Niger, Republic of the

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Niger, Republic of the


(République du Niger), a state in West Africa. It is bounded by Algeria and Libya on the north, the Republic of Chad on the east, Nigeria on the south and southwest, Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Upper Volta on the southwest, and Mali on the west. Population, 4.2 million (1972, estimate). The republic has an area of 1,267,000 sq km (according to the 1972 United Nations Demographic Yearbook). The capital is Niamey. Niger is divided into seven departments, which are subdivided into 33 districts.

Constitution and government. Niger is a republic. A constitution was adopted on Nov. 8, 1960 (changes were introduced in 1961, 1963, and 1965). After a military coup d’etat on Apr. 15, 1974, the Constitution was suspended and the highest legislative body, the National Assembly, was dissolved. The president of the Supreme Military Council, Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché became the head of state. A provisional government has been exercising executive power since.

The judicial system comprises a Supreme Court, the court of highest appeal which also performs functions of constitutional supervision; the Court of Appeals; courts of original jurisdiction; and justice of the peace courts.

Natural features. A large part of Niger is situated in the Sahara and occupies a plateau 200 to 500 m high. In the central part of the country is the higher, heavily dissected Aïr (Azbine) Plateau (up to 800 m high), in which residual mountain masses with summits exeeding 1,500 m can be found (Mount Bagzane, 1,900 m). In the southwest is the valley of the middle course of the Niger River, and in the southeast is the northwestern part of the basin of Lake Chad.

Niger is situated within the African platform. Metamorphic rock with a Precambrian foundation forms the edge of the Tuareg Shield and the Leone-Liberian, Dahomey-Nigerian, and Tibesti massifs. Part of the Atacora folded zone extends through the extreme southwestern part of Niger. Cover deposits, which are developed in the Chad and Mali-Niger syneclises, are represented chiefly by marine and partly by Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic continental strata. On the Aïr Plateau and in other parts of the country, Neocene-Anthropogene basalts associated with large breaks are well developed. There are deposits of uranium ore (in the vicinity of Agadez [Agadès], Akouta, and Djado) with reserves of about 70,000 tons (U3Ó8), tin ores on the Aïr Plateau, and tungsten and niobium in Tarrouadji and Adrar el Mecki. There is an iron deposit in the vicinity of Niamey (Tamou). The basin of Lake Chad contains deposits of common salt.

The climate in Niger varies from tropical desert in the north and northeast to subequatorial in the south and southwest. In most regions, the mean temperature in the coldest months (December, January) is 20°-24°C, and in the warmest month (May), which usually precedes the summer rainy season, 32°-34°C. The mean annual precipitation in the north and northeast is less than 100 mm; it is higher in the south and southwest (up to 600–800 mm in the most humid areas). Most precipitation occurs between May and September. Just before the onset of the rainy season, dust storms—harmattans—are typical.

Temporary watercourses and subterranean waters that are dry for a large part of the year predominate. The country’s only large river, the Niger, flows (for part of its middle course) in the extreme southwest and receives several small permanent and temporary (seasonal) tributaries. The Komadugu Yobé River flows in the extreme southeast along the border of Niger and Nigeria. Part of Lake Chad also belongs to Niger.

In the most humid regions, the red-brown soils of the dry savannas and the reddish brown soils of the desert savannas are widespread. Niger’s semidesert and desert regions lack a continuous soil cover. The extreme south and southwest of the country are situated in a typical savanna with a dense grassy cover, acacias, baobabs, doom palms, and spurges. Further north is desert savanna, which, along with semideserts and deserts, occupies a large part of the country. The semideserts are covered with grass and scrub; the deserts are stony and sandy and are almost devoid of vegetation.

Animals indigenous to savannas are encountered in southern Niger; they include lions, elephants, buffalo, giraffes, and antelope (addax, oryx, and others). In various regions there are many jackals, hyenas, and rodents. The Niger government permits some large game hunting and issues hunting licenses for this purpose.

