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 Jewel of

The African continent is comprised of 54 nations, each with its own independent government and sovereignty, GDP, culture, natural resources, language(s), military, and religion. The treasure trove of mineral and raw material wealth has scarcely been touched and the continent's largely untapped fertile lands could feed the world. Herewith is Jewel of Africa, an interactive adventure in the cradle of mankind, an exploration of nations from A-Z in alphabetical order.

Niger: Rich in raw minerals, human resilience, endurance

Niger, officially the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in southwestern Africa, named after the Niger River. Though rich in minerals, the country is 66 percent desert and prone to droughts. Inadequate nutrition and disease result in high infant and child mortality rates.


Niger was an important economic crossroad, and the empires of Songhai, Mali, Gao, Kanem-Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control over portions of the area. During rec-
ent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century.

In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers explored the area, searching for the source of the Niger River. Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.

Gradually, France granted limited local participation in political institutions, then a large measure of self-government. In 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community, and it reached full independence on Aug. 3, 1960. 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. 

Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group ruled the country until Kountché's death in 1987. He was succeeded by Col. Ali Saibou, who released political prisoners, liberalized some of Niger's laws and policies, and promulgated a new constitution. He gave in to demands by unions and students to institute a multi-party democratic system in 1990, and new political parties and civic associations sprang up. A transition government was installed in 1991.

Mohamed Bazoum, the candidate of the party in power, was elected president in elections held in December 2020 and February 2021, marking the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history. Niger is facing a security crisis in the areas bordering Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali, where armed groups carry out repeated attacks against the security forces and civilians. A state of emergency was declared in the Diffa, Tahoua and Tillaberi regions.


Niger's 1999 constitution restored a semi-presidential system of government in which the pres- ident, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term, and a prime minister named by the president share executive power. As a reflection of Niger's increasing population, the unicameral National Assembly was expanded in 2004 to 113 deputies elected for a five-year term under a majority system of representation. Political parties must attain at least five percent of the vote to gain a seat in the legislature. The constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials.


Niger's independent judicial system is composed of four higher courts—the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice, and the Constitutional Court. The country is currently      


Niger (pronounced (NEE-ghair) is a landlocked nation in Africa named after the Niger River bordered by Libya to the northeast, Chad to the east, Nigeria to the south, Benin and Burkina Faso to the southwest, Mali to the west, and Algeria to the northwest. The capital of the nation is Niamy, bearing a population of 774,235 million people. Niger's total population is 26 million.

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divided into eight regions, which are subdivided into 36 districts (departments) and further subdivided into 129 communes. The chief administrator (governor) in each department is appointed and functions as the agent of the central authorities.

Geography, climate

Niger is a landlocked nation in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and southern Africa regions. 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 is slightly less than twice the size of the state of Texas, and the world's 22nd largest country (after Chad). 

Niger's subtropical climate is mainly very hot and dry, with much desert area. In the extreme south, the climate is tropical on the edges of the Niger River basin. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes, with flat to rolling savannah in the south and hills in the north.


Niger's climate is largely hot and dry, with most of the country in a desert region. The terrain is predominantly desert plains and sand dunes. There are also large plains in the south and hills in the north. In the extreme south, there is a tropical climate near the edges of the Niger River Basin. Lake Chad at the southeast corner of the country is shared between Niger, NigeriaChad, and Cameroon.

Current environmental issues in Niger include overgrazingsoil erosiondeforestationdesertification, recurring droughts, a serious challenge for Niger. The 2012 Sahel drought, along with failed crops, insect plagues, high food prices and conflicts is currently affecting Niger causing a hunger crisis. Many families in Niger, still recovering from the 2010 Sahel famine, are being affected by the 2012 Sahel drought. The 2005-06 Niger food crisis created a severe, but localized food security crisis in the regions of northern MaradiTahouaTillabéri, and Zinder of  Niger from 2005 to 2006. It was caused by an early end to the 2004 rains, desert locust damage to some pasture lands, high food prices, and chronic poverty.


