|Republic of Niger
|Anthem: La Nigérienne|
and largest city
|Demonym||Nigerien ( / / or / /)|
|-||Prime Minister||Brigi Rafini|
|Independence from France|
|-||Declared||3 August 1960|
|-||Total||1,267,000 km2 ( 22nd)
489,678 sq mi
|-||July 2012 estimate||16,274,738 ( 63rd)|
|GDP ( PPP)||2011 estimate|
|GDP (nominal)||2011 estimate|
|HDI (2011)|| 0.295
low · 186th
|Currency|| West African CFA franc (
|Time zone||WAT ( UTC+1)|
|-||Summer ( DST)||not observed ( UTC+1)|
|Drives on the||right|
|ISO 3166 code||NE|
Niger (French pronunciation: [niʒɛʁ], English pronunciation: / / or / /), officially the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger covers a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2, making it the largest nation in West Africa, with over 80 percent of its land area covered by the Sahara desert. The country's predominantly Islamic population of just above 15,000,000 is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city is Niamey, located in the far-southwest corner of Niger.
Niger is a developing country, and consistently ranks as one of the lowest ranks of the United Nations' Human Development Index (HDI), 186th of 187 countries in 2011. Much of the non-desert portions of the country are threatened by periodic drought and desertification. The economy is concentrated around subsistence and some export agriculture clustered in the more fertile south, and the export of raw materials, especially uranium ore. Niger remains handicapped by its landlocked position, desert terrain, poor education and poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor health care, and environmental degradation.
Nigerien ( / / or pronunciation: / /) society reflects a diversity drawn from the long independent histories of its several ethnic groups and regions and their relatively short period living in a single state. Historically, what is now Niger has been on the fringes of several large states. Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. Following a military coup in 2010, Niger has become a democratic, multi-party state. A majority live in rural areas, and have little access to advanced education.
While most of what is now Niger has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara desert in the last two thousand years, five thousand years ago the north of the country was fertile grasslands. Populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BCE. Several former northern villages and archaeological sites date from the Green Sahara period of 7,500–7,000 to 3,500–3,000 BCE.
Early historical period
The Songhai Empire expanded into what is modern Niger from the 15th century, reaching as far as Agadez before its collapse in 1591, from which the modern Zarma and Songhai peoples trace their history. At its fall, portions of the empire and refugees from modern Mali formed a series of Songhai states, with the Dendi Kingdom becoming the most powerful. From the 13th century, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, into the Aïr Mountains, displacing some previous residents to the south. At their peak, the Tuareg confederations ruled most of what is now northern Niger, and extended their influence into modern Nigeria.
In the 18th century, Fula pastoralists moved into the Liptako area of the west, while smaller Zarma kingdoms, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the expanding Fulani Empire of Sokoto from the south. The colonial border with British Nigeria was in part based on the rupture between the Sokoto Caliphate to the south, and Hausa ruling dynasties which had fled to the north. In the far east around the Lake Chad basin, the successive expansion of the Kanem Empire and Bornu Empire spread ethnically Kanuri and Toubou rulers and their subject states as far west as Zinder and the Kaouar Oases from the 10th to the 17th centuries.
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 source of the Niger River. Although French efforts at "pacification" began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not fully 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 in 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 23 July 1956, followed by reorganizing 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 4 December 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on 3 August 1960, however, membership was allowed to lapse.
Single party and military rule (1961–1991)
For its first fourteen 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 coup d'état that overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group ruled the country until Kountché'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, with the creation of a single party constitutional Second Republic. 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 peace 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. André Salifou, the conference developed a plan for a transition government.
This caretaker 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 non-violent nationwide elections. Freedom of the press flourished with the appearance of several new independent newspapers.
The results of the January 1995 parliamentary election meant cohabitation between a rival president and prime minister; this led to governmental paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara a rationale to overthrow the Third Republic in January 1996.
Military rule and the Fourth Republic
While leading a military authority that ran the government (Conseil de Salut National) during a six-month transition period, Baré enlisted specialists to draft a new constitution for a Fourth Republic announced in May 1996. Baré organized a presidential election in July 1996. While voting was still going on, he replaced the electoral commission. The new commission declared him the winner after the polls closed. His party won 57 percent 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 Baré 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, and deported by an unofficial militia composed of police and military; and independent media offices were looted and burned.
