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Niger, largest republic (in area) in the interior of northern Africa. The capital is Niamey.

Land and climate

Niger is bordered on the north by Algeria and Libya, on the east by Chad, on the south and southwest by Nigeria, Dahomey, and Burkina Faso, and on the west by Mali. A landlocked desert country, with an area of 489,189 sq mi (1,267,000 sq km). The north is typically Saharan, the northeast virtually uninhabitable. Agadez, in central Niger south of the Aïr Massif (5,905 ft/1,800 m), has an annual rainfall of only 7 in (18 cm), all of it coming in an 8-week period. Temperatures there in May exceed 100°F (37°C). Conditions are better in the south, where rainfall averages 22 in (55.88 cm), and in the southwest, which profits from the seasonal flooding of the Niger River. Most Nigerians live in this region, between Lake Chad and Niamey.


Half the population are Hausa peoples; the rest are the Djerma-Song-hai and Beriberi-Manga, mainly farmers in the south, and the nomadic Fulani, Tuareg, and others in the north. French is the official language; Hausa and Djerma are also spoken. The literacy rate is 25% (1989). Animism is practiced but Sunni Moslem is the predominant religion.


Though one of the world's poorest countries, Niger is rich in mineral potential. Principal exports are uranium, livestock, and vegetables. Chief food crops are peanuts, cotton, millet, cassava, sorghum, vegetables, and rice.


Niger was once part of ancient and medieval African empires, such as Mali and Songhai. In the 9th century, a Bornu kingdom was founded near Lake Chad by Berbers from North Africa, who were converted to Islam in the 11th century. In the late 18th century, Europeans explored the region. The French, after defeating Tuareg fighters who had invaded the area from the north a century before, incorporated the territory into French West Africa in 1896, establishing a military rule. It became the colony of Niger in 1921. Electing its first territorial assembly in 1946, Niger acquired self-government in 1956 and became an independent republic in 1960 but maintained close economic and military ties with France. Its first president, Diori Hamani, ruled until 1974, when he was ousted by a military coup. Drought and famine wreaked disaster 1973–5, with half the population reportedly starving, but this eased. In 1989, the drafting of a new constitution provided for a new National Assembly and the installation of a civilian government. In 1996 a military coup ended the process of democratization.


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