Niger… I know so little about you

Africa was always in the back of my books in elementary school social studies, so I never learned much about those countries.

So I brought up a map of Africa and closed my eyes and let my mouse fall somewhere and it landed on Niger.

The recent news stories from the BBC relating to Niger are:

“Dozens of Tuareg rebels dead in Mali clash, says army” “The Tuareg are a nomadic community who mostly live in northern Mali, northern Niger and southern Algeria.”

Late famine response ‘cost lives’”  “Save the Children and Oxfam are issuing a joint report saying that, if the world is to learn a lesson from so-called failings in the response to the Horn of Africa emergency, it has to act fast to avert a dangerous food crisis in the Sahel region of West Africa.
World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge reports from Niger. And chief executive of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth outlines their fears.”

…and then a bunch of articles about Nigeria.

Niger is basically all desert with a subtropical climate. It’s a little less than twice the size of Texas. In the extreme south there is a tropical climate on the edges of the Niger River basin. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes, with flat to rolling savanna in the south and hills in the north.

“While most of what is now Niger has been subsumed into the inhospitable Sahara desert in the last two thousand years, five thousand years ago the north of the country was fertile grasslands. Populations of pastoralists have left paintings of abundant wildlife, domesticated animals, chariots, and a complex culture that dates back to at least 10,000 BCE.”

Over half the population belong to the Hausa, also the major ethnic group in northern Nigeria, which lies to the south, and the Zarma- Songhai, who are also found in Mali to the west. They are primarily farmers who live in the arable, southern area of the country.

The rest are “nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples—FulaniTuaregKanuriArabs, and Toubou—who make up about 20% of Niger’s population. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders have come increasingly into conflict in Niger in recent years.

A Nigerien study has found that more than 800,000 people are enslaved, almost 8% of the population.”

At a glance

Tuareg women at the 2010 Festival of the Nomads in Ingall, northern Niger
  • Politics: President Tandja changed the constitution to stay in power, but was ousted in a coup in 2010. Polls to restore civilian rule were held in January 2011
  • Security: Tuareg nomads seeking greater autonomy for the north have been waging a low-level war. Fears of Al Qaeda activity have been heightened by the kidnapping of foreigners
  • Economy: Niger is a leading producer of uranium, and is rich in other minerals. UN rates it as one of world’s poorest countries
  • International: Niger shares borders with seven countries. Some boundaries are disputed

History

The Zarma and Songhai people trace their ancestry to the Songhai Empire, one of the largest Islamic empires in history, which collapsed in 1591. “From the 13th century, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, into the Aïr Mountains, and at their peak, the Tuareg confederations ruled most of what is now northern Niger, and extended their influence into modern Nigeria.”

Nigerien Zarma-Songhai girls in traditional clothing

In the 18th century, various kingdoms expanded and contracted across the regions. In the 19th, European explorers entered the area in search of the source of the Niger River and the French followed, with attempts at “pacification” beginning before 1900. “Dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not fully subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.”

Niger’s colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. Eventually, France conferred French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories in 1946. From the BBC World Service, “The French … were prepared to treat Africans as equals, but only if they learnt to speak French properly and adopted the values of French culture. If they reached a sufficient level of education Africans might be accepted as French citizens. To fall below the required level was to invite charges of racial inferiority.” “After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on 4 December 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on 3 August 1960, however, membership was allowed to lapse.”

“For its first fourteen 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 coup d’état that overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountchéand a small military group ruled the country until Kountché’s death in 1987.

He was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who’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 acquiesced to these demands by the end of 1990. … New political parties and civic associations sprang up, and a national peace 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 Third Republic, put in place in 1993, but … The results of the January 1995 parliamentary election meant cohabitation between a rival president and prime minister; this led to governmental paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara a rationale to overthrow the Third Republic in January 1996.” Baré was then overthrown by another coup in 1999 led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanké, who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for a Fifth Republic with a French style semi-presidential system.

In votes 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. Heading a coalition of the National Movement for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention (CDS), Mamadou Tandja won the election.

NOW

Mr Issoufou's election marked a return to democracy after a year of military rule

In a February 2010 coup d’état, a military junta was established in response to Tandja’s attempted extension of his political term through constitutional manipulation. The coup established a junta led by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy.”

Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was declared winner of the March 2011 presidential polls held to end a year-long military junta. He was sworn in on April 6.

“The economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits. Drought cycles, desertification, a 2.9% population growth rate, and the drop in world demand for uranium have undercut the economy.

Niamey, Niger's capital and economic hub

Niger shares a common currency, the CFA franc, and a common central bank, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), with seven other members of the West African Monetary Union. … 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 recovered somewhat in the last few years. A drought and locust infestation in 2005 led to food shortages for as many as 2.5 million Nigeriens.”

“What is now Niger was created from four distinct cultural areas in the pre-colonial era: the Zarma dominated Niger River valley in the southwest; the northern periphery of Hausaland, made mostly of those states which had resisted the Sokoto Caliphate, and ranged along the long southern border with Nigeria; the Lake Chad basin and Kaouar in the far east, populated byKanuri farmers and Toubou pastoralists who had once been part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire; and the Tuaregnomads of the Aïr Mountains and Saharan desert in the vast north.”

A traditional home in Zinder

“Between 80 to more than 98% of the population is Muslim, with small Animist and Christian communities, the latter a consequence of missionaries established during the French colonial years, as well as urban expatriate communities from Europe and West Africa.” Both Zarma and Hausa areas were greatly influenced by the 18th and 19th century Fula led Sufi brotherhoods, most notably the Sokoto Caliphate (in today’s Nigeria). Modern Muslim practice in Niger is often tied to the Tijaniya Sufi brotherhoods, although there are small minority groups tied to Hammallism and Nyassist Sufi orders in the west, and the Sanusiya in the far northeast.”

More interesting images:

Hausa men wearing the traditional large flowing gown known as Babban riga and a robe called a jalabia and juanni, see Senegalese kaftan.

Ceremonial bodyguard of the Sheikh of Bornou in his full regalia, after a drawing by a British visitor in the 1820s. The mounted knight was central to the Bornu state, and many Kanuri people still value horsemanship and horses.

The Kanuri have many subgroups, including one called the Bla Bla, who are the dominat ethnic group in the salt evaporation and trade industry of Bilma. Awesome.

The majority of Toubou live in the north of Chad around the Tibesti mountains, while some live on the eastern edge of Niger.

Aîr Mountains where the Toureg live consist of circular granite massifs (dark areas) and volcanic craters. NASA image approximately 130 km (81 mi) across.

Tuareg man from Niger

The Tuareg live in the western areas of Niger and speak a Berber language.

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