total: 1.267 million sq km
land: 1,266,700 sq km
water: 300 sq km
Total: 5,834 km
border countries (7):
Algeria 951 km,
Benin 277 km,
Burkina Faso 622 km,
Chad 1,196 km,
Libya 342 km,
Mali 838 km,
Nigeria 1,608 km
Coastline: 0 km
Total: 5834 km
desert; mostly hot, dry, dusty; tropical in extreme south
tropical; rainy season (March to June); dry season (June to October); persistent high temperatures and humidity; particularly enervating climate astride the Equator
mean elevation: 474 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Niger River 200 m
highest point: Idoukal-n-Taghes 2,022 m
uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, petroleum
agricultural land: 35.1%
arable land 12.3%; permanent crops 0.1%; permanent pasture 22.7%
other: 63.9% (2011 est.)
1,000 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
majority of the populace is located in the southernmost extreme of the country along the border with Nigeria and Benin
People and Society
Niger has the highest total fertility rate (TFR) of any country in the world, averaging close to 7 children per woman in 2016. A slight decline in fertility over the last few decades has stalled. This leveling off of the high fertility rate is in large part a product of the continued desire for large families. In Niger, the TFR is lower than the desired fertility rate, which makes it unlikely that contraceptive use will increase. The high TFR sustains rapid population growth and a large youth population – almost 70% of the populace is under the age of 25. Gender inequality, including a lack of educational opportunities for women and early marriage and childbirth, also contributes to high population growth.
Because of large family sizes, children are inheriting smaller and smaller parcels of land. The dependence of most Nigeriens on subsistence farming on increasingly small landholdings, coupled with declining rainfall and the resultant shrinkage of arable land, are all preventing food production from keeping up with population growth.
For more than half a century, Niger’s lack of economic development has led to steady net outmigration. In the 1960s, Nigeriens mainly migrated to coastal West African countries to work on a seasonal basis. Some headed to Libya and Algeria in the 1970s to work in the booming oil industry until its decline in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, the principal destinations for Nigerien labor migrants have been West African countries, especially Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, while emigration to Europe and North America has remained modest. During the same period, Niger’s desert trade route town Agadez became a hub for West African and other sub-Saharan migrants crossing the Sahara to North Africa and sometimes onward to Europe.
More than 60,000 Malian refugees have fled to Niger since violence between Malian government troops and armed rebels began in early 2012. Ongoing attacks by the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, dating to 2013 in northern Nigeria and February 2015 in southeastern Niger, have pushed tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees and Nigerien returnees across the border to Niger and to displace thousands of locals in Niger’s already impoverished Diffa region.
19,245,344 (July 2017 est.)
Hausa 53.1%, Zarma/Songhai 21.2%, Tuareg 11%, Fulani (Peul) 6.5%, Kanuri 5.9%, Gurma 0.8%, Arab 0.4%, Tubu 0.4%, other/unavailable 0.9% (2006 est.)
French (official), Hausa, Djerma
Muslim 80%, other (includes indigenous beliefs and Christian) 20%
Ethnicity, Language, and Religion
The largest ethnic group in Niger is the Hausa people, who make up about 53% of the national population. The Hausa groups live mostly in the central part of the nation, where they successfully worked as farmers and leatherworkers for centuries. The Hausa language is one of the official languages of the nation, being as it’s spoken by roughly half of the population. The next largest ethnic group in Niger is actually a compilation of two groups that often see themselves as a single people. Together, the Zarma and Songhai make up about 21% of the total population. Their language is also widely spoken across Niger. The Songhai are largely fishers and live along the rivers of Niger. The Zarma are mostly farmers.
Niger was traditionally home to several nomadic societies, and many still exist there today. Most notable are the various Tuareg groups. While the Tuaregs consist of many tribes, they share a very strong unified identity. They are mostly pastoralists, following herds of camels and goats, and live in nomadic, matrilineal societies where women have a fair degree of power. About 11% of people in Niger identify as Tuareg. The Tuaregs aren’t the only nomadic groups of Niger. About 6.5% of the population identifies with one of the Fulani groups, who also follow herds across the desert and grasslands. Fulani peoples also live within distinct tribes but share a strong ethnic unity, and have some unique practices. others include Kanuri 5.9%, Gurma 0.8%, Arab 0.4%, Tubu 0.4%, other 0.9%.
