Ancient rock engraving showing herds of giraffe, ibex, and other animals in the southern Sahara near Tiguidit, Niger.
Early human settlement in Niger is evidenced by numerous archaeological remains. In prehistoric times, the climate of the Sahara (Ténéré desert in Niger) was wet and provided favorable conditions for agriculture and livestock herding in a fertile grassland environment five thousand years ago.
In 2005–06, a graveyard in the Ténéré desert was discovered by Paul Sereno, a paleontologist from the University of Chicago. His team discovered 5,000-year-old remains of a woman and two children in the Ténéré Desert. The evidence along with remains of animals that do not typically live in desert are among the strongest evidence of the 'green' Sahara in Niger. It is believed that progressive desertification around 5000 BC pushed sedentary populations to the south and south-east (Lake Chad).
Overlooking the town of Zinder
and the Sultan's Palace from the French fort (1906). The arrival of the French spelled a sudden end for precolonial states like the Sultanate of Damagaram
, which carried on only as ceremonial "chiefs" appointed by the colonial government.
Empires and kingdoms in pre-colonial Niger
By at least the 5th century BC, Niger had become an area of trans-Saharan trade, led by the Berber tribes from the north, who used camels as a well-adapted means of transportation through the desert. This trade made Agadez a pivotal place of the trans-Saharan trade. This mobility, which would continue in waves for several centuries, was accompanied with further migration to the south and intermixing between sub-Saharan African and North African populations. It was also aided by the introduction of Islam to the region at the end of the 7th century. Several empires and kingdoms also flourished during this era, up to the beginning of colonization in Africa.
Songhai Empire (600–1591)
The Songhai Empire was an empire bearing the name of its main ethnic group, the Songhai or Sonrai, located in western Africa on the bend of the Niger River in present-day Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. In the 7th century, Songhai tribes settled down north of modern-day Niamey and founded the Songhai city-states of Koukia and Gao. By the 11th century, Gao had become the capital of the Songhai Empire.
From 1000 to 1325, The Songhai Empire prospered and managed to maintain peace with its neighboring empires including the Mali Empire. In 1325 the Songhai Empire was conquered by the Mali Empire but was freed in 1335 by prince Ali Kolen and his brother, Songhai princes held captive by Moussa Kankan, the ruler of the Mali Empire. From the mid-15th to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history.
escarpment, forming an oasis in the Ténéré
Hausa kingdoms (mid-14th century – 1808)
Between the Niger River and Lake Chad lay Hausa kingdoms and fertile areas. These kingdoms flourished from the mid-14th century up until the early 19th century, when they were conquered by Usman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Empire. The Hausa kingdoms were not a compact entity but several federations of kingdoms more or less independent of one other. Their organization was somewhat democratic: the Hausa kings were elected by the notables of the country and could be removed by them.
The Hausa Kingdoms began as seven states founded according to the Bayajidda legend by the six sons of Bawo. Bawo was the only son of the Hausa queen Daurama and Bayajidda or (Abu Yazid according to certain Nigerien historians) who came from Baghdad. The seven original Hausa states were: Daoura (state of queen Daurama), Kano, Rano, Zaria, Gobir, Katsena and Biram.
The Mali Empire was a Mandinka empire founded by Sundiata Keita circa 1230 that existed up to 1600. At its peak circa 1350, the empire extended as far west as Senegal and Guinee Conakry and as far east as western Niger.
The Kanem-Bornu Empire was an empire that existed in modern-day Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Libya. The empire first existed and prospered as the Kanem Empire as early as the 9th century and later as the Kingdom of Bornu until 1900.
French Niger (1900–58)
In the 19th century, contact with Europe began with the first European explorers—notably Monteil (French) and Barth (German)—to travel to Niger.
Following the 1885 Berlin conference during which colonial powers outlined the division of Africa into colonial spheres, French military efforts to conquer existing African states were intensified in all French colonies including Niger. This included several military expeditions including the Voulet Chanoine Mission, which became notorious for pillaging, looting, raping and killing many local civilians on its passage. On 8 May 1899, in retaliation for the resistance of queen Sarraounia, captain Voulet and his men murdered all the inhabitants of the village of Birni-N'Konni in what is regarded as one of the worst massacres in French colonial history. French military expeditions met great resistance from several ethnic groups, especially Hausa and Tuareg groups. The most notable Tuareg revolt was the Kaocen Revolt. The French authorities also abolished the widespread slavery among Tuareg communities.