The wildlife of Niger is composed of its flora and fauna. The wildlife protected areas in the country total about 21 million acres, which is 6.6 percent of the land area of the country, a figure which is expected to eventually reach the 11 percent target fixed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN)  with additional areas under the reserve category. ICUN is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.

There are 136 mammal species in Niger. Endangered wildlife populations include the cheetah, giraffe, and Addax, which are threatened because of poaching and habitat destruction. The dama gazelle (Gazella dama or Nanger dama) has become a national symbol. Under the Hausa name meyna or ménas the dama appears on the badge of the Niger national football team, who are popularly called the Ménas.

Bird Life International has reported 528 species of birds of which three are globally threatened and one is an introduced species. Conservation of wildlife is ensured by laws and regulations enacted by the Government of Niger, which has enforced a permanent ban on hunting so that animals such as lions, hippos and giraffes are safe in the wild. The arrival of Abdim's storks (Ciconia abdimiiis) heralds the impending monsoon season giving a signal to farmers to till the land for agricultural operations.

The Iullemeden, an aquifer rich in ground water resources, underlies Niger and its neighbors Mali and Nigeria and is being closely monitored; these countries are jointly attempting to stop its overexploitation, which is causing not only lowering of ground water levels but also the reduction of storage in the Lake Chad and perennial flows of the Niger River on which wildlife of the country is largely dependent.


Niger, which is located in the heart of the Sahel, has a poorly diversified economy, with agriculture accounting for 40 percent of its GDP. More than 10 million people or 42.9 percent of the population) were living in extreme poverty in 2020. The growth rate fell from 5.9 percent in 2019 to 3.6 percent in 2020 as a result of the health, climate and security crises.  Agriculture will benefit from the reopening of the border with Nigeria while the industrial sector will benefit from the increase in the global demand for and boom in oil production. Real GDP is projected to reach 6.2 percent in 2022 and approximately 10 percent as of 2023 once the oil pipeline from recently discovered oil reserves has been completed and oil exports have begun.

Recent gains in combating poverty are in danger of being wiped out, following a 0.2 percent drop in per capita income in 2020. The favorable economic outlook is expected to help reduce the poverty rate from 41.2 percent in 2020 to 37 percent in 2023.

However, an annual population growth rate of 3.8 percent and a fertility rate of 6.9 children per woman continue to limit the fiscal space available to reduce poverty. Fiscal deficit indicators have deteriorated, owing to the falloff in growth and the need to protect households and businesses. The fiscal deficit widened from 3.6 percent of GDP in 2019 to 4.9 percent in 2020, while public debt hit 45 percent. This deficit was financed by the issuance of govern- ment securities and donor resources and is expected to increase to 6.3 percent in 2021, reflecting the impact of the July 2021 supplementary budget, which increased expenditure by 6.9 percent. 

Weak earnings from uranium and oil exports will dampen government revenues, and public debt is projected to reach 48.6 percent in 2021. Increased oil exports are expected to strengthen Niger’s public finances and external position over the medium term. Increased oil exports are expected to strengthen Niger’s public finances and external position over the medium term.  


Niger regularly experiences low and variable rainfalls, land degradation, deforestation, and desertification. Most Nigeriens depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and frequent droughts in the region often lead to food shortages. The resulting chronic food insecurity and a high prevalence of infectious diseases have led Niger to record some of the highest malnutrition and mortality rates in the world.

More than 47 percent of children under 5 years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition. According to the United Nations World Food Program’s estimates, more than 1.9 million people in Niger were affected by severe food insecurity in 2020. Another 1.5 million are estimated to be chronically food insecure, and millions more experience periodic food shortages during the lean season.

