Niger is, in many regards, an odd product of modern history. It is essentially a narrow band of relatively fertile lands in its southern stretch - running thin over 1,500 km from west to east - that hugs an immense northern expanse of 700,000 sq km, made up of a dry geography of arid valleys; craggy plateaus; dusty, windswept plains; and in the far north, a glorious but deadly desert of sand dunes, the Tenere, a section of the world's largest desert, the Sahara.
The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups, along with the Gourmantch, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country. The remainder of Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-rising peoples-Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders are increasingly threatened.
Niger officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger covers a land area of almost 1,270,000 km2, over 80 percent of which is covered by the Sahara desert. The country's predominantly Islamic population of just above 15,000,000 is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the nation. The capital city is Niamey.
Niger is a relatively flat country, with most land lying between 200 m and 500 m above sea level. The geological formations immediately underlying the flatter areas are mostly sediments from the Tertiary period that lasted from 65 million to two million years ago. During that time relatively sandy sediments were deposited in two enormous basins covering most of the west and most of the east of the country.
Niger is not one of Africa's top ten travel destinations. In fact, until the 2005 coverage of the severe famine, many people hardly knew where to find Niger on the map, while others often confused Niger with its neighbor Nigeria.
The 1990s are dominated in Niger by a bitter conflict with the nomadic Tuareg in the north of the country (as is the case also in neighbouring Mali during the same period). Several different Tuareg insurgent groups emerge, demanding greater autonomy over their region and support for the ancient but threatened Tuareg culture (in such details as the teaching of the Tuareg language, Tamashek, in schools). In 1995 the government agrees a peace accord and an amnesty with one of the Tuareg groups. In 1997 the last of them accepts the terms of the agreement.
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.
The largest ethnic groups in Niger are the Hausa, who also constitute the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, and the Djerma-Songhai, who also are found in parts of Mali. Both groups, along with the Gourmantche, are sedentary farmers who live in the arable, southern tier of the country. Other Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples--Fulani, Tuareg, Kanuri, Arabs, and Toubou. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders are increasingly threatened.
Niger was incorporated into French West Africa in 1896. There were frequent rebellions, but when order was restored in 1922, the French made the area a colony. In 1958, the voters approved the French constitution and voted to make the territory an autonomous republic within the French Community. The republic adopted a constitution in 1959 but the next year withdrew from the Community, proclaiming its independence.
Niger, in West Africa's Sahara region, is four-fifths the size of Alaska. It is surrounded by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. The Niger River in the southwest flows through the country's only fertile area. Elsewhere the land is semiarid.