French, inherited from the colonial period, is the official language. It is spoken mainly as a second language by people who have received a formal western education and serves as the administrative language. Niger has been a member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie since 1970. Niger has ten official national languages, namely Arabic, Buduma, Fulfulde, Gourmanchéma, Hausa, Kanuri, Zarma & Songhai, Tamasheq, Tassawaq, Tebu. Each is spoken as a first language primarily by the ethnic group with which it is associated. Hausa and Zarma-Sonrai, the two most spoken languages, are widely spoken throughout the country as first or second languages.
Roughly 85 percent of the population adheres to the Sunni branch of Islam. Although the Annawan group of Hausa have always refused to accept Islam, as have a group of Fulani, the Wodaabe—who distinguish themselves from other Fulani for this reason—Islam remains the religion of the majority of both Hausa and Fulani. Christianity (Roman Catholicism and Protestantism) remains a religion of the towns, particularly of Niamey. There are several Christian missions in the Songhai and Arewa areas. Christianity is primarily a European religion, although it is also practiced by some black Africans from other countries. The traditional animist religions of the black Africans continue to manifest themselves in strength.
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. Nomadic children in the north of the country often do not have access to schools.
Schooling is compulsory in principle for ages 7 to 15 for a period of 8 years. However, there is only about a 25 percent school attendance by primary-school-age children, and even fewer 12- to 17-year-olds continue on to the secondary schools. The school system is based on the French model and consists of a primary school (Ecole Primaire), a secondary system (Lycée), and higher education system. Each of these is referred to as a cycle. Primary schooling lasts six years and is attended by children from the ages of 6 to 12. At the completion of this cycle, students sit for an examination and are awarded the Certificat D’Etudes Primary Elementary (CEPE).
The first 6 years of this take place at primary schools, where more boys than girls complete the program. The next three years of school – for those fortunate enough to continue – take place at the lower secondary level in accordance with the French model where a standard academic curriculum is prescribed. Such facilities are sparse beyond the cities and do not exist at all for Niger’s nomadic tribes.
An upper secondary school period of 3 years completes the schooling cycle for the nation’s younger people. For the first time they have the opportunity of academic subject specialization, and the choice of alternative technical secondary education too. Concluding certificates are de Bachelier de l’ensignement du second degree and de Bachelier technician respectively.
Niger’s major institution of higher education is the University Abdou Moumouni in Niamey (the capital city) and the Islamic University. The councils or governing bodies of the institutions define all guidelines for teaching, the curricula and study systems, the organization of examinations, and vote on the budget. It is administered by Ministere de l’Enseignement Superieur, de la Recherche et de la Technologie (The Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Technology).
Niger is a landlocked, sub-Saharan nation, whose economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits. Agriculture contributes approximately 40% of GDP and provides the livelihood for over 80% of the population. The UN ranked Niger as the second least developed country in the world in 2016 due to multiple factors such as food insecurity, lack of industry, high population growth, a weak educational sector, and few prospects for work outside of subsistence farming and herding. The economy in recent years has been hurt by terrorist activity near its uranium mines and by instability in Mali and in the Diffa region of the country; concerns about security have resulted in increased support from regional and international partners on defense. Low uranium prices, demographics, and security expenditures may continue to put pressure on the government’s finances.
GDP growth is projected to be 4.5% in 2017. Security threats at the borders with Mali, Libya, and Nigeria and persistently low commodity prices expose Niger to serious macroeconomic risks. Despite showing a moderate risk of debt distress in 2014, Niger must continue to closely monitor its debt sustainability, owing to the rapid increase in external public debt from 27% to 35% of GDP between 2014 and 2016. This ratio is expected to climb to 37% in 2018, before declining as investment projects in the extractive industries are completed. The overall fiscal deficit improved and is forecast to be 7.5% in 2016.
Formal private sector investment needed for economic diversification and growth remains a challenge, given the country’s limited domestic markets, access to credit, and competitiveness. Although President ISSOUFOU is courting foreign investors, including those from the US, as of April 2017, there were no US firms operating in Niger. In November 2017, the National Assembly passed the 2018 Finance Law that was geared towards raising government revenues and moving away from international support.
The security crisis and low commodity prices are weakening Niger’s public finances. Preliminary estimates suggest that increased spending on security and the hosting of refugees as part of the military operation against Boko Haram at Niger’s southeast border could cost 1% of GDP on an annual basis, and reduce available resources to finance economic development investments.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$21.79 billion (2017 est.)
$20.75 billion (2016 est.)