Niger's agricultural and livestock sectors are the mainstay of 82 percent of the population. Fourteen percent of Niger's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated by livestock production—camelsgoatssheep, and cattle—said to support 29 percent of the population. The 15 percent of Niger's land that is arable is found mainly along its southern borders with NigeriaBenin, and Burkina FasoRainfall varies and, when insufficient, Niger has difficulty feeding its population and must rely on grain purchases and food aid to meet food requirements.


Of Niger's exports, foreign exchange earnings from livestock are second only to those from uranium. Niger's two uranium mines are owned by a French-led consortium and operated by French interests. When the uranium-led boom ended in the early 1980s, the economy stagnated, and new investment since then has been limited.

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Exploitable deposits of gold are known to exist in the region between the Niger River and the border with Burkina Faso. Commercial gold production began in 2004. Substantial deposits of phosphatescoalironlimestone, and gypsum also have been found. Oil exploration is ongoing. In recent years, the government drafted revisions to the investment, petroleum, and mining codes, offering attractive terms for investors. The present government actively seeks foreign private investment, considering it key to restoring economic growth and development.

Foreign relations

Niger pursues a moderate foreign policy and maintains friendly relations with the West and the Islamic world as well as nonaligned countries. It belongs to the United Nations and its main specialized agencies. Niger maintains a special relationship with France and enjoys close relations with its West African neighbors. The border dispute with Benin, inherited from colonial times, was finally solved in 2005 to Niger's advantage.



The total population of Niger, based on a 2000 estimate, is 10.1 million people, divided into several ethnic groups including Hausa (56 percent), Djerma (22 percent), Taureg (8 percent), and other smaller groups (14 percent). The country is almost entirely rural and the population is unevenly distributed, putting a great strain on the educational system.


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. The remainder of Nigeriens are nomadic or semi-nomadic livestock-raising peoples. With rapidly growing populations and the consequent competition for meager natural resources, lifestyles of agriculturalists and livestock herders have come increasingly into conflict. Life expectancy is 46 years.

Niger's high infant mortality rate is comparable to levels recorded in neighboring countries. The child mortality rate (deaths among children between the ages of one and four) is exceptionally high due to generally poor health conditions and inadequate nutrition for most of the country's children.


Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world, which means that nearly half (49 percent) of the population is under age 15. Between 1996 and 2003, primary school attendance was around 30 percent, including 36 percent of males and only 25 percent of females. Additional education occurs through madrassas. French is the official language. The overall literacy rate is 15 percent.


Islam makes up 95 percent of the population in Niger. The remainder is traditional and Christian. According to Pew, roughly 80 percent of Muslims are Sunni of Maliki school of jurisprudence, while 20 percent are non-denom-inational Muslims, Islam in Niger accounts for the vast majority of the nation's religious adherents. Many of the communities that continue to practice elements of traditional religions do so within a framework of syncretic Islamic belief, making confirmed statistics difficult.


Islam in Niger, although dating back more than a millennium, gained dominance over traditional religions only in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and has been marked by influences from neighboring societies. Sufi brother- hoods have become the dominant Muslim organization, like much of West Africa. Despite this, a variety of inter- pretations of Islam coexist—largely in peace—with one another as well as with minorities of other faiths. The government of Niger is secular in law while recognizing the importance of Islam to the vast majority of its citizens.


Christianity was brought with French colonialists, and its adherents include local believers from the educated, the elite, and colonial families, as well as immigrants from neighboring coastal countries, particularly BeninTogo, and Ghana. Christians, both Roman Catholics and Protestants, account for less than 1 percent of the population. The official 2012 census found that 0.3 percent of the population was Christian. Another estimate has Christians at 0.4 percent, of which Evangelicals account for 0.1 percent. Christians are mainly present in the regions of Maradi and Dogondoutchi, and in Niamey and other urban centers with expatriate populations. Current estimates place the current Christian population at approximately 56,000 individuals with projected growth resulting in about 84,500 Christians by the year 2025.