By 1922, all resistance to colonial rule was eliminated and Niger became a French colony. Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered her West African colonies through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring a limited form of French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies.
The end of the colonial era was characterized by a transformation of the political environment in French West Africa and Niger. The Nigerien Progressive Party, the Nigerien section of the African Democratic Rally Party, founded in May 1946, united various tendencies of Nigerien people in the movement for national independence. In alliance with progressive French elements and other independence African movements, the movements acquired the suppression of forced labor and arbitrary requisitions as well as legal equality between the African and the French citizens.
Following the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of 23 July 1956 and the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on 4 December 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the . On 18 December 1958, the Republic of Niger was officially created with Hamani Diori as the head of the Counsel of Ministers of the Republic of Niger. On 11 July 1960, Niger decided to leave the French Community and acquired full independence on 3 August 1960 with Diori as its first president.
President Hamani Diori
and visiting German President
Dr. Heinrich Lübke
greet crowds on a state visit to Niamey, 1969. Diori's single party rule was characterized by good relations with the west and a preoccupation with foreign affairs.
For its first fourteen years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-party civilian regime under the presidency of Diori. In 1974, a combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant corruption resulted in a coup d'état that overthrew the Diori regime.
First military regime: The Supreme Military Council and Second Republic 1974–1991
Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group under the name of Supreme Military Council deposed Diori in April 1974, following a military coup, the first of many in the post-colonial history of Niger. President Kountché ruled the country until his death in 1987.
The first action of the Kountché military government was to address the food crisis which was one of the catalysts of the military coup. While political prisoners of the Diori regime were released after the coup and the country was stabilized, political and individual freedom deteriorated in general during this period. Political parties were banned. Several attempted coups (1975, 1976 and 1983) were thwarted and authors and associates were severely punished.
Despite the restriction in freedom, the country enjoyed improved economic development with the creation of new companies, the construction of major infrastructure (building and new roads, schools, health centers) and minimal corruption in government agencies, which Kountché did not hesitate to punish severely. This economic development was helped by the uranium boom as well as optimal usage of public funds.
Kountché was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who was confirmed as Chief of the Supreme Military Council on 14 November 1987, four days after Kountché's death. He introduced political reforms and drafted a new constitution, with the creation of a single party. He went on to rule the country as the Chief of the Supreme Military Council.
The 1989 referendum led to the adoption a new constitution and the creation of the Second Republic of Niger. General Saibou became the first president of the Second Republic after winning the presidential election on 10 December 1989. His presidency started during the Second Republic largely following his efforts at the end of the previous military regime with attempts at normalizing the political situation in the country with the release of political prisoners, liberalization of laws and policies.
President Saibou's efforts to control political reforms failed in the face of trade union and student demands to institute a multi-party democratic system. On 9 February 1990, a violently repressed student march led to the death of three students, which led to increased national and international pressure for a National Conference. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands by the end of 1990.
National Conference and Third Republic 1991–1997
The National Sovereign Conference of 1991 marked a turning point in the post-independence era of Niger and brought about multi-party democracy. From 29 July to 3 November, a national conference gathered all fringes of society to examine the political, economic and social situation of the country and make recommendations for the future direction of the country. The conference was presided over by Prof. André Salifou and developed a plan for a transitional government. This transitional government was installed in November 1991 to manage the affairs of state until the institutions of the Third Republic were put into place in April 1993.
While the economy deteriorated over the course of the transition, there were certain notable accomplishments, including the successful conduct of a constitutional referendum; the adoption of key legislation such as the electoral and rural codes; and the holding of several free, fair, and non-violent nationwide elections. Freedom of the press flourished, with the appearance of several new independent newspapers.
After the National Sovereign Conference, the transitional government drafted a new constitution that eliminated the previous single-party system of the 1989 Constitution and guaranteed more freedom. The new constitution was adopted by a referendum on 26 December 1992. Following this, presidential elections were held and Mahamane Ousmane became the first president of the Third Republic on 27 March 1993. The presidency of Mahamane Ousmane was characterized by political turbulence, with four government changes and early legislative elections called in 1995.