$19.76 billion (2015 est.)
note: data are in 2017 dollars
GDP (official exchange rate):
$7.335 billion (2016 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
5% (2016 est.)
5% (2016 est.)
4% (2015 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$1,200 (2017 est.)
$1,100 (2016 est.)
$1,100 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
23.7% of GDP (2017 est.)
20.7% of GDP (2016 est.)
24.4% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 40.4% (2016 est.)
Agriculture – products:
cowpeas, cotton, peanuts, millet, sorghum, cassava (manioc, tapioca), rice; cattle, sheep, goats, camels, donkeys, horses, poultry
uranium mining, petroleum, cement, brick, soap, textiles, food processing, chemicals, slaughterhouses
Population below poverty line:
45.4% (2014 est.)
revenues: $1.427 billion
expenditures: $1.749 billion (2017 est.)
Agriculture contributes approximately 40 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and 87 percent of the labor force is employed in this sector. Based principally on subsistence farming and livestock breeding, the country’s economy is still largely at the mercy of the vagaries of the climate. Increased rainfall variability due to climate change complicates the picture, and harvests vary widely from year to year. Niger’s economy is dominated by rain-fed agriculture, while livestock production accounts for about a third of the value added in the agriculture sector.
The agricultural economy is based largely upon internal markets, subsistence agriculture, and the export of raw commodities: foodstuffs and cattle to neighbors. Niger, a landlocked Sub-Sahara African nation, and over the past two decades has consistently been ranked near or at the bottom of worldwide indexes of the Human development index, GDP, and per capita income. Economic activity centers on subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, reexport trade, and export of uranium. The 50% devaluation of the West African CFA franc in January 1994 boosted exports of livestock, cowpeas, onions, and the products of Niger’s small cotton industry. Exports of cattle to neighboring Nigeria, as well as Groundnuts and their oil, remain the primary non-mineral exports.
Niger’s agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of all but 18% 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. 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.
Pearl 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.
There is a significant potential in the formalization of the butchery industry and for the development of a formal private sector in meat production given a large number of small and informal butchers and the abundant availability of livestock. According to 2013 census statistics, Niger had 10.7 million cattle, 10.7 million sheep, 14.3 million goats, 1.7 million camels, 241,000 horses and 1.7 million donkeys. There is only one modern abattoir in Niger, and it is in Niamey. Consumption of meat in rural areas is very low, as livestock are repeatedly bought and sold, but rarely eaten. Consumption of chicken and meat is higher in urban areas, primarily in Niamey, and a growing middle class will typically consume more meat.
population without electricity: 15,200,000
electrification – total population: 15%
electrification – urban areas: 62%
electrification – rural areas: 4% (2013)
Electricity – production:
458.2 million kWh (2016 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
1.072 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
0 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
779.1 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
179,000 kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
96.1% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 160,848
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 1 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 45 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 4.3% (July 2016 est.)
Industry and Mining
The mineral mining industry is a crucial piece of the Economy of Niger. Niger’s mineral sector accounted for about 3% of the GDP and for about 40% of exports. according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a renewed interest in the generation of nuclear energy had led to increased demand for uranium, encouraged investment expansions at existing uranium mines, and promoted exploration. Foreign direct investment in the sector from 2008 to 2012 was projected to be $1.4 billion, which would double the country’s uranium production capacity.
From the 1950s, Niger has been known to have large uranium deposits in the desert north of the Agadez Region, which is located about 1,000 kilometers (620 mi) northeast of Niamey. In 1971, the first mine was opened outside Arlit and operated by SOMAIR, a national company with Areva and the government of Niger as shareholders. The production of uranium has drastically increased in recent years passing from 2993 tonnes in 2008 to 4821 tonnes in 2012. Uranium ore mined in the Arlit area (Agadez Region) is extracted as Triuranium octoxide. SOMAIR mine has uranium reserve of 14,000 tonnes.
The history of coal exploration and mining dates back to 1968 when coal reserves were discovered in Anou Araren by an exploration team led by the French Atomic Commission Commissariat à l’énergie atomique. This discovery and the parallel discovery and exploitation of uranium mines in the same region of Niger lead to the creation of SONICHAR in 1975. The Anou Araren coal reserves are estimated at 15 million tonnes and in 2011, 246,016 tonnes of coal was extracted from the mine. The coal reserves at Salkadamna are estimated at 70 million tonnes.
