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Niger History, Language and Culture

TIME : 2016/2/15 18:11:35
Niger History, Language and Culture

History of Niger

Evidence of human settlement in the region now known as Niger goes back 6000 years, when what was then a highly fertile area supported a well-developed civilisation. In the thousand years up to the 19th century, power in the region was based on control of the great trans-Saharan trade routes. The Hausa Kingdom dominated the central area from the 13th century. This power decreased from the 18th century onwards, as European traders used sea routes to make contact with West Africa. Colonised by the French in the late 19th century, Niger became part of French West Africa until 1958. It achieved independence in 1960. Hamani Diori was elected head of state and re-elected in 1965 and 1970. His government presided over a period of stability until its latter stages when severe drought from 1968 onwards brought about widespread civil unrest.

In April 1974, the army, which is prone to intervening in Niger's politics, staged a military coup under Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Seyni Kountché. A series of failed coups followed when Kountché attempted to civilianise the government. By 1983 however, the legislative Council of Ministers was entirely composed of civilians, under Prime Minister Oumarou Maname. Kountché died in 1987, to be replaced by his staunch ally, Ali Seibou, who consolidated his position during the late 1980s. Seibou established the Mouvement Nationale pour une Société de Développement (MNSD), which became the sole legitimate political party.

In the early 1990s, the government came under internal and external pressure to introduce democratic government. After some initial uncertainty and opposition from Seibou, the government chose to follow the regional trend and installed an interim administration, prior to multi-party elections and the introduction of a new constitution.

The National Assembly poll, held on 14 February 1993, saw a victory for the six-party coalition, the Alliance des Forces de Changement (AFC), which accumulated 50 of the 83 seats over the MNSD. The MNSD was similarly thwarted in the presidential election, held in two rounds during February and March 1993, which was won by Mahamane Ousmane, a leading member of the AFC coalition. Apart from the economy, the new government's main problem was the Tuareg rebellion. Since 1990, there had been a series of clashes between security forces and guerrillas belonging to the nomadic Tuareg people. The Tuareg had left Niger to escape the chronic Sahel drought of the 1980s. A series of agreements were brokered, providing for Tuareg land rights and defined future relations between the Tuareg and central government. Despite occasional problems, the agreement has held.

Following the January 1995 legislative elections, MNSD recovered control of the national assembly and the government under ex-World Bank official Amadou Aboubacar Cissé. Over the next 12 months, friction between the Cissé government and President Ousmane steadily worsened until, exactly one year later, the military stepped in once again. Army chief of staff Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara took control of the country. Under strong external pressure, particularly from Niger's main Western financial backers, the military moved quickly to restore a veneer of civilian government.
In April 1999, Mainassara was killed by his own head of security, after an escalating series of disputes with his erstwhile military colleagues. The uncertain political situation which followed was resolved with the holding of simultaneous presidential and legislative elections in November that year. The MNSD, the country's historic ruling party, recovered control of both the presidency – in the person of Mamadou Tandja – and the national assembly, where it forms the government with Hana Amadou as premier.

In 2002, the government faced a series of mutinies by soldiers demanding better pay and conditions; these were put down by other units loyal to the government. The following year, the United States and Britain claimed that Niger had sold uranium ore to the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the course of his efforts to build nuclear weapons. The claim was subsequently proven to have been based on forged documents but the case drew unwelcome attention to Niger and its dependence on sales of the ore.

Niger Culture


Approximately 95% Muslim, with Christian and animist minorities.

Social conventions: 

Handshaking is customary. Casual wear is widely suitable. Women should avoid wearing revealing clothes. Traditional beliefs and Muslim customs should be respected.

Photography: Permits are required for photography and filming, and can be obtained from police stations. Tour operators and tourist bureaux are often able to make arrangements. Film is expensive and local facilities for processing film are not always good. Ask local people for permission before taking their photographs. Military installations, airports and administrative buildings (including the Presidential Palace) should not be photographed.

Language in Niger

The official languages are French and Arabic. Also spoken are Hausa (by half of the population), Djerma, Fulani, Manga, Zarma and Tuareg dialects.

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