As part of an initiative started under the 1991 national conference, however, the government signed peace accords in April 1995 with all, meaning Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990. The Tuareg claimed 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.
Fifth Republic since 1999
On 9 April 1999, Baré was killed in a coup led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanké, 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 election.
The new second term government of the Fifth Republic took office on 30 December 2002. In August 2002, serious unrest within the military occurred in Niamey, Diffa, and Nguigmi, but the government was able to restore order within several days.
The legislature elected in December 2004 contained seven political parties. President 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.
In June 2007, Seyni Oumarou was nominated as the new Prime Minister after Hama Amadou was democratically forced out of office by the National Assembly through a motion of no confidence. From 2007 to 2008, the Second Tuareg Rebellion took place in northern Niger, worsening economic prospects and shutting down political progress.
In a February 2010 coup d'état, a military junta was established in response to Tandja's attempted extension of his political term through constitutional manipulation. The coup established a junta led by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, which then held elections in 2011 that were judged internationally to be free and fair.
Geography, climate, and ecology
Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. It lies between latitudes 11° and 24°N, and longitudes 0° and 16°E. Niger's area is 1,267,000 square kilometres (489,191 sq mi) of which 300 square kilometres (116 sq mi) is water. This makes it slightly less than twice the size of the US state of Texas, and the world's twenty-second largest country.
Niger borders seven countries and has a total perimeter of 5,697 kilometres (3,540 mi). The longest border is with Nigeria to the south (1,497 km/930 mi). This is followed by Chad to the east, at 1,175 km (730 mi), Algeria to the north-northwest (956 km/594 mi), and Mali at 821 km (510 mi). Niger also has small borders in its far southwest with Burkina Faso at 628 km (390 mi) and Benin at 266 km (165 mi) and to the north-northeast Libya at 354 km (220 mi).
The lowest point is the Niger River, with an elevation of 200 metres (656 ft). The highest point is Mont Idoukal-n-Taghès in the Aïr Mountains at 2,022 m (6,634 ft).
The North of the country is covered by large deserts and semi deserts. The typical mammal fauna consists of Addax antelopes, Scimitar-horned oryx, gazelles and in mountains Barbary sheep. One of the largest reserves of the world, the Aïr and Ténéré National Nature Reserve was founded in the northern parts of the Niger to protect these rare species.
The southern parts of Niger are naturally dominated Savannahs. The W National Park, situated in the bordering area to Burkina Faso and Benin, belongs to one of the most important areas for wildlife in Western Africa, which is called the WAP (W- Arli- Pendjari) Complex. It has the most important population of the rare West African lion and one of the last populations of the Northwest African cheetah. Other wildlife includes elephants, buffaloes, roan antelopes, kob antelopes and warthogs. The West African giraffe is currently not found in the W National Park, but further north in Niger, where it has its last relict population.
Niger's subtropical climate is mainly very hot and dry, with much desert area. In the extreme south there is a tropical climate on the edges of the Niger River basin. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes, with flat to rolling savanna in the south and hills in the north.
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 five-year term, and a prime minister named by the president share executive power. As a reflection of Niger's increasing population, the unicameral National Assembly was expanded in 2004 to 113 deputies elected for a five-year term under a majority system of representation. Political parties must attain at least 5 percent of the vote in order to gain a seat in the legislature.
The constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials, and the first-ever successful municipal elections took place on 24 July 2004. The National Assembly passed in June 2002 a series of decentralization bills. As a first step, administrative powers will be 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 administrator (Governor) in each department is appointed by the government and functions primarily as the local agent of the central authorities.
On 26 May 2009, President Tandja dissolved parliament after the country's constitutional court ruled against plans to hold a referendum on whether to allow him a third term in office. According to the constitution, a new parliament was elected within three months. This touched off a political struggle between Tandja, trying to extend his term-limited authority beyond 2009 through the establishment of a Sixth Republic, and his opponents who demanded that he step down at the end of his second term in December 2009. See 2009 Nigerien constitutional crisis. The military took over the country and President Tandja was put in prison, charged with corruption.
The military kept their promise to return the country to democratic civilian rule. A constitutional referendum and national elections were held. A presidential election was held on 31 January 2011, but as no clear winner emerged, run-off elections were held on 12 March 2011. Mahamadou Issoufou of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism was elected president. A parliamentary election was held at the same time.