Exploitable deposits of gold have long been known to exist in the southwestern region of Niger and more recently in the northern region of Agadez. Artisanal gold mining was already conducted between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. In 2004, the Samira Hill Gold Mine, operated by Mining company of Liptako, began production. n 2014, two gold deposits have been found in the Agadez Region in Djado and Mount Ibl, 700 and 360 km from Agadez city, respectively. The site in Djado was discovered in April 2014 and resulted in a gold rush that attracted local inhabitants of Agadez as well as prospectors from neighboring countries like Chad, Sudan, and Burkina Faso.
The cement extraction industry exists in Niger since 1964 when the Malbaza cement plant was opened. Located in the Tahoua Region, the cement plant has been the only such project until 2014. In 2011, work for expanding the cement plant of Malbaza began with the expectation to increase its production capacity by 13 folds. In 2014, work began for a new cement plant in Keita in the Tahoua Region.
Banking and Finance
There are no limits on the free flow of financial resources. Niger’s capital markets are extremely underdeveloped and there is no stock market. Although an effective regulatory system exists, and policies, in fact, encourage portfolio investment, there is little market liquidity and hence little opportunity for such investment. The government otherwise works closely with the IMF to ensure that payments and transfers overseas occur without undue restrictions. Credit is allocated on market terms and foreigners do not face discrimination. Credit to the private sector is dominated by large corporations, while agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fisheries sectors (which account for more than 40 percent of GDP) receive less than one percent of total bank credit.
The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), a central bank common to the eight members of WAEMU, governs Niger’s banking system. Along with BCEAO, the Commission Bancaire is a supranational supervisory entity created in April 1990 to control financial institutions. The eight-member countries use the CFA franc issued by the BCEAO and pegged to the euro at a rate of one euro to 656 CFA francs. The French Treasury guarantees parity and fixed convertibility. BCEAO has an operating account at the French Treasury where it is required to hold at least 65 percent of its foreign exchange reserves.
Although the banking sector in Niger is generally healthy and well capitalized, less than 3 percent of the people of Niger have a bank account. Foreign banks control about 80 percent of the sector’s assets, with SONIBANK, BIA Niger, Ecobank and Bank of Africa (BOA) being the largest banks operating within the country, with estimated combined assets at $1.34 billion. There are no restrictions on a foreigner’s ability to establish a bank account, and foreign banks and their subsidiaries operate within the economy without undue restrictions. The Central Bank of West African States governs Niger’s banking institutions and sets minimum reserve requirements. Niger is a part of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) which utilizes the franc CFA, pegged to the Euro at 655.61 CFA per euro.
Twelve commercial banks and one financial institution operating in Niger. The system is characterized by over-liquidity of banks and their hesitancy to make medium or long-term loans. Those banks include Bank of Africa Niger, Banque Atlantique Niger, Banque Régionale de Solidarité Niger
Banque Sahélo-Saharienne pour l’Investissement et le Commerce (BSSIC), Ecobank Niger, Crédit du Niger, Banque Internationale pour l’Afrique au Niger, Banque Commerciale du Niger, Banque Islamique du Niger pour le Commerce et l’Investissement, Société Nigérienne de Banque.
Located in the western part of Africa, very little may be known about the modern Niger in terms of its ability as a splendid tourist destination. This desert country lying in sub-Saharan Africa holds a great potential embedded in its natural iconic desert landmarks and the amazing tout free travel routes which pass through the amazing ancient caravan towns that are situated at the edge of the broad Sahara. Extending towards the north of this country, some stunning oasis towns and the splendor of well stark air mountains that creeps with amazing Neolithic rock art. The deserted medieval settlements in this region, as well as the dinosaur graveyards, stand spectacularly on the Sahara desert.
On the south of Niger, down the town of Agadez, the ancient Trans Saharan trade manifests itself in the marvelous mazes of the spectacular mud-brick architecture. Great history is in this part of the world. Moreover, nature lovers are also taken care of by the diverse wildlife you will get in the parks across Niger. The Islamic culture is rich with different cultural features that the communities in Niger exhibits. Visiting this country offers you the best scenic and relaxing mood even though it is located in the desert part of Africa; its tourist attraction is a soul-steering aspect to be considered by any traveler.
Place of Attractions
Agadez is an ancient city founded in the 11th century. It then became an important seat of the famous sultanates of the Sahel and an established center of Islamic learning. It was an important stop on the trans-Saharan trade route for merchants crossing the desert by camel, and today it also remains an important point on the trans-Sahara highway, an important trunk road for transporting goods north to south through Africa.
