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Niger - History

Nigers history as an independent republic is very brief and rather bleak.

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.

Dosso was the seat of the Dosso kingdom, a Zarma chieftaincy which rose to dominate the entire Zarma region in Niger in pre-colonial Niger. The traditional ruler was called Zarmakoy or Djermakoy of Dosso. Zinder was a very important commercial city in the 19th century. During that time, the magnificence of the Sultans Palace and its harem were coexisting side by side with the brutality and savagery of the slaves traders.

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 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 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 agreed to these demands by the end of 1990.

Nomadic Berber language-speaking Tuareg populations that span the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Libya, and Algeria have generally felt marginalized by the central governments of all of the countries in which they reside. This perceived relative deprivation has led to a series of rebellions in Mali and Niger. In the 1980s, Tuareg received training and support from Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi, and several hundred even served in combat in Lebanon and Chad with his Arab Legion. Rebel units began to infiltrate into Mali and Niger toward the end of the 1980s and staged a rebellion between 1990 and 1995.

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 following the election of a ruling coalition. 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.

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

Rivalries within the 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.

, Niger has had a democratic government since 1999. In April 1999, Bare was overthrown and assassinated in a coup led by Maj. Daouda Mallam Wanke, who established the transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for a Fifth Republic with a French-style semi-presidential system. In elections 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. Mamadou Tandja won the presidency, heading a coalition of the National Movement for the Development of Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS).

Niger faced a double terrorist threat. In the Sahel, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoune committed numerous attacks on Nigerian soil. These groups had also targeted French interests in the region, as evidenced by the kidnapping of two French nationals in Niamey in January 2011 and the suicide attack against the website of the SOMAIR, partially owned by Areva in May 2013. In the Lake Chad, Boko Haram also attacks in Niger. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, openly attacked the president Mahamadou Issoufou, as well as France, in several videos.

Prospects for economic growth in Niger were favorable, but limited by population growth. Despite economic growth of 5.6% annually from 2005 to 2014, the country was now at the bottom of the table by the human development index. In the coming years, its economic trajectory depend in particular on the evolution of oil prices, Niger second export product behind uranium.

Public finances are characterized by the difficulty to recover voted revenues and under-implementation of expenditure. Public debt was moderate but increasing rapidly, increasing from 23% of GDP in 2013 to 33% in 2014. The Niger has an expanded credit facility of the International Monetary Fund for the period from 2012 to 2015.

Niger was placed 168th in the ranking on the ease of doing business in 2015, up five places in five years. It was designated country complies with the Transparency Initiative Extractive Industries in March 2011.

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Page last modified: 07-05-2017 19:07:19 ZULU