Regions, departments, and communes
Niger is divided into 7 Regions and one capital district. These Regions are subdivided into 36 departments. The 36 Departments are currently broken down into Communes of varying types. As of 2006 there were 265 communes, including communes urbaines (Urban Communes: as subdivisions of major cities), communes rurales (Rural Communes), in sparsely populated areas and postes administratifs (Administrative Posts) for largely uninhabited desert areas or military zones.
Rural communes may contain official villages and settlements, while Urban Communes are divided into quarters. Niger subvisions were renamed in 2002, in the implementation of a decentralisation project, first begun in 1998. Previously, Niger was divided into 7 Departments, 36 Arrondissements, and Communes. These subdivisions were administered by officials appointed by the national government. These offices will be replaced in the future by democratically elected councils at each level.
The pre-2002 departments (renamed as regions) and capital district :
- Agadez Region
- Diffa Region
- Dosso Region
- Maradi Region
- Tahoua Region
- Tillabéri Region
- Zinder Region
- Niamey (capital district)
Military and foreign relations
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 UN and its main specialized agencies and in 1980–81 served on the UN Security Council. Niger maintains a special relationship with former colonial power 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 Basin Authority and Lake Chad Basin Commission, the Economic Community of West African States, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa ( OHADA). The westernmost regions of Niger are joined with contiguous regions of Mali and Burkina Faso under the Liptako-Gourma Authority.
The Niger Armed Forces total 12,000 personnel with approximately 3,700 gendarmes, 300 air force, and 6,000 army personnel. The air force has four operational transport aircraft. The armed forces include general staff and battalion task force organizations consisting of two paratroop units, four light armored units, and nine motorized infantry units located in Tahoua, Agadez, Dirkou, Zinder, Nguigmi, N'Gourti, and Madewela. Since January 2003, Niger has deployed a company of troops to Côte d'Ivoire as part of the ECOWAS stabilization force. In 1991, Niger sent four hundred military personnel to join the American-led allied forces against Iraq during the Gulf War.
Niger's defense budget is modest, accounting for about 1.6% of government expenditures. France provides the largest share of military assistance to Niger. Morocco, Algeria, China, and Libya have also provided military assistance. Approximately 15 French military advisers are in Niger. Many Nigerien military personnel receive training in France, and the Nigerien Armed Forces are equipped mainly with military hardware either sold or donated by France.
In the past, U.S. assistance 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. 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'état. A U.S. Defense Attaché office reopened in July 2000. The United States provided transportation and logistical assistance to Nigerien troops deployed to Côte d'Ivoire in 2003. Additionally, the U.S. provided initial equipment training on vehicles and communications gear to a select contingent of Nigerien soldiers as part of the Department of State Pan Sahel Initiative.
In February 2010, the army of Niger staged another coup d'état that ousted President Tandja Mamadou, who had been behaving in an increasingly dictatorial fashion. The army claims to be acting toward the restoration of democracy.
The economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 2.9% population growth rate, and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut the economy.
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. Niger is also a member of the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA).
In December 2000, Niger qualified for enhanced debt relief under the International Monetary Fund program for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and concluded an agreement with the Fund for Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). Debt relief provided under the enhanced HIPC initiative significantly reduces Niger's annual debt service obligations, freeing funds for expenditures on basic health care, primary education, HIV/AIDS prevention, rural infrastructure, and other programs geared at poverty reduction.
In December 2005, it was announced that Niger had received 100% multilateral debt relief from the IMF, which translates into the forgiveness of approximately $86 million USD in debts to the IMF, excluding the remaining assistance under HIPC. Nearly half of the government's budget is derived from foreign donor resources. Future growth may be sustained by exploitation of oil, gold, coal, and other mineral resources. Uranium prices have recovered somewhat in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens.
The agricultural economy is based largely upon internal markets, subsistence agriculture, and the export of raw commodities: food stuffs and cattle to neighbors. Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 18% of the population. 14% of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production (camels, goats, sheep and cattle), said to support 29% of the population. Thus 53% of the population is actively involved in crop production. The 15% of Niger's land that is arable is found mainly along its southern border with Nigeria.
