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Niger Profile (A Brief History)

Niger, officially called the Republic of the Niger, is a country in West Africa. The capital city of the country is Niamey, and the name Niger was derived from the Niger River. The country has a population of 17 million people and is landlocked and bordered by several countries including Chad, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Benin, and others. Islam was introduced into the country around the 11th century by Arab traders and has grown to become the predominant religion in the country.

Early history of Niger

Archaeological evidence suggests that humans inhabited the present-day Sahara Desert area in the northern part of Niger as at about 60,000 years ago. The Sahara was much wetter then, with fertile grasslands. The ancient inhabitants settled in villages around the savanna grasslands and engaged in hunting, fishing, and animal husbandry.

With the drying up of the Sahara after 2000 BCE, the northern region of Niger became a desert, the Sahara Desert. The groups dispersed southwest towards its border with Nigeria, the shore of Lake Chad, and the Aïr area in the North.

During the 5th century BCE, there was extensive trade exchange between the empires of the Mediterranean regions such as Egypt, and West Africa. Gold, Ivory, precious metals, and beads were among the chief commodities, and Niger was a popular trade route for the merchants. The strategic geographical location of Niger made it desirable to many great empires of that time and many of them claimed control over various portions of Niger.

In the late 18th century, the Fulani empire of Sokoto acquired much control over the Hausa territories of Niger, and the region was made part of the Bornu empire until 1893. The Tuareg, a nomadic group, formed large confederations in the southern region of Niger.

Arrival of the Europeans in Niger

Among the first Europeans to canvas the areas of present-day Niger in the 1800s were Mungo Park, Heinrich Barth, Gustav Nachtigal, and a few others. Following the Berlin conference of 1885 which resulted in the dividing of Africa into spheres of influence for European countries, France acquired control of the area covering Niger.

In 1897 France sent an officer, Marius Gabriel Cazemajou to administer the territory. Marius, on arrival to Niger, stayed in the courts of Sultan Amadou Kouran Daga who would later assassinate Marius for fear that he might form an alliance with a rival Chadian warlord.

Colonization of Niger

Towards the end of 1899 France organized expeditions to all its colonial territories in Africa. The Niger expedition tagged Voulet-Chainone Mission, was characterized by untold atrocities and brutality. On the expedition through Southern Niger, the lives of many natives were murdered, women raped, and properties looted by Captain Voulet and his men. While passing the village of Birni-N'konni he wiped out the entire village as punishment for the local queen's resistance to his entry. These atrocities attracted a public outrage, forcing Paris to intervene. Lieutenant colonel Jean-Francis Knob was sent to relieve the notorious Captain Voulet of his duties in Niger, but Klobb was murdered on his arrival. Voulet and Chainone were killed during a mutiny by his soldiers.

One of Klobb's former officers took over supervision of the mission, and in December 1904 the Military Territory of Niger was created with its capital at Zinder. In 1922 Niger was made a fully-fledged colony within the French West Africa, with the capital located at Niamey. The French administrators allowed the local chiefs to continue exercising their power under French authority, adopting a system of indirect rule.

Up until 1917 several resistance and rebellion to French domination arose, particularly from the Tuareg group in the North, Karma in the Niger Valley, and from some religious movements. France violently suppressed all the revolting groups.

Meanwhile, when mainland France was occupied by the Nazis during the WWII Charles Gaulle issued the Brazzaville Declaration changing all French colonies to the French Union. Power was decentralized in the colony, and the Niger indigenes were granted a limited form of French citizenship. The Nigerien Progressive Party (PPN) was born in this season led by Hamari Diori.

After World War II, France created the French Union, a political entity under the constitution of October 27, 1946. The French Union was created to replace the old colonial ruling system with a system that would assimilate the overseas territories with French citizenship and culture. The territories would be managed by the French Union President and have an assembly of representatives from the different territories. The territories would have their own legislative bodies and self-rule but ultimately power would lay with French parliament.

The French Union would ultimately cede control of the territories after uprisings in the territories, in particular Algeria which was on the brink of civil war. Algerians had become hostel to French settlers and French rule and sought complete independence. On January 31, 1956, the French Union would allow all territories to further develop their own governments and eventually gain independence. The French Union would ultimately be replaced by the French Community in 1958 which further granted the territories more autonomy and eventually a roadmap for complete independence.

Independence of Niger

With the introduction of the Overseas Reform Act in July 1956, Niger became an autonomous State. On December 18th, 1958 it was officially established as an autonomous Republic of Niger, and Hamari Diori was made leader of the Republic. In August of 1960 Niger was granted full independence and Hamari Diori became its first president.

For the next 14 years the country ran a single-party rule under president Diori, while maintaining close links with France. There was tangible advancement in the educational system, economic status, and industrialization of the country. Diori survived a failed coup in 1963 and an assassination attempt in 1965. However, in 1974 the regime was overthrown in a bloodless coup d’état led by Lieutenant colonel Seyni Kountché. Kountché seized power and his military regime lasted until his death in 1987. The country is presently in its seventh Republic and has seen four military regimes.

Economy of Niger

Niger's economy of 13 billion-dollar GDP centers basically on subsistence farming and livestock rearing. The agriculture industry accounts for 42% of GDP and employs almost 80% of the nation’s workforce. The agricultural industry is the main form of employment and survival for much of the population. The industrial sector accounts for 20% of GDP and employs 3% of the workforce, the industry’s main source of income is in mining operations of precious metals. The country has one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world. The services sectors accounts for 40% of GDP and employs 17% of the workforce and is mostly related with processing of the agricultural and mining industry.

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