Considerable evidence indicates that about 600,000 years ago, humans
inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara of northern Niger.
Long before the arrival of French influence and control in the area, Niger
was an important economic crossroads, and the empires of Songhai, Mali,
Gao, Kanem, and Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control
over portions of the area.
During recent 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--notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)--explored
the area searching for the mouth of the Niger River. Although French efforts
at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially
the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French
Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French
West African territories. France administered its West African colonies
through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual
territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring 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.
A further revision in the organization of overseas territories occurred
with the passage of the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956,
followed by reorganizational measures enacted by the French Parliament
early in 1957. In addition to removing voting inequalities, these laws
provided for creation of governmental organs, assuring individual territories
a large measure of self-government. After the establishment of the Fifth
French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within
the French Community. Following full independence on August 3, 1960, however,
membership was allowed to lapse.
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 that overthrew the Diori regime. Col. Seyni Kountche and
a small group of military ruled the country until Kountche's death in 1987.
He was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who released political
prisoners, liberalized some of Niger's laws and policies, and promulgated
a new constitution. However, President Saibou's efforts to control political
reforms failed in the face of union and student demands to institute a
multi-party democratic system. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands
by the end of 1990. New political parties and civic associations sprang
up, and a national conference was convened in July 1991 to prepare the
way for the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of free and
fair elections. The debate was often contentious and accusatory, but under
the leadership of Prof. Andre Salifou, the conference developed consensus
on the modalities of a transition government. A transition 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, certain accomplishments
stand out, 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 nonviolent nationwide elections.
Freedom of the press flourished with the appearance of several new independent
Rivalries within a ruling coalition elected in 1993 led to governmental
paralysis, which provided Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara a rationale
to overthrow the Third Republic in January 1996. While leading a military
authority that ran the government (Conseil de Salut National) during a
6-month transition period, Bare enlisted specialists to draft a new constitution
for a Fourth Republic announced in May 1996. After dissolving the national
electoral committee, Bare organized and won a flawed election in July 1996.
When his efforts to justify his coup and subsequent questionable election
failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic
assistance, a desperate Bare 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;
journalists often arrested, beaten, and deported by an unofficial militia
composed of police and military; and independent media offices were looted
and burned with impunity.
In the culmination of an initiative started under the 1991 national
conference, however, the government signed peace accords in April 1995
with all Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990,
claiming they lacked attention and resources from the central government.
The government agreed to absorb some former rebels into the military and,
with French assistance, help others return to a productive civilian life.
In April 1999, Bare was overthrown in a coup led by Maj. Daouda Mallam
Wanke, who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to
oversee the drafting of a constitution for a Fifth Republic with a French
style semi-presidential system. In votes that international observers found
to be generally free and fair, the Nigerien electorate approved the new
constitution in July 1999 and held legislative and presidential elections
in October and November 1999. Heading a coalition of the National Movement
for a Developing Society (MNSD) and the Democratic and Social Convention
(CDS), Mamadou Tandja won the presidency.