Ayorou is a picturesque town on the banks of Niger River, almost at the point where the country borders Mali to the north. One of the most popular activities to do in Ayorou is to go on a hippopotamus tour on the river.
Zinder is often referred to as the cultural capital of Niger, and indeed it was for a long time the true, administrative capital city of the country until 1927 when the capital was moved to its current location of Niamey.
W National Park is actually shared across a tri-border area between the nations of Niger, Benin, and Burkina Faso and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
The koure town in southwestern Niger is close to the last known home of a herd of giraffes in West Africa.
Considerable evidence indicates that about 60,000 years ago, humans inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara Desert of northern Niger. Later, on what was then huge fertile grasslands, from at least 7,000 BCE there was pastoralism, herding of sheep and goats, large settlements and pottery. Cattle were introduced to the Central Sahara (Ahaggar) from 4,000 to 3,500 BCE. Remarkable rock paintings, many found in the Aïr Mountains, dated 3,500 to 2,500 BCE, portray vegetation and animal presence rather different from modern expectations. Archeologists in Niger have much work to do, with little known of the prehistory of the societies that inhabited the south, the home of the vast majority of modern Nigeriens.
One recent find suggests what is now the Sahara of northeast Niger was home to a succession of Holocene era societies. One Saharan site illustrated how sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherers lived at the edge of shallow lakes around 7700–6200 BCE, but disappeared during a period of extreme drought that may have lasted for a millennium over 6200–5200 BCE. Several former northern villages and archaeological sites date from the Green Sahara period of 7500-7000 to 3500-3000 BCE. When the climate returned to savanna grasslands—wetter than today’s climate—and lakes reappeared in what is the modern Ténére desert, a population practicing hunting, fishing, and cattle husbandry. This last population survived until almost historical times, from 5200–2500 BCE, when the current arid period began.
The deserts and the mountains of the north, though, have garnered attention for the ancient abandoned cities and pre-historic rock carvings found in the Aïr Mountains and the Ténéré deser. The Aïr is known for its rock art, dating from 6000 BC to around AD 1000. During the Neolithic Subpluvial, the region was a pastoral area, as is illustrated by images of cattle and large mammals. During the 3rd millennium BC, however, a process of desertification began and the Tuareg from further north migrated into the region. Later art indicated war, depicting horses and chariots. In particular, a five-meter-high carving of a giraffe at Dabous discovered in 1999 is internationally famous. Cave art in the region is predominantly stone carving, initially with a sharp rock, and from around 1200 BC perhaps with metal.
As the Sahara dried after 2000 BCE, the north of Niger became the desert it is today, with settlements and trade routes clinging to the Air in the north, the Kaouar and shore of Lake Chad in the west, and (apart for a scattering of oases) most people living along what is now the southern border with Nigeria and the southwest of the country.
The Hausa Kingdoms
The first Hausa states began to develop in the Sahel around 500–700 AD. Gradually, seven principle city-states emerged—Biram, Daura, Gobir, Katsina, Kano, Rano, and Zaria—and they developed close trading relationships and economic cooperation. We know very little about these states or their cultures. Hausa legend claims that a man named Bayajidda, an Arab prince who traveled to the Sahel from Baghdad, was the forefather of the Hausa. He killed a monstrous snake that oppressed the people of Daura, and he married the queen. The queen had six sons already, and she produced another son with Bayajidda, and each of these sons ruled one of the seven Hausa city-states, becoming the first kings. The combined kingdoms of Hausaland were sometimes called the Daura since Daura is the place where Bayajidda supposedly founded the Hausa people.
Islam was to become an important part of Hausa culture. The religion seems to have first appeared in the region around the eleventh century, brought by merchants and pilgrims, but the conversion was slow. Kings and rulers were attracted to the new religion, perhaps for the prestige, it granted them in the eyes of other great Islamic states. The common people only gradually adopted Islam, and generally practiced it along with ancient Hausa religious customs. Still, Arabic script was eventually adopted for writing the Hausa language. It was probably around this time that Islam became firmly integrated into Hausa society.