Population. About 50 percent of Niger’s population is made up of the Hausa (here and below, estimates are for 1971), who speak languages of the Hausa-Kotoko group and inhabit the southern regions of the country along the border with Nigeria. The Songhai and Djerma (Zerma) live along the banks of the Niger River (650,000); their language belongs to the Songhai group. In the eastern part of the country are the Kanuri and the Toubou (Teda; 200,000), whose language belongs to the Kanuri group. In the Aïr region and in the west are the Tuaregs (population, 450,000), who speak a language related to the Berber group. The Fulani (Fulbe, Peuhl), who speak a language of the Western Bantoid group, number about 450,000 and are settled throughout the country. The Gurma number several thousand and speak a language of the Central Bantoid group. There are more than 40,000 non-Africans (Syrians, Lebanese, Frenchmen). About 86 percent of the population are Muslims; the rest preserve mostly local traditional faiths. A small number are Christians. The official language is French. The official calendar is the Gregorian.

Between 1963 and 1971 the population of Niger increased at ah average rate of 2.7 percent a year. The work force totals 1,217,000 (1970), of whom more than 91 percent are engaged in agriculture. There are nomads (Tuaregs, Toubou, Fulani) and seminomads (some of the Fulani). A significant number of the Djerma and Songhai peoples have emigrated, most of them to Ghana. The desert regions of northern Niger have the lowest population density (one person per sq km). The population is concentrated mainly in the south, where the principal cities are located, namely, Niamey (about 100,000 inhabitants in 1973), Zinder, Maradi, and Tahoua. The urban population makes up 8.2 percent (1970) of the total.

Historical survey. The territory of Niger was settled in ancient times, which is attested to by Neolithic finds northwest of Lake Chad and by cave drawings in the area of the Aïr Plateau. Between the seventh and 19th centuries some parts of what is now Niger belonged to medieval Sudanese states. The western and southwestern regions belonged to the Songhai empire of Gao, which in the late 16th century (1591) was overrun by Moroccan troops. In the mid-18th century, regions along the middle Niger River fell under the power of nomadic Tuareg tribes that had inhabited the Aïr region since the seventh century. Around the ninth century, the eastern regions were incorporated into the Kanem-Bornu Empire, while the southern regions became part of the Hausa city-state of Gobir (Gober). In the 15th century, Fulani tribes began to settle the western and southern regions of Niger. In the early 19th century, the southern regions were part of the Fulani Empire. By the time of the European exploration of Niger, there existed a complex system of feudal relations combined with elements of the slaveholding system and the primitive communal system.

In the 19th century there were several European expeditions to what is now Niger, the most important of which were the Scotchman H. Clapperton’s mission to Bornu in 1822 and the German H. Barth’s expedition of 1853–55. Between 1895 and 1898, French colonialists established the first military posts in Niger (the town of Say and others). In 1898, the French began their conquest of the country, which was accompanied by savage reprisals against the native population. In 1904 the military territory of Niger was incorporated into the colony of Upper Senegal-Niger, which was part of French West Africa. In 1922 the colony of Niger became a separate administrative unit of French West Africa. The colonizers introduced a system of forced labor, levied excessive taxes on the Africans, and forcibly introduced the cultivation of export crops (peanuts). The population of Niger served as a source of manpower for the plantations and mining industries that were being established in other French colonies.

The peoples of Niger stubbornly resisted the French aggressors. Their resistance frequently took the form of armed uprisings. The Djerma people rebelled in 1905, the Toubou and Tuaregs between 1906 and 1914, and the Tuaregs and other peoples from 1914 to 1917. There were also anticolonialist rebellions between the two world wars.

After World War II, there was an upsurge in the national liberation movement. In 1946, the Niger Progressive Party (PPN) was formed; it became one of the territorial branches of the African Democratic Assembly (African Democratic Rally). In 1947, Niger became an overseas territory of France. In 1951 the left wing of the PPN, headed by Djibo Bakary, withdrew from the PPN and founded a new party, the Niger Democratic Union (UDN). In 1958 the UDN was reorganized into the Sawaba (Freedom) Party, which advocated a resolute policy toward gaining full independence. After the UDN won a majority in the territory assembly in 1957, Bakary became vice-president of the Executive Council of Niger. At the time of the Sept. 28, 1958 referendum on a new French constitution, the Sawaba Party opposed Niger’s membership in the French Community and advocated the immediate proclamation of independence. The PPN called for votes in favor of the French constitution. The referendum was passed, and Niger became a member-state in the French Community. On Dec. 18, 1958, Niger was declared an autonomous republic. In the December 1958 elections to the National Assembly, the PPN received a majority of seats and the leader of the PPN, H. Diori, formed a one-party government. In 1959, Niger joined the Council of the Entente, which included the Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, and Dahomey. In 1959, the Sawaba Party was declared illegal and its leaders went into exile.