In these areas, Pearl millet, sorghum, and cassava are the principal rain-fed subsistence crops. Irrigated rice for internal consumption is grown in parts of the Niger River valley in the west. While expensive, it 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. Oasis farming in small patches of the north of the country produces onions, dates, and some market vegetables for export.
But for the most part, rural residents engaged in crop tending are clustered in the south centre and south west of the nation, in those areas (the Sahel) which can expect to receive between 300 to 600 mm (12 to 24 in) of rainfall annually. A small area in the southern tip of the nation, surrounding Gaya can expect to receive 700 to 900 mm (28 to 35 in) or rainfall. Northern areas which support crops, such as the southern portions of the Aïr Massif and the Kaouar oasis, rely upon oases and a slight increase in rainfall due to mountain effects. Large portions of the northwest and far east of the nation, while within the Sahara desert, see just enough seasonal rainfall to support semi-nomadic animal husbandry. The populations of these areas, mostly Tuareg, Wodaabe – Fula, and Toubou, travel south (a process called transhumance) to pasture and sell animals in the dry season, north into the Sahara in the brief rainy season.
Rainfall varies and when it is insufficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements. Rains, as in much of the Sahel, have been marked by annual variability. This has been especially true in the 20th century, with the most severe drought on record beginning in the late 1960s and lasting, with one break, well into the 1980s. The long-term effect of this, especially to pastoralist populations, remains in the 21st century, with those communities which rely upon cattle, sheep, and camels husbandry losing entire herds more than once during this period. Recent rains remain variable. For instance, the rains in 2000 were not good, those in 2001 were plentiful and well distributed.
The Kandadji Dam on the Niger River, whose construction started in August 2008, is expected to improve agricultural production in the Tillaberi Department by providing water for the irrigation of 6,000 hectares initially and of 45,000 hectares by 2034.
Uranium is Niger's largest export. Foreign exchange earnings from livestock, although difficult to quantify, are second. 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. Substantial deposits of phosphates, coal, iron, limestone, and gypsum also have been found in Niger.
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. However, as of 2007, many licences have been given to other companies from countries such as India, Canada and Australia in order to exploit new deposits.
Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in Niger in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. On 5 October 2004, President Tandja announced the official opening of the Samira Hill Gold Mine in Tera Department 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 two Canadian companies, Societe Semafo and Etruscan Resources. Both companies own 40% each of SML and the Government of Niger owns 20%. The first year's production is predicted to be 135,000 troy ounces (4,200 kg; 9,260 lb avoirdupois) of gold at a cash value of USD 177 per ounce ($5.70/g). The mine reserves for the Samira Hill mine total 10,073,626 tons at an average grade of 2.21 grams per ton from which 618,000 troy ounces (19,200 kg; 42,400 lb) will be recovered over a six-year mine life. SML believes to have a number of significant gold deposits within what is now recognized as the gold belt known as the "Samira Horizon", which is located between Gotheye and Ouallam.
The parastatal SONICHAR (Société 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 to the south and west that are of a higher quality and may be exploitable.
Niger has oil potential. In 1992, the Djado permit was awarded to Hunt Oil Company, and in 2003 the Tenere permit was awarded to the China National Petroleum. An ExxonMobil– Petronas joint venture was sold sole rights to the Agadem block, in the Diffa Region north of Lake Chad, but never went beyond exploration.
In June 2008, the government transferred the Agadem block rights to CNPC. Niger announced that in exchange for the US$5 billion investment, the Chinese company would build wells, 11 of which would open by 2012, a 20,000-barrel-per-day (3,200 m3/d) refinery near Zinder and a pipeline out of the nation. The government estimates the area has reserves of 324 million barrels (51,500,000 m3), and is seeking further oil in the Tenere Desert and near Bilma. Niger began producing its first barrels of oil in 2011.
The economic competitiveness created by the January 1994 devaluation of the Communauté Financière Africaine (CFA) franc contributed to an annual average economic growth of 3.5% throughout the mid-1990s. But the economy stagnated due to 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 economic growth of 5.1% in 2000, 3.1% in 2001, 6.0% in 2002, and 3.0% in 2003.
In recent years, the Government of Niger drafted 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 Programme (UNDP), it has undertaken a concerted effort to revitalize the private sector.