Besides the Hausa, another ethnic group lived in their lands: the Fulani. The Fulani were generally treated as second-class citizens and grew to resent Hausa rule. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, a charismatic Islamic leader of Fulani background named Usman Dan Fodio, who lived in the state of Gobir, began a religious movement in the region. Supported in the holy war by masses of unhappy Fulani and poor Hausa, Dan Fodio’s “Fulani Jihad” first overwhelmed Gobir, and then the rest of the Hausa city-states. This was the beginning of the Sokoto Caliphate, called such because Dan Fodio made his capital at the city of Sokoto.
The Hausa aristocracy was replaced by a Fulani aristocracy, but these new rulers quickly adopted much of Hausa culture. In some places, such as Kano, they began speaking the Hausa language instead of their native Fula language. The Hausa and Fulani mixed freely, and today the ethnic group is generally termed the “Hausa-Fulani.” Under the Sokoto Caliphate, the region was truly converted to Islam on a massive scale. The empire, ruled by theocratic caliphs at Sokoto, expanded throughout the nineteenth century. The rule of the Sokoto Caliphate lasted for about a century until the British colonizers took over the region in the early twentieth century. The Hausa are to this day a major ethnic group, chiefly in Nigeria and Niger.
Early Settlers of Gao
Among the first people to settle around Niger bank and in the region of Gao were the Sorko people, who established small settlements on the banks of the Niger River. The Sorko fashioned boats and canoes from the wood of the cailcedrat tree and fished and hunted from their boats and provided water-borne transport for goods and people. Another group of people that moved into the area to exploit the Niger’s resources were the Gow people. The Gow were hunters and specialized in hunting river animals such as crocodile and hippopotamus.
The other group of people known to have inhabited the area were the Do people. They were farmers who raised crops in the fertile lands bordering the river. Sometime before the 10th century, these early settlers were subjugated by more powerful, horse-riding Songhai speakers, who established control over the area. All these groups of people gradually began to speak the same language and they and their country eventually became known as the Songhai.
The earliest dynasty of kings is obscure and most of the information about this dynasty comes from an ancient cemetery near a village called Saney, close to Gao. Inscriptions on a few of the tombstones in the cemetery indicate that this dynasty ruled in the late 11th and early 12th centuries and that the rulers from this dynasty bore the title of Malik. Other tombstones mention a second dynasty, whose rulers bore the title Zuwa. There is only myth and legend to describe Zuwa origins. The Tarikh al-Sudan (the History of Sudan), written in Arabic around 1655, provides an early history of the Songhai as handed down through oral tradition. TheChroniclee reports that the legendary founder of the Za or the Zuwa dynasty was called Za Alayaman, who originally came from Yemen and settled in the town of Kukiya. What happened to the Zuwa rulers is not recorded.
The camel-riding Sanhaja tribes were among the early people of the Niger bend region. They were locally known as the Tuareg. These tribes rode out of the great Sahara Desert and established trading settlements near the Niger. As time passed, North African traders crossed the Sahara and joined the Tuaregs in their Niger bend settlements. They all conducted business with the people living near the river. As trade in the region increased, the Songhai chiefs took control of the profitable commerce around what was to later become Gao. Between 750 and 950, as the Ghana Empire prospered as the “land of gold” far to the west, the trading center at Gao became an increasingly important terminus for trade across the Sahara.
The Gao Empire
The archaeological evidence suggests that there were two settlements on the eastern bank of the Niger Gao Ancien situated within the modern town, to the east of the Tomb of Askia, and the archaeological site of Gao-Saney (Sané in French) situated around 4 km to the east. The bed of the Wadi Gangaber passes to the south of the Gao-Saney occupation mound (tell) but to the north of Gao Ancien. The imported pottery and glass recovered from Gao-Saney suggest that the site was occupied between the 8th and 12th centuries. It is possible that Gao-Saney corresponds to Sarnāh of al-Muhallabi. Al-Bakri writing in 1068 also records the existence of two towns, but al-Idrisi writing in around 1154 does not. Both al-Muhallabi (see quote above) and al-Bakri situate Gao on the west (or right bank) of the Niger. A large sand dune, La Dune Rose, lies on the west bank opposite Gao, but at Koima, on the edge of the dune at a site 4 km north of Gao, surface deposits indicate a pre-9th-century settlement.
Al-Sadi in his Tarikh al-Sudan gives a slightly later date for the introduction of Islam. He lists 32 rulers of the Zuwa dynasty and states that in 1009-1010 A.D. the 15th ruler, Zuwa Kusoy, was the first to convert to Islam. He does not actually specify where they lived except for the legendary founder of the dynasty, Zuwa Alayman who he claims came from Yemen to Kukiya.
