agreement for a $23 million Millennium Challenge Account threshold program. Niger is a key participant in the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism program. Niger also benefits from the largest non-emergency PL 480 food assistance program in West Africa. Foreign aid represents 8.3% of Niger's GDP and over 40% of government revenues.
The Niger Armed Forces total about 12,000 personnel composed of approximately 3,700 gendarmes, 300 air force, and 8,000 army personnel. The air force operates several transport and observation aircraft and two attack helicopters. The military is organized in five defense zones roughly aligned with national administrative boundaries and is comprised of two paratroop units, four light armored units, and nine motorized infantry units. In 1991, Niger sent a 400-man military contingent to join the American-led allied forces against Iraq during the Gulf War. Niger provides a battalion of peace-keeping forces to the UN Mission in Cote d'Ivoire (UNOCI).
Niger's defense budget is modest, accounting for about 1.6% of government expenditures. France provides the largest share of military assistance to Niger, and there are presently about 15 French military advisers assigned to the country. 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. Morocco, Algeria, China, and Libya also provide significant military assistance. A small U.S. foreign military assistance program was initiated in 1983. A U.S. Defense Attaché office opened in June 1985 and assumed Security Assistance Office responsibilities in 1987. The office closed in 1996 following a coup d'etat. The U.S. Defense Attaché office reopened in July 2000. The United States provided transportation and logistical assistance to Nigerien troops deployed to Cote d'Ivoire in 2003.
From 2003 to 2008, under the framework of the Department of State’s Pan-Sahel Initiative and the Trans Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership, a significant amount of military-to-military cooperation initiatives were initiated, including the training and equipping of specialized counterterrorism and military intelligence units. Military cooperation is presently limited. United States Africa Command contributes funds for humanitarian assistance construction projects throughout the country and the Defense Attaché’s office manages a limited International Military Education and Training program.
Niger pursues a moderate foreign policy and maintains friendly relations with the West and the Islamic world as well as nonaligned countries. 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 African Union 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.
U.S. relations with Niger have generally been close and friendly since Niger attained independence. Although USAID does not have a Mission in Niger, $30 million in annual official aid is administered through American and local non-governmental organizations with programs addressing food security, health, local governance, youth training, girls' education, corruption control, and improving the business environment. The U.S. Peace Corps program in Niger started in 1962. It currently has about 130 volunteers in country and celebrated its 45th anniversary in Niger in September 2007.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Bernadette M. Allen
Deputy Chief of Mission--Eric Whitaker
Joint Management Officer--Sonja Rix
Economic/Commercial/Consular Officer--Karen Swaner
Public Affairs Officer--Stephen J. Posivak
Peace Corps Director--Mary Abrams
USAID Country Program Manager--Mark Wentling
The U.S. Embassy in Niger is located on the Avenue des Ambassades. The telephone numbers for the embassy are (227) 20-72-26-61 through 65, and the fax number is (227) 20-73-31-67. The mailing address is B.P. 11201, Niamey.