The parliamentary election forced cohabitation between a rival president and prime minister and ultimately led to governmental paralysis. As part of an initiative started under the National Sovereign Conference the government signed peace accords in April 1995 with Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990. These groups claimed they lacked attention and resources from the central government. The government agreed to absorb some of the former rebels into the military and, with French assistance, to help others return to a productive civilian life.
Second military regime, Fourth Republic, third military regime 1997–1999
The government paralysis and the political tension was used as a motivation for a second military coup. On 27 January 1996, Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara led a military coup that deposed President Ousmane and ended the Third Republic. Col. Maïnassara created the
National Salvation Council composed of military officials, which he headed. The Council carried out a six-month transition period during which a new constitution was drafted and adopted on 12 May 1996.
Presidential campaigns were organized in the months that followed. General Maïnassara entered the campaign as an independent candidate and won the election on 8 July 1996. The elections were viewed nationally and internationally as irregular since the electoral commission was replaced during the campaign.
Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara became the first president of the Fourth Republic. His efforts to justify questionable elections failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic assistance; a desperate Maïnassara ignored an international embargo against Libya and sought Libyan funds to aid Niger's economy. In repeated violations of basic civil liberties by the regime, opposition leaders were imprisoned and journalists often arrested, and deported by an unofficial militia composed of police and military.
On 9 April 1999, Maïnassara was assassinated during a military coup led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanké, who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for the Fifth Republic with a French-style semi-presidential system. The new constitution was adopted on 9 August 1999 and was followed by presidential and legislative elections in October and November of the same year. The elections were generally found to be free and fair by international observers. Wanké withdrew himself from government affairs after the new and democratically elected president was sworn in office.
Fifth republic 1999–2009
rebel fighter in northern Niger, 2008
After winning the election in November 1999, President Tandja Mamadou was sworn in office on 22 December 1999 as the first president of the Fifth Republic. The first mandate of Tandja Mamadou brought about many administrative and economic reforms that had been halted due to the military coups since the Third Republic. In August 2002, serious unrest within military camps occurred in Niamey, Diffa, and Nguigmi, but the government was able to restore order within several days. On 24 July 2004, the first municipal elections in the history of Niger were held to elect local representatives, previously appointed by the government. These elections were followed by presidential elections. President Tandja Mamadou was re-elected for a second term, thus becoming the first president of the republic to win consecutive elections without being deposed by military coups. The legislative and executive configuration remained quite similar to that of the first term of the President: Hama Amadou was reappointed as Prime Minister and Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS party, was re-elected as the President of the National Assembly (parliament) by his peers.
By 2007, the relationship between President Tandja Mamadou and his prime minister had deteriorated, leading to the replacement of the latter in June 2007 by Seyni Oumarou following a successful vote of no confidence at the Assembly. From 2007 to 2008, the Second Tuareg Rebellion took place in northern Niger, worsening economic prospects at a time of political limited progress. The political environment worsened in the following year as President Tandja Mamadou sought out to extend his presidency by modifying the constitution which limited presidential terms in Niger. Proponents of the extended presidency, rallied behind the
Tazartche movement, were countered by opponents (anti-Tazartche) composed of opposition party militants and civil society activists.
Sixth republic and fourth military regime 2009–2010
In 2009, President Tandja Mamadou decided to organize a constitutional referendum seeking to extend his presidency claiming to respond to the desire of the people of Niger. Despite opposition from opposition political parties and against the decision of the Constitutional Court which ruled earlier that the referendum would be unconstitutional, President Tandja Mamadou modified and adopted a new constitution by referendum. It was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court but the President dissolved the Court and assumed emergency powers. The opposition boycotted the referendum and the new constitution was adopted with 92.5% of voters and a 68% turnout, according to official results. The adoption of the new constitution created a Sixth Republic, with a presidential system, as well as the suspension of the 1999 Constitution and a three-year interim government with Tandja Mamadou as president. Political and social unrest spiraled before, during and after the referendum project and ultimately led to a military coup in 2010 that ended the brief existence of the 6th Republic.
In a February 2010 coup d'état, a military junta led by captain Salou Djibo was established in response to Tandja's attempted extension of his political term by modifying the constitution. The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy led by General Salou Djibo carried out a one-year transition plan, drafted a new constitution and held elections in 2011 that were judged internationally as free and fair.
Seventh republic 2010–present
Following the adoption of the newest constitution of 2010 and the presidential elections, Mahamadou Issoufou was elected as the first president of the Seventh Republic.