Economic restructuring and debt
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 changes in the budgetary process and public finances, the new government has pursued economic restructuring towards the IMF promoted privatization model. This has included the privatization of water distribution and telecommunications and the removal of price protections for petroleum products, allowing prices to be set by world market prices. Further privatizations of public enterprises are in the works.
In its effort to comply with the IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility plan, 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 restructuring. A long planned privatization of the Nigerien power company, NIGELEC, failed in 2001 and again in 2003 due to a lack of buyers. SONITEL, the nation's telephone operator which was separated from the post office and privatised in 2001, was renationalised in 2009.
Critics have argued that the obligations to creditor institutions and governments have locked Niger in to a process of trade liberalization that is harmful for small farmers and in particular, rural women.
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. In 2005 the UN drew attention to the increased need for foreign aid given severe problems with drought and locusts resulting in the 2005–06 Niger food crisis, endangering the lives of around a million people.
In June to August 2010, famine struck the Sahel. Niger's crops failed to mature in the heat and famine developed. 350,000 faced starvation and 1,200,000 were at risk of famine. In Chad, the temperature reached 47.6 °C (118 °F) on 22 June in Faya-Largeau, breaking a record set in 1961 at the same location. Niger tied its highest temperature record set in 1998, also on 22 June, at 47.1 °C (117 °F) in Bilma. That record was broken the next day, on 23 June when Bilma hit 48.2 °C (119 °F). The hottest temperature recorded in Sudan was reached on 25 June, at 49.6 °C (121 °F) in Dongola, breaking a record set in 1987. Niger reported diarrhoea, starvation, gastroenteritis, malnutrition and respiratory diseases killed and sickened many children 14 July. The new military junta is appealing for international food aid and has taken serious steps to calling overseas help since coming to office in February 2010. On 26 July, the heat reached near-record levels over Chad and Niger.
Transport is crucial to the economy and culture of this vast landlocked nation, with cities separated by huge uninhabited deserts, mountain ranges, and other natural features. Niger's transport system was little developed during the colonial period (1899–1960), relying upon animal transport, human transport, and limited river transport in the far south west and south east.
No railways were constructed in the colonial period, and most roads outside the capital remained unpaved. The Niger River is unsuitable for river transport of any large scale, as it lacks depth for most of the year, and is broken by rapids at many spots. Camel caravan transport was historically important in the Sahara desert and Sahel regions which cover most of the north.
Road transport, especially shared taxis, buses, and trucks, are the primary form of long distance transport for most Nigeriens. There were 10,100 kilometres (6,300 mi) of roads in the nation in 1996, but only 798 kilometres (496 mi) were paved. Most of this total was in large cities and in two main highways. The first major paved highway was constructed in the 1970s and 80s to transport uranium from the far northern mining town of Arlit to the Benin border. (Much of Niger's export economy relies upon ports in Cotonou, Lomé, and Port Harcourt.) This road, dubbed the Uranium Highway, runs through Arlit, Agadez, Tahoua, Birnin-Konni, and Niamey, and is part of the Trans-Sahara Highway system. The paved RN1 ("Route Nationale") runs east-west across the south of the nation, from Niamey via Maradi and Zinder towards Diffa in the far east of the nation, although the stretch from Zinder to Diffa is only partially paved. Other roads range from all-weather laterite surfaces to grated dirt or sand pistes, especially in the desert north. These form a more extensive numbered highway system.
Niger's main international airport is Diori Hamani International Airport at Niamey. Other airports in Niger include Mano Dayak International Airport at Agadez and Zinder Airport near Zinder.
The literacy rate of Niger is among the lowest in the world; in 2005 it was estimated to be only 28.7% (42.9% male and 15.1% female). Primary education in Niger is compulsory for six years. The primary school enrollment and attendance rates are low, particularly for girls. In 1997, the gross primary enrollment rate was 29.3 percent, and in 1996, the net primary enrollment rate was 24.5 percent. About 60 percent of children who finish primary schools are boys, as the majority of girls rarely attend school for more than a few years. Children are often forced to work rather than attend school, particularly during planting or harvest periods. In addition, nomadic children in the north of the country often do not have access to schools.
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 (248 per 1,000) due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children. According to the organization Save the Children, Niger has the world's highest infant mortality rate. Nonetheless, Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world (7.52 births per woman according to 2012 estimates); this means that nearly half (49%) of the Nigerien population is under age 15. Niger has the 11th highest maternal mortality rate in the world at 820 deaths/100,000 live births. There were 3 physicians and 22 nurses per 100,000 persons in 2006.