A further upsurge in the national liberation movement forced the French government to sign an agreement granting Niger independence. On Aug. 3, 1960, Niger withdrew from the French Community. In September 1960 the Republic of Niger was admitted to the UN. H. Diori became president; he was reelected in 1965 and 1970. Adopting a policy of African nationalism, the PPN, the ruling party, gave top priority to the idea of the distinctiveness of African society and advocated a middle course between capitalism and socialism. In 1961 the new government began implementing its plans for Niger’s economic and social development.

In 1961, France concluded agreements with the Niger government that provided for close political, economic, and military cooperation. Niger maintained active ties with other Western powers, especially with the Common Market countries and Canada.

In its foreign policy, the Niger government adopted a neutral stance; it favored the resolution of controversial issues between states through negotiation and supported the development of regional economic cooperation in Africa. Since 1961, Niger has been a member of the Afro-Malagasy Union, which in 1970 became the African, Malagasy, and Mauritius Common Organization and since 1974 has been the Afro-Mauritian Common Organization. Since 1963, Niger has been a member of the Organization of African Unity. At the end of the 1960’s, Niger began expanding its foreign relations. On Apr. 15, 1974, a military coup d’etat took place in Niger. Power passed to the Supreme Military Council headed by Colonel Seyni Kountché. The Progressive Party of Niger was disbanded. The Supreme Military Council declared its readiness to fulfill previous international commitments.

On Feb. 17, 1972, diplomatic relations were established between Niger and the USSR. Previously, in 1962, the two countries had signed trade and cultural agreements.


Trade unions. The National Union of the Workers of Niger (founded 1959) includes a significant number of the hired workers (more than 15,000 in 1976). It has been a member of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity since 1973.

Economic geography. Niger is a poorly developed agrarian nation whose economy is heavily dependent on the world market demand for agricultural products, mainly peanuts. In 1969 agriculture and fishing accounted for 51 percent of Niger’s gross national product, the mining industry for 1 percent, the processing industries for 6 percent, the trade and service sector for 15 percent, construction for 3 percent, transportation and communications for 3 percent, and other branches for more than 20 percent. Foreign capital, mostly French, holds key positions in Niger’s economy.

Since the proclamation of independence (1960), the Niger government, in addition to attracting foreign and national private capital (in particular for industrial development), has sought to expand the state sector of the economy. The Niger government is gradually increasing its financial aid in the establishment of joint companies and enterprises (that is, companies and enterprises financed partly by the government and partly by private enterprise). As of 1974, the government controlled the production of building materials, some enterprises for processing raw agricultural materials, 70 percent of all exports, and 40 percent of all imports. The government encourages the development of marketing cooperatives. Economic programs for the development of the national economy have been in effect since 1961. The economy is financed chiefly by foreign capital. A long-range economic development program for 1973–82 is being worked out. A four-year plan for economic development was carried out in 1971–74.

AGRICULTURE. Communal landownership and small-scale subsistence and semisubsistence farms are predominant. Capitalist relations are developing. Small-scale farms provide most of the market produce. The buying and selling of peanuts is controlled by a state organization, the Niger Peanut Society (SONARA), founded in 1962. The Niger Credit and Cooperative Union was organized to assist the development of agriculture.

About 12 percent of Niger’s area is taken up by arable land and perennial crops; about 2 percent is meadows and pastures. Lea farming using hoes is widespread. The main agricultural region is situated in the south and southwest. A total of 5,000 hectares is irrigated. The chief export crop is peanuts, of which Niger is the fifth largest producer in Africa; in 1972 400,000 hectares yielded 270,000 tons of peanuts. Cotton, tobacco, dates, and vegetables are also grown for export. The principal food crops are millet (area, 1.5 million hectares; yield, 580,000 tons in 1972), sorghum (500,000 hectares; 270,000 tons), cassava (29,000 hectares; 149,000 tons), sugarcane, rice (37,000 hectares; 27,000 tons), sweet potatoes, and yams. Gum arabic (500 to 800 tons), kapok, and nuts from shea trees are also harvested.

Nomadic and seminomadic herding is an important occupation. In 1972 there were 4 million head of cattle, 2.6 million sheep, 5.8 million goats, 350,000 camels, 400,000 donkeys, 200,000 horses, and 7 million fowl. The 1968–73 drought dealt a heavy loss to agriculture, especially livestock raising. In 1971 the fish catch totaled 12,500 tons, mainly from Lake Chad and the Niger and Komadugu Yobé rivers; five-sixths of the catch is exported in dried form to Ghana, Togo, and Nigeria.