Foreign Christian missionary organizations are active in the country, continuing a tradition dating back to the colonial period. The first Catholic mission was founded in 1931, while the first Protestant missionaries entered Zinder in 1924 and Tibiri a few years later. In the late 1970s there were some 12,000 Catholic and 3,000 Protestant converts in Niger, with the remaining Christian population comprised of foreigners.


A small percentage of the population practices Animism or traditional indigenous religious beliefs. Although studies estimate that such practitioners number around 1 million individuals, or about 6.6 percent of the total population, such numbers can be misleading as there is a high rate of syncretism within Muslim communities throughout the country. The 2012 census found that only 0.2 percent of the population self-identified as Animist.


African Traditional Religion beliefs include both festivals and traditions (such as the Bori cult) practiced by some syncretic Muslim communities (in some Hausa areas as well as among some Toubou and Wodaabe pastoralists), as opposed to several small communities that maintain their pre-Islamic religion. These include the Hausa-speak- ing Maouri (or Arna, the Hausa word for pagan) community in Dogondoutci in the southwest and the Kanuri- speaking Manga near Zinder, both of whom practice variations of the pre-Islamic Hausa Maguzawa religion. There are also some tiny Boudouma and Songhay African traditional religion communities in the southwest.



A major complication in Niger and to standardized education is the language. French is the official language, but at least five principal indigenous languages are also spoken and represent the major ethnic groups. One unifying factor is religion, as 80 percent of the population are Muslim.


Education is free in Niger, but many areas do not have a single school and, as a result, Niger has among the lowest literacy rates in Africa. Most of Niger's adults cannot read or write, and the literacy rate is only 13.6 percent. However, facilities are being expanded with aid from France and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the hope of correcting this problem.


The culture of Niger is marked by variation, evidence of the cultural crossroads which French colonialism formed into a unified state from the beginning of the 20th century. What is now Niger was created from four distinct cul- tural areas in the pre-colonial era: the Djerma dominated Niger River valley in the southwest; the northern per- iphery 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 by Kanuri  farmers and Toubou pastoralists who had once been part of the Kanem-Bornu Empire; and the Tuareg nomads of the Aïr Mountains and Saharan desert in the vast north. Each of these communities, along with smaller ethnic groups like the pastoral Wodaabe Fula, brought their own cultural traditions to the new state of Niger.


The cuisine of Niger draws on traditional African cuisines. Various spices are used and meals include grilled meat, seasonal vegetablessalads, and various sauces are some of the foods consumed. Meals in Niger usually start with colorful salads made from seasonal vegetables. Moringa leaves are a favorite for a salad. Typical Nigerien meals consist of a starch (rice being the most popular) paired with a sauce or stew. The starches eaten most often are millet and rice. Staple foods include millet, rice, cassavasorghum, maize and beans. Couscous is saved for special occasions. Tea is a popular beverage in Niger and is consumed with most meals. Porridge, wheat dumplings, and beignets are some of Niger's popular snacks.


Some spices were brought to Niger by Arabian travelers, and include gingernutmegcinnamonsaffron, and cloves. Hot spices are also used in Nigerien cuisine. Sometimes spices are used to marinate meats to add flavor.


Agriculture in Niger is significantly reliant on rainfall to provide water, and droughts have adversely affected Niger's agriculture production in the past, threatening the country's domestic food supply.




Niger started to develop diverse media in the late 1990s. Niamey boasts scores of newspapers and magazines, many of which are fiercely critical of the government. Radio is the most important medium, as television sets are beyond the buying power of many of the rural poor and illiteracy prevents the print media from becoming a mass medium. In addition to the state broadcaster, there are four privately owned radio networks, which total more than a 100 stations and are estimated to cover about 70 percent of the population.

Despite relative freedom at the national level, Nigerien journalists say they are often pressured by local authorities. The state network depends financially on the government.

Jarrette Fellows, Jr. / Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License 

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