The discovery of the tombstones of Gao-Saney in 1939 has provided the historians of the Gao Empire with new evidence. The three great Muslim rulers belonging to the Zaghe dynasty who died successively in 1100, 1110 and 1120 can be identified with the kings of the Zuwa dynasty. The Islamization of the dynasty took therefore not place at the beginning but at the end of the eleventh century in the time of the Almoravids. The role of the Almoravids in this process has been hotly debated. Earlier the kings of Gao-Saney were considered to be offshoots of the Almoravids (John Hunwick, 1980), but it has recently been argued that they were converted rulers of a great African dynasty, possibly originating from ancient Ghana.
Sometime in the 14th century, Ali Kulun, the first ruler of the Sunni dynasty, rebelled against Mali hegemony and was defeated. It was not until the first half of the 15th century that Sunni Sulayman Dama was able to throw off the Mali yoke. His successor, Sunni Ali Ber (1464–1492), greatly expanded the territory under Songhay control and established the Songhay Empire.
The Songhai Empire
During the second half of the 13th century, Gao and the surrounding region had grown into an important trading center and attracted the interest of the expanding Mali Empire. Mali conquered Gao towards the end of the 13th century. Gao would remain under Malian hegemony until the late 14th century. As the Mali Empire started to disintegrate, the Songhai reasserted control of Gao. Songhai rulers subsequently took advantage of the weakened Mali Empire to expand Songhai rule.
Under the rule of Sonni Ali, the Songhai surpassed the Malian Empire in area, wealth, and power, absorbing vast areas of the Mali Empire and reached its greatest extent. His son and successor, Sonni Bāru (1492–1493), was a less successful ruler of the empire, and as such was overthrown by Muhammad Ture (1493–1528; called Askia), one of his father’s generals, who instituted political and economic reforms throughout the empire.
A series of plots and coups by Askia’s successors forced the empire into a period of decline and instability. Askia’s relatives attempted to govern the empire, but political chaos and several civil wars within the empire ensured the empire’s continued decline, particularly during the brutal rule of Askia Ishaq I (1539–1549). The empire experienced a period of stability and a string of military successes during the reign of Askia Daoud (1549–1582). Ahmad al-Mansur, the Moroccan sultan at the time, demanded tax revenues from the empire’s salt mines.
Askia Daoud responded by sending a large quantity of gold as a gift in an attempt to appease the sultan. Askia Ishaq II (1588–1591) ascended to power in a long dynastic struggle following the death of Askia Daoud. He would be the last ruler of the empire. In 1590, al-Mansur took advantage of the recent civil strife in the empire and sent an army under the command of Judar Pasha to conquer the Songhai and to gain control of the Trans-Saharan trade routes. After the disastrous defeat at the Battle of Tondibi (1591), the Songhai Empire collapsed. The Dendi Kingdom succeeded the empire as the continuation of Songhai culture and society.
The Dendi kingdom
Under the Songhai empire, Dendi had been the eastern-most province, governed by the prestigious Dendi-fari (“governor of the eastern front”). Askia Ishaq II fled to here after he was defeated by the invading Saadi dynasty of Morocco at the Battle of Tondibi and at another battle seven months later. In Dendi, he was deposed by his brother Muhammad Gao, who was in turn murdered on the order of the Moroccan pasha. The Moroccans then appointed Sulayman as puppet king ruling the Niger between Djenné and Gao. South of Tillaberi, the Songhai resistance against Morocco continued under Askia Nuh, a son of Askia Dawud. He established his capital at the yet unlocalized town of Lulami.
After the Moroccans had Askia Sulayman appointed as their puppet the pasha, Mahmud ibn Zarqun attempted to conquer Dendi. Askia Nuh resisted the invasion by a costly guerilla warfare lasting two years. In 1594 Mahmud was forced to discontinue the war and retreated, just to be killed in the same year by Dogon, with whom Nuh was probably allied. The new pasha called Mansur continued the war against Dendi and again Nuh resorted to guerrilla warfare. This situation lasted until 1599 when Nuh’s followers became tired of the war and deposed him in favor of his brother Harun. In 1609, the Malian city of Djenné revolted against the Saadi pashas (governors) with Dendi support. The Saadi were eventually able to regain the city, but with a lack of support from their homeland, they soon abandoned the area, leaving it to Tuareg and Fulbe nomads.