Over half the population of Niger belong to the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Zarma– 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—who make up about 20% of Niger's population. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders have come increasingly into conflict in Niger in recent years.
A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are enslaved, almost 8% of the population.
Islam, spread from North Africa beginning in the 10th century, has greatly shaped the mores of the people of Niger. Between 80 to more than 98 percent of the population is Muslim, with small Animist and Christian communities, the latter a consequence of missionaries established during the French colonial years, as well as urban expatriate communities from Europe and West Africa.
Approximately 95 percent of Muslims in Niger are Sunni and Sufi; 5 percent are Shi'a. Islam was spread into what is now Niger beginning in the 15th century, by both the expansion of the Songhai Empire in the west, and the influence of the Trans-Saharan trade traveling from the Maghreb and Egypt. Tuareg expansion from the north, culminating in their seizure of the far eastern oases from the Kanem-Bornu Empire in the 17th centuries, spread distinctively Berber practices.
Both Zarma and Hausa areas were greatly influenced by the 18th and 19th century Fula led Sufi brotherhoods, most notably the Sokoto Caliphate (in today's Nigeria). Modern Muslim practice in Niger is often tied to the Tijaniya Sufi brotherhoods, although there are small minority groups tied to Hammallism and Nyassist Sufi orders in the west, and the Sanusiya in the far northeast.
A small centre of Wahhabite followers have appeared in the last thirty years in the capital and in Maradi. These small groups, linked to similar groups in Jos, Nigeria, came to public prominence in the 1990s during a series of religious riots
Despite this, Niger maintains a tradition as a secular state, protected by law. Interfaith relations are deemed very good, and the forms of Islam traditionally practiced in most of the country is marked by tolerance of other faiths and lack of restrictions on personal freedom. Divorce and polygyny are unremarkable, women are not secluded, and headcoverings are not mandatory — they are often a rarity in urban areas. Alcohol, such as the locally produced Bière Niger, is sold openly in most of the country.
A small percentage of the population practices traditional indigenous religious beliefs. The numbers of Animist practitioners are a point of contention. As recently as the late 19th century, much of the south centre of the nation was unreached by Islam, and the conversion of some rural areas has been only partial. There are still areas where animist based festivals and traditions (such as the Bori religion) are practiced by syncretic Muslim communities (in some Hausa areas as well as among some Toubou and Wodaabe pastoralists), as opposed to several small communities who maintain their pre-Islamic religion.
These include the Hausa-speaking Maouri (or Azna, the Hausa word for "pagan") community in Dogondoutci in the south-southwest and the Kanuri speaking Manga near Zinder, both of whom practice variations of the pre-Islamic Hausa Maguzawa religion. There are also some tiny Boudouma and Songhay animist communities in the southwest.
Nigerien culture is marked by variation, evidence of the cultural crossroads which French colonialism formed into a unified state from the beginning of the 20th century. What is now Niger was created from four distinct cultural areas in the pre-colonial era: the Zarma dominated Niger River valley in the southwest; the northern periphery of Hausaland, made mostly of those states which had resisted the Sokoto Caliphate, and ranged along the long southern border with Nigeria; the Lake Chad basin and Kaouar in the far east, populated by Kanuri farmers and Toubou pastoralists who had once been part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire; and the Tuareg nomads of the Aïr Mountains and Saharan desert in the vast north.
Each of these communities, along with smaller ethnic groups like the pastoral Wodaabe Fula, brought their own cultural traditions to the new state of Niger. While successive post-independence governments have tried to forge a shared national culture, this has been slow forming, in part because the major Nigerien communities have their own cultural histories, and in part because Nigerien ethnic groups such as the Hausa, Tuareg and Kanuri are but part of larger ethnic communities which cross borders introduced under colonialism.
Until the 1990s, government and politics was inordinately dominated by Niamey and the Zarma people of the surrounding region. At the same time the plurality of the population, in the Hausa borderlands between Birni-N'Konni and Maine-Soroa, have often looked culturally more to Hausaland in Nigeria than Niamey. Between 1996 and 2003, primary school attendance was around 30%, including 36% of males and only 25% of females. Additional education occurs through madrassas.