INDUSTRY. Of particular importance in the mining industry is the exploitation (begun in 1971) of the uranium deposit in Arhli, 260 km north of Agadez. Mining (867 tons of uranium concentrate in 1972) is conducted by a joint French-Niger company; the French Commission on Atomic Energy and private French capital each control 33.5 percent of the stock, Italian and West German capital each control 8.1 percent, and the Niger government controls 16.8 percent. Tin ore is mined (80 tons of concentrate in 1972) on the Aïr Plateau. Gypsum, common salt, and soda are also extracted in the vicinities of Manga and Agadez.

There are six steam power plants (total capacity, 18,200 kW), which are located in Niamey, Zinder, Maradi, Tahoua, and Agadez. In 1972, the plants generated 45 million kW-hr of electric power, four-fifths of which was consumed in the capital.

Food-processing enterprises account for three-fourths of all manufacturing. In Magaria, Maradi, and Matameye, there are plants for the hulling of peanuts and for the production of peanut oil (total capacity, 84,000 tons a year). There are also flour mills, a rice cleaning and hulling plant (6,000 tons), a nonalcoholic-beverage plant, and a dairy. Other important enterprises include three cotton-ginning plants (in Madaoua, Gaya, and Maradi), a textile factory, tanneries and leather goods factories (Maradi and Zinder), factories producing plastic and metal articles (including simple agricultural implements), and a cement plant in Malbaza (40,000 tons a year). Among the handicrafts that retain their importance are the making of fabrics, stamped leather articles, and daggers, copper and silver working, and pottery-making.

TRANSPORTATION. The main form of transportation is by motor vehicle. There are about 10,000 km of roads (according to some data, 18,000 km), 2,500 km of which are motor vehicle roads, passable all year round, including 554 km of asphalt roads (1971). The main highway originates in Mali and runs through Niamey, Dosso, Maradi, and Zinder. From Zinder there is a Transsaharan road to Algeria via Agadez. From Niamey a highway goes to Upper Volta; from Dosso there is a highway to Benin; and from Maradi there is a highway to northern Nigeria, which continues on to Chad. Motor vehicle transport is controlled by two organizations, the National Transport Company of Niger and the Common Organization for Railroads and Transport of Benin and Niger. A road from Zinder to Lake Chad is under construction (1974). There is navigation along the Niger River, chiefly from the mouth to Niamey (seven months a year).

FOREIGN TRADE. In 1971, Niger’s exports totaled 10.55 billion CFA francs; its imports amounted to 14.97 billion CFA francs. In 1971, peanuts constituted about 44 percent of the value of all exports, livestock 18.5 percent, and uranium concentrate 18.4 percent. The main imports are cotton textiles (about one-fifth of all imports), machinery (about one-fifth), petroleum products, and sugar. Niger’s chief trading partners are France (50 percent of exports and 42.3 percent of imports in 1971) and Nigeria (25 percent of exports and 42.3 percent of imports in 1971). Foreign trade is conducted mainly through Benin and Nigeria. The monetary unit is the CFA franc. In February 1974, 240.81 CFA francs were equal to US $1.


Armed forces. The armed forces of Niger consist of ground troops and an air force. Since April 1974, the Supreme Military Council has headed the army. The army is recruited on the basis of the law enforcing universal military obligation. The term of active military service is two years. The induction age is 20. Officers are trained mostly in France. The total manpower in the armed forces in 1973 was about 2,100, of whom about 2,000 were in the ground troops and 100 in the air force. Armaments are bought from France.

Medicine and public health. Between 1965 and 1970 the birth rate per 1,000 population was 52.2; the mortality rate for the same number was 23.3. Infant mortality is very high—200 per 1,000 live births. Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate in the morbidity rate. In 1970–71 the most widespread diseases were meningococcal infections, tuberculosis, whooping cough, and scarlet fever. In 1971, 9,200 cases of cholera were recorded. In southern Niger malaria is endemic; up to 90 percent of the population in the Niger River valley has been affected. Genitourinary schistosomiasis, cutaneous leishmaniasis, and visceral leishmaniasis are widespread. Malaria, seasonally occurring schistosomiasis, and a high incidence of endemic treponematoses and syphilis are encountered in northern Niger.

