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Brief History

Niger, officially known as the Republic of Niger, is named after the Niger River that passes in the country. It gained its independence from France on August 3, 1960 and experienced a single-party and military rule until 1991, and ended up as a democratic government in 1993 after Gen. Ali Saibou was forced by public pressure to allow multiparty elections. In February 2007, a predominately Tuareg ethnic group emerged, the Nigerien Movement for Justice (MNJ), and attacked several military targets in Niger's northern region throughout 2007 and 2008. However, successful government offensives in 2009 limited the rebels' operational capabilities. The country has been witnessing ongoing coups and counter coups even until recently, in 2010, when a military coup deposed Mamadou Tandja – who was brought to power in December 1999 after the death of Col. Ibrahim Bare in a counter coup by military officers- and suspended the constitution and dissolved the Cabinet, and promised that elections would be held following a transitional period of unspecified duration. This coup established a junta led by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy.

Geography

Niger, capital Niamey, is one of the hottest countries in the world. It is a landlocked country in Western Africa covering an area of 1.267 million square kilometers. Niger 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. Its subtropical climate is mainly very hot and dry, with much desert area. In the extreme south, there is a tropical climate on the edges of the Niger River basin. The Niger River flows for about 563 km (350 mi) through southwestern Niger. To the north of the Niger are many ancient stream channels that flow periodically during wet weather. A portion of Lake Chad is situated in the southeastern corner of the country. Niger is rich in many natural resources such as uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, gold, molybdenum, gypsum, salt, and petroleum.

People

Niger has a population of 15,878,271 (July 2010) of many ethnic groups especially the Haoussa which forms 55.4% of the population (2001), and the Djerma Sonrai, Tuareg, Peuhl, and Kanouri Manga. Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche peoples make up the remaining 1.2% of the populace, along with some 1,200 French expatriates. The official language is French, as well as other Nigerien languages such as Hausa, Djerma, Tamasheq, Kanuri, etc… The literacy rate is 28.7%. More than 90% of the population is Muslim, whereas 20% are followers of indigenous beliefs and Christians – that include both Catholics and Protestants, constituting less than 5% of the population.

Government

The government of Niger is subject to a republic system. Its legal system is based on French civil law system and customary law; it has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. The chief of state is Salou Djibo, who is chairman of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, and the leader of the military coup that deposed President Mamadou Tandja on February 18, 2010. Appointed by the president since February 19, 2010, the head of government is Prime Minister Mahamadou Danda who shares some executive responsibilities with the president. Niger’s official currency is the West African CFA franc, where 1 euro is equivalent to 655.957 CFA.

Economy

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$700 (2009) and 63% of the population below the poverty line (2003). It ranks near last on the United Nations Development Fund index of human development.

The economy of Niger centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world's largest uranium deposits. The agricultural economy is based largely upon internal markets, subsistence agriculture, and the export of raw commodities: food stuffs and cattle to neighbors. 95% of the labor force is employed in agriculture and livestock production, and fourteen percent of Niger's GDP is generated by livestock production (camels, goats, sheep and cattle), and is said to support 29% of the population. Thus 53% of the population is actively involved in crop production. However, drought cycles, desertification, and strong population growth have undercut the economy.

Uranium dominated Niger's mining sector, ranking it third in the world in production and fifth in reserves. Although at one time uranium mining was a mainstay of the Niger economy, providing 72% of national export proceeds, revenues from uranium dropped by almost 50% in the late 1980s due to a decline in world demand for uranium. Export earnings declined from 22% of GDP in 1987 to 16% of GDP in 1998.

Niger is also rich in other minerals. The country's first gold mine was opened in 2000 and intended to produce 10,000 tons per day of ore. There were some natron, sodium sulfate, iron, and phosphate deposits. There were also unexploited deposits of manganese, lithium, copper, zinc, lead, silver, cobalt, kaolin, feldspar, gypsum, limestone, marble, and clay.

The Niger economy relies on bilateral and multilateral aid, and the government has been encouraged to restructure the economy by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In year 2000, Niger became eligible for debt relief under the IMF/World Bank Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in the amount of US$115 million. Following that in December 2005, Niger received 100% multilateral debt relief from the IMF, which translates into the forgiveness of approximately US $86 million in debts to the IMF, excluding the remaining assistance under HIPC.

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.

Road transport, especially shared taxis, buses, and trucks, are the primary form of long distance transport for most Nigeriens.

Niger has an inflation rate of 0.1% (2007), and its Gross National Income (GNI) per capita is estimated to be US$328.81 (2010).


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