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Niger - Introduction

Niger was ranked 189 out of 189 in the 2021 UN Human Development Index and has the fastest population growth rate in the world at 3.9 % per year. More than half the population of 24 million is under the age of 15. The literacy rate is below 30% among adults and even lower among women. Niger is possibly the poorest countries in the world, with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. Niger has ranked last on the UN’s Human Development Index with growth barely above the estimated rate of population growth. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa.

Niger is pronounced knee-ZHARE, an approximate rhyme with "Pierre" - the nationality noun and adjective -- Nigerien(s) (nee-ZHER-yen). The pronunciation of the name of this country is problematic, particulary for Americans. It derives from the Latin "niger", meaning "black". Other alterations are neger, from Middle French negre, from Spanish or Portuguese negro, from negro black. The country name is pronounced use the French-sounding "nee-ZHER", but the river can also be pronounced "NYE-jur", which is the pronunciation used in Nigeria. But other pronunciations are too similar to a word that is better left unsaid.

Merriam Webster reports that "Nigger is an infamous word in current English, so much so that when people are called upon to discuss it, they more often than not refer to it euphemistically as “the N-word.” Its offensiveness is not new — dictionaries have been noting it for more than 150 years—but it has grown more pronounced with the passage of time. The word now ranks as almost certainly the most offensive and inflammatory racial slur in English... The word was first included in a Merriam-Webster dictionary in 1864, at which time it was defined as a synonym of Negro, with a note indicating that it was used "in derision or depreciation.""

Demographic pressures and environmental deterioration are two of the major factors threatening stability in Niger. More than 80 percent of Niger’s land area is located in the Sahara, the world’s largest hot-weather desert. And every year, the Sahara grows several miles larger, eating more and more of Niger’s land. A predominately Tuareg ethnic group emerged in February 2007 as the Nigerien Movement for Justice and attacked several military targets in Niger’s northern region throughout 2007 and 2008. Events since evolved into a fledging insurgency. Despite periodic Tuareg rebellions and coup d’états, Niger has experienced relatively low levels of political, ethnic, and religious violence when compared with other Sub-Saharan African countries.

Recruits to radical groups generally come from young people who migrated to war and high conflict zones and returned to Niger; Tuareg ex-combatants or younger siblings of ex-combatants with relatively low levels of formal education; angry Fulani herders living close to the Malian borders where AQIM, MUJAO, and Ansar Dine have been operating; and youth from the Diffa region who have strong kinship ties with families connected or sympathetic to BH in Nigeria. They are motivated primarily by economic gain and adventure. Youth unemployment and growing drug use have increased Nigerien youth’s proclivity to engage in various forms of violent and criminal activities. This phenomenon is now prevalent in rural as well as in urban areas.

The estimated population of Niger is 13.3 million people, with an average life expectancy of 44 years. French is the official language, and the literacy rate is estimated at 29%, unevenly distributed between men and women. 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 increased sharply 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 GDP per capita is $700.

In 2010, a military junta took power after overthrowing the former president, who had tried to extend his rule unconstitutionally. A new president was inaugurated in 2011, returning Niger to constitutional, civilian rule. A poor 2011 harvest, the violence in Libya, and the security threat from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Nigeria-based group Boko Haram have complicated the government's efforts to improve Niger's economy, strengthen governance, and address human rights. The United States has commended Niger for its actions to consolidate and advance democratic institutions in its own country and to promote stability in the region, including its support for refugees who have fled the 2012 turbulence in neighboring Mali.

In 2015, large-scale protests occurred throughout Niger, which caused extensive property damage. The return of political candidate Hama Amadou to Niger sparked another large scale protest in Niamey, which resulted in the death of at least two people. Conditions of insecurity persist in the northern and western portions of Niger, particularly along the porous border between Niger and Mali, as well as eastern parts of Niger along the border of Nigeria around Diffa.

Large and small street demonstrations occur frequently in Niger, often near government buildings, university campuses, or other gathering places such as public parks. In January 2015, protests throughout Niger took place, ostensibly in response to the publication in Charlie Hebdo of a cartoon deemed offensive to Muslims and the Nigerien President’s participation in the big Paris rally of support to France after a terrorist attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo. These protests resulted in the burning of numerous churches, bars, and other buildings as well as 10 deaths.

The Department of State warns US citizens of the risks of travel to Niger and specifically recommends citizens avoid travel to Niger’s border regions, including the Diffa region and particularly the Lake Chad basin area. The entire Lake Chad region is especially vulnerable because of ongoing activities by the extremist group Boko Haram. In 2015, Boko Haram used small arms fire and suicide bombers to attack Bosso, Diffa town, and other villages in the Diffa region of Niger. On February 10, 2015, the Government of Niger declared a state of emergency in the Diffa region. A curfew has been in place in Diffa region since December, 2014. The terrorist organization Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has kidnapped Europeans in the region and continues to threaten to kidnap Westerners, including U.S. citizens, in Niger.

The crime rate, primarily for thefts, robberies, and residential break-ins, is high. Foreigners are vulnerable to bribery attempts and extortion by law enforcement authorities. Thefts and petty crimes are common day or night. Armed attacks can be committed at any time of day, generally by groups of two to four persons, with one assailant confronting the victim with a weapon while the others provide surveillance or a show of force. Outside Niamey, the potential for violent crimes increases significantly. Armed bandits target travelers on roads in all parts of the country.

Extremely high levels of malaria transmission occur in all areas south of the Sahara and in some cities and towns within the desert areas. Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous and potentially fatal strain of malaria, is the predominant type found in Niger. Due to the high risk of malaria, the CDC advises that even short-term travelers to Niger take anti malarial drugs. The drugs recommended include: mefloquine (Lariam™), doxycycline, or atovaquone/proguanil (Malarone™). Chloroquine is not effective for most strains of African malaria and should not be used. Complications of malaria can be severe and often fatal. The risk of death or permanent disability associated with malaria infection is far greater than the rare potential side effects of antimalarial medication.

Diarrheal illness is very common among travelers in Niger, even in cities and luxury accommodations. Travelers can diminish diarrhea risk through scrupulous washing of hands and use of hand sanitizers, especially before food preparation and eating.

Road safety throughout Niger is a concern, and visitors are strongly urged to avoid driving at night outside of major cities. The public transportation system, urban and rural road conditions, and the availability of roadside assistance are all poor. The main causes of accidents are driver carelessness, excessive speed, poorly maintained vehicles, and poor to non-existent road surfaces. Other factors include the hazardous mix of bicycles, mopeds, unwary pedestrians, donkey carts, animals (cattle, goats, camels), and buses on roads that are generally unpaved and poorly lit. Overloaded tractor-trailers, “bush taxis,” and disabled vehicles are additional dangers on rural roads, where speeds are generally higher, and unlit vehicles, livestock, and pedestrians are common on roads. Banditry is a continuing problem in northern and eastern Niger, as well as along border areas.

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