In 1969–70, there were 67 functioning hospitals with 2,000 beds (0.5 bed per 1,000 population), including 1,900 beds in state institutions. Nonhospital services were provided in seven outpatient clinics affiliated with hospitals, 34 medical centers, 112 dispensaries, three medical stations, and nine mobile medical brigades. In 1973 there were 81 doctors (one doctor per 52,000 inhabitants), 44 paramedical aides, six dentists, seven pharmacologists, and more than 700 medium-level medical personnel, who are trained at a school in Niamey. In 1970, expenditures for public health accounted for 8.1 percent of the national budget.


Veterinary services. Infectious and invasive diseases predominate among agricultural animals. In 1973 the following diseases were recorded: rinderpest, peripneumonia, rabies, and anthrax. An abundance of blood-sucking arthropods spread rickettsioses and pestis equorum. In the south and southwest, cattle pasteurellosis has been recorded and blackleg (emphysematous anthrax) is constantly encountered, especially in river floodplains. Ecthyma, pleuropneumonia, and brucellosis are widespread among goats. All species of agricultural animals are stricken with helminthiases. In northern regions there are metabolic diseases. There is a veterinary laboratory in Niamey, and there are six veterinarians (1972).

Education. In 1970 about 90 percent of the population was illiterate. Education is compulsory, at least in theory, for children of seven to 15 years of age. Children of seven years of age are admitted to a six-year primary school. Complete secondary schools (lycées) last seven years; incomplete secondary schools (collèges) are four years long. In the 1970—71 academic year, 88,600 pupils were attending primary school (more than 12 percent of the respective ages) and more than 6,500 students were attending secondary schools.

Vocational and technical education in Niger is poorly developed; it is given after graduation from primary schools and lasts from two to four years. In the 1970–71 academic year there were 188 students in vocational and technical training. Teachers are trained in écoles normales, which admit graduates of four-year collèges. There are also five-year pedagogical courses for those who have completed primary school or one-year pedagogical courses for collège graduates. In the 1970–71 academic year there were about 500 students in teacher-training programs. Niamey has a university (founded 1973), the National School of Administration, the National Museum of Niger (founded 1959), and a library at the National School of Administration.


Press, radio, and television. In 1976 the press in Niger included the daily Le Sahel (until April 1974 called Le Temps du Niger), founded 1960, with a circulation of about 2,000; the weekly Sahel Hebdo (until April 1974 called Le Niger), founded 1961, with a circulation of about 1,000; and the monthly Journal officiel de la République du Niger, founded 1933, with a circulation of 1,000. All publications are controlled by the government. In 1967 a government agency, the Niger Office of Radiobroadcasting and Television, was created. Radiobroadcasts are conducted over three channels in French and in the local languages.

Architecture. Houses are built from banko, a construction material made of a mixture of clay and straw. Entrances are in the form of rectangular portals with dentate corners; the roofs are arched or gabled and covered with straw (dwellings in Zinder, Tahoua, and elsewhere). In the eastern and central regions (for example, in Agadez) there are mosques built of banko. Modern buildings are typical of the new sections of Niamey and other cities. In rural localities straw huts are widely encountered (in southwestern Niger) as are mud or stone houses with grass roofs (in eastern Niger). In the north the nomadic population lives in tents covered with skins.

Theater. Niger’s proximity to the countries of North Africa has had an effect on the development of its theater, as well as on all folk arts: in addition to the traditional dances that are characteristic of all Africa, during Muslim holidays in the settlements of Niger wandering “comedians” using wooden puppets perform farcical shows on everyday themes. Modern theater began developing only in the 1950’s at cultural centers organized by the French administration. The first dramatist of Niger was Dandobi Mahamane. His plays The Adventure of a Goat (1955) and The Legend of Kabrin Kabra (1956) were staged by many amateur groups in Niger. In 1955–57 the most popular company, Amicale de Niamey, took part in shows devoted to the art of West Africa. Its repertoire includes Boubou Hama’s plays The Mirror (1969) and Soni Ali Ber (1971). Youth weeks have been held since 1964. The satirical play Mariama by Djibo Mayaki (Niamey Department), presented at the fourth youth week in 1968, was a significant event. At the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar (1966), representatives of Niger performed a folklore program. At the Pan-African Festival of Culture in Algiers (1969), actors from Niger performed André Salifou’s historical drama Tanimoune.



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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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