Niger is a landlocked country in Western Africa situated on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert. It is one of the world’s least developed nations. Niger is bordered by Libya and Algeria in the north, Benin and Nigeria in the south, Burkina Faso in southeast, Mali in west, and Chad in east.
Niger suffered austere military rule for much of its post independence history. Not until 1993, 33 years after independence from France, did Niger hold its first free and open elections. A 1995 peace accord ended a five year revolt by Tuareg tribes, who accused the government of failing to deliver on promised economic aid. Coups in 1996 and 1999 were followed by the creation of a National Reconciliation Council that effected a transition to civilian rule in December 1999.
The country struggled in the face of frequent droughts, insurgency and wide-spread poverty. Niger is betting on increased oil exploration and gold mining to help modernize its economy. Basic rights issues, such as slavery which was only banned in 2003 and still remains a problem and a high rate of illiteracy and disease, remain stubborn challenges. Despite the fact that the country has some of the world’s largest uranium deposits, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, a landlocked Sub-Saharan nation, whose economy centers on subsistence crops and livestock.
With a life expectancy of 55 years and an adult literacy rate of only 29 percent, the United Nations Human Development Report ranks Niger 187th out of 187 countries. Fewer than 70% of Nigerians are literate, and primary school enrollment is extremely low. The majority of Nigerians depend on subsistence farming for their food; however, year after year, successful livelihoods are severely limited by a number of factors. Roughly half of the population in Niger do not regularly have enough food to eat. In addition to chronic problems, recent crises such as droughts, floods and instability in neighboring countries have exacerbated problems in a country where challenges already run deep.
Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou was declared winner of the March 2011 presidential polls held to end a year-long military junta. Issoufou was Prime Minister of Niger from 1993 to 1994, President of the National Assembly from 1995 to 1996, and he has been a candidate in each presidential election since 1993. He led the Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS-Tarayya), a social democratic party, from its foundation in 1990 until his election as President of Niger in 2011.
During the Presidency of Mamadou Tandja (1999–2010), Issoufou was the main opposition leader. In his fifth shot at the country’s top job, the 59-year-old leader of the Social Democratic Party won 58% of the vote. The election was aimed at returning democracy after former president Mamadou Tandja was ousted by the army in February 2010. Regional observers and French election monitors praised Niger for the peaceful election. After a decade in power, Mr Tandja had plunged the country into crisis when he attempted to extend his rule beyond the constitutional limits.
Niger has a population of 17,8 million people, it is the country with the highest total fertility rate (7,6 children each woman). Capital and largest city is Niamey, spoken languages are French (official), but also Hausa, Zarma, Songhay, Arabic and half a dozen other languages. 95% of Niger’s population are Muslims.