In 1612, Askiya al-Amin came to power in Dendi. His short reign of six years was followed by the rule of Askiya Dawud. Dawud killed many people during his reign including relatives and members of the military. His brother, Isma’il, fled to Timbuktu and sought Saadi support to overthrow al-Amin. Isma’il returned into Dendi and deposed his brother in 1639. Upon attempting to send the foreign army back, he was deposed and replaced by a ruler that the pashas felt would be easier to deal with. This ruler was eventually removed by the Songhai people.
While French booty took control of some of the areas of modern Niger began in the 1890s, a formal Zinder Military Territory was formed on 23 July 1900. This military territory only governed what is modern southern Niger, with only nominal rule east of Zinder or north of Tanout. Its Commandant was based at the village of Sorbo-Haoussa near Niamey, where the headquarters was moved in 1903. Administratively, it was part of the Senegambia and Niger Colony from 1900 to 1904 and Upper Senegal and Niger colony from 1904 to 1911. While commanded by officers of the French Troupes de marine, its budget and administration were dependent on the Lieutenant Governor at Kayes (latter Bamako), and military decision making—as well as contact with authorities in the Metropole or other colonies was through the Governor General in Dakar.
The area also appears on French maps as the “Third Military Territory”. On 22 June 1910, the territory was renamed Niger Military Territory and included parts of modern northeast Mali (Gao Cercle) and Northern Chad (Tibesti Cercle). On 21 June 1911 the Cercle of Gao ceded to French Sudan, and throughout the late nineteen-teens, efforts were made to establish permanent French posts in the north and east, in Bilma, N’guigmi and elsewhere. In 1911, the headquarters of the territory was moved to Zinder, reflecting both the relative peacefulness of the west of the territory and the fear of incursion from the British to the South and the Italians from Libya. Despite this, French control of the northern and eastern areas remained minimal. Along with Mauritania, Niger remained the only part of French West Africa to remain under military rule.
On 13 October 1922, the civilian Colony of Niger took control of most of the southern and western areas, with a lieutenant governor reporting to the Governor General of French West Africa. The 1919 creation of French Upper Volta as a civil colony removed the areas of modern Niger west of the Niger River. In 1926, the capital was moved again to Niamey from Zinder. In 1930, Tibesti Cercle ceded to Chad Colony in French Equatorial Africa, and in 1932, the colony of French Upper Volta was divided amongst its neighbors, with the Circles of Dori and Fada N’gourma ceded to Niger Colony.
The end of the colonial era was characterized by a transformation of the political environment in French West Africa and Niger. The Nigerien Progressive Party, the Nigerien section of the African Democratic Rally Party, founded in May 1946, United various tendencies of Nigerien people in the movement for national independence. In alliance with progressive French elements and other independence African movements, the movements acquired the suppression of forced labor and arbitrary requisitions as well as legal equality between the African and the French citizens.
Following the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of 23 July 1956 and the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on 4 December 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. On 18 December 1958, the Republic of Niger was officially created with Hamani Diori as the head of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Niger. On 11 July 1960, Niger decided to leave the French Community and acquired full independence on 3 August 1960 with Diori as its first president.
Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group under the name of Supreme Military Council deposed Diori in April 1974, following a military coup, the first of many in the post-colonial history of Niger. President Kountché ruled the country until his death in 1987. The first action of the Kountché military government was to address the food crisis which was one of the catalysts of the military coup. The 1989 referendum led to the adoption a new constitution and the creation of the Second Republic of Niger. General Saibou became the first president of the Second Republic after winning the presidential election on 10 December 1989. His presidency started during the Second Republic largely following his efforts at the end of the previous military regime with attempts at normalizing the political situation in the country with the release of political prisoners, liberalization of laws and policies.
The National Sovereign Conference of 1991 marked a turning point in the post-independence era of Niger and brought about multi-party democracy. From 29 July to 3 November, a national conference gathered all fringes of society to examine the political, economic and social situation of the country and make recommendations for the future direction of the country. The conference was presided over by Prof. André Salifou and developed a plan for a transitional government. This transitional 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.
In a February 2010 coup d’état, a military junta led by captain Salou Djibo was established in response to Tandja’s attempted extension of his political term by modifying the constitution. The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy led by General Salou Djibo carried out a one-year transition plan, drafted a new constitution and held elections in 2011 that were judged internationally as free and fair. Following the adoption of the newest constitution of 2010 and the presidential elections, Mahamadou Issoufou was elected as the first president of the Seventh Republic.