U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Niger, July 1994
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of West African Affairs
Official Name: Republic of Niger
Area: 1,267,000 sq. km. (490,000 sq. mi.); about three times the size of
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
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
Work force (3.5 million): Self-employed/work for family (primarily
agriculture and herding)--90%;
employed by private sector--8%; government--2%.
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
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
Current Operations (personnel wages plus material and transport)--
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
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
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.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Customs: Visitors need visas, which may be obtained from the
Currency, weights, and measures: Local currency is the CFA franc,
presently exchanged at 575 CFA francs=US$1. The same currency is
used throughout most of former French West Africa. Metric weights
and measures are used. Temperatures are in centigrade.
Health: Check latest information on required immunizations. Suggested
immunizations are yellow fever, tetanus, typhoid, and polio. Malaria
suppressants and gamma globulin are recommended. Although Niamey
has a filtering plant, water is not potable and should be filtered and
boiled, or treated with purification pills. Outside Niamey, observe the
Telecommunications: Niamey has telephone, telegraph, and fax
facilities. Calls to the U.S. may be made at any time, but quality of
reception varies. Niamey is 6 hours ahead of eastern standard time (5
hours when the east coast is on daylight savings time). Niger does not
observe daylight savings time. International airmail letters to or from
the eastern US take 3-6 days; service is fairly regular.
Transportation: Travel within Niger and to neighboring countries is by
air and road. Scheduled air service is available to neighboring capitals.
Major airlines operating in Niger are Air France and Air Afrique. Of
the three major roads leading from Niamey, one is paved for the first
100 km. (60 mi.) towards Tillaberi; another is paved for 700 km. (460
mi.) to Agadez, and the third is paved for 1,240 km. (770 mi.) through
Dosso, Maradi, Zinder, Goure, and to Nguigmi. Other roads in Niger
are paved for short distances. Taxis are the only public transportation in
Niamey that is somewhat adequate, inexpensive, and generally
obtainable in business or market areas.
Tourist attractions: These include the wildlife parks at Park W, Boubon
Island recreation area in the Niger River near Niamey, the area of Say
near the Benin border, and Diffa on Lake Chad. Historic sites include
Tahoua; Agadez, with its 16th century mosque; ruins of the Sokoto
Empire in Maradi and Konni; and Zinder, the colonial capital of Niger
until the capital relocated to Niamey in the 1920s. Native art and
handicrafts are available, particularly at Agadez. (However, travel to
Agadez and other northern cities is discouraged due to ongoing
political and ethnic tension.)
National holidays: The US Embassy is closed on the following official
Nigerien holidays; shops and businesses also may be closed.
New Year's Day--January 1
Id-al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)*--March
Niger Labor Day--May 1
Niger Independence Day--August 3
National Unity Day--December 18
Christmas Day--December 25
*Date changes annually
These titles are provided as a general indication of material published
on this country. The Department of State does not endorse unofficial
Adloff, Richard. The French-Speaking Nations. New York: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston, 1964.
Beckwith, Carol. Nomads of Niger. New York: Hary N. Abrams, 1983.
Boubou, Hama. Recherches sur l'Histoire des Touareg Sahariens et
Soudanais. Paris: Presence Africain, 1967.
Chaffard, George. Les Carnets Secret de la Decolonization. Vol. II.
Paris: Calmann-Levy, 1968.
Charlick, Robert B. Niger: Personal Rule and Survival in the Sahel.
Boulder and San Francisco: Westview Press, 1991.
Clarke, Thurston. The Last Caravan. New York: Putnam, 1978.
Crowder, Michael. West Africa Under Colonial Rule. Evanston, Ill.:
Northwestern University Press, 1968.
Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Niger. Scarecrow Press, 1979.
de Gramont, Sanche. The Strong Brown God: The Story of the Niger
River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
Gregoire, Emmanuel. The Alhazai of Maradi: Traditional Hausa
Merchants in a Changing Sahelian City. Translated by B.H. Hardy.
Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992.
Grove, A.T. (Ed) Niger and Its Neighbors: Environmental History and
Hydrobiology, Human Use and Health Hazards of the Major West
African Rivers. Brookfield Pub. Co., 1985.
Hargreaves, John D. West Africa: The Former French States.
Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967.
Lloyd, Christopher. The Search for the Niger. London: Collins, 1973.
Mortimer, Edward. France and the Africans 1944-1960, A Political
History. London: Faber & Faber, 1969.
Niger. (Let's Visit Places--Nations, Dependencies, and Sovereignties of
the World Series.) (Illus.) Chelsea House, 1989.
"Nomads of the World." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic
Sere de Rivieres, Edmond. Histoire du Niger. Paris: Berger-Levrault,
Stoller, Paul & Olkes, Cheryl. In Sorcery's Shadow: A memoir of
apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger. Chicago and London.
The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
For information on foreign economic trends, commercial development,
production, trade regulations, and tariff rates contact the International
Trade Administration, US Department of Commerce, Washington, DC
20230 or any Commerce Department district office.
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