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Niger, History

During the Middle Ages the Niger region was on the central caravan route from North Africa to the Hausa states and the empires of Mali and Songhai. The area was therefore penetrated early by Muslim missionaries. The Hausa states were dominant in southern Niger from before the 10th century until the early 19th century, when they were conquered by the Fulani under Usuman dan Fodio. Songhai was for almost a thousand years the supreme power in the western part of the country, while the Kanem-Bornu Empire exerted a powerful influence in the east. In the 14th century the Tuareg populated the Air Plateau, where they subsequently established the sultanate of Agadez.

The first Europeans to enter the area were Scottish explorer Mungo Park in 1795 and 1805 and German explorers Heinrich Barth and Eduard Vogel in 1850. The French occupied the area about 1890. It was made a military territory in 1900, an autonomous territory in 1922, and an overseas territory in 1946. Proclaimed an autonomous republic of the French Community in 1958, Niger became fully independent on August 3, 1960.

In 1960 Hamani Diori was elected president by the legislature. In 1964 the government crushed a rebellion aimed against the Diori regime, and in April 1965 the president survived an assassination attempt. He was reelected in 1965 and 1970. Niger was one of six sub-Saharan nations affected by a five-year drought, which was broken by summer rains in 1973. Accused of corruption and of mishandling the famine, Diori was overthrown in a military coup d’etat in April 1974. After the coup, Niger was ruled by a Supreme Military Council, headed by Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountche. His first priority was economic recovery after the drought, and to that effect a new agreement with France was concluded in 1977.

Plots and coup attempts occurred during Kountche’s first years in power, but by 1980 he was confident enough to release former president Diori from detention. Most cabinet posts in the government were gradually filled by civilians, but a drop in uranium prices left Niger’s economy in a severely weakened condition. In November 1987 Kountche died of a brain tumor and was succeeded in the presidency by Ali Seybou, the army chief of staff. Seybou was reelected president in 1989 after introducing a new constitution that returned Niger to civilian rule under a single-party system. A wave of strikes and demonstrations in 1990 led him to legalize opposition parties. The same year, the nomadic Tuaregs of northern Niger began to rise up in favor of an independent Tuareg state. The Tuaregs, many of whom had left Niger in the early 1980s to escape a prolonged drought and had recently returned in large numbers, claimed that Seybou’s government had failed in its promises to adequately aid the returning nomads. After violent clashes with Nigerien forces the separatist movement became a full-scale rebellion. A constitutional conference, convened in July 1991, stripped Seybou of his powers and established a transitional government, headed by Andre Salifou. A constitution instituting a multiparty electoral system was ratified in December 1992. In elections in early 1993 Mahamane Ousmane of the Alliance des Forces du Changement (AFC; Alliance of the Forces of Change), a nine-party coalition, was elected president, and AFC candidates won a majority of the seats in parliament. In late 1994 the cabinet was dismissed by a vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. Ousmane called for legislative elections in January 1995. A coalition of four opposition parties won a majority in the National Assembly, with the Movement National pour une Societe de Developpement (MNSD; National Movement for a Development Society) taking the largest number of seats. Friction between Ousmane and Prime Minister Hama Amadou, head of the MNSD, soon created a governmental deadlock. This slowed the implementation of an April 1995 peace accord signed with the northern Tuareg rebels.

In January 1996 Colonel Ibrahim Bare Mainassara seized power in a military coup, arrested President Ousmane and Prime Minister Amadou, and banned all political parties. Mainassara cited the yearlong deadlock between Ousmane and Amadou as the reason for his coup. Ousmane and Amadou were released from prison in early February. A new constitution, consolidating the president’s power and limiting the prime minister’s role, was quickly drafted and approved in a May public vote in which only 35 percent of the nation’s registered voters participated. The ban on political parties was lifted, and Mainassara announced his candidacy for president in upcoming elections; Ousmane also declared his candidacy. In July Mainassara won presidential elections under suspicious circumstances. The independent electoral committee was fired during the two-day elections and replaced with a committee handpicked by Mainassara. Several opposition candidates, including Ousmane, were placed under house arrest.

Mainassara failed to garner a broad base of political support. In April 1999 Mainassara’s presidential guard unit assassinated him and assumed control of the country. The coup leaders drafted constitutional amendments that restored the constitutional balance between the executive and legislative branches and absolved the participants in both the 1996 and the 1999 coups. The revised constitution was approved by referendum, and presidential and legislative elections were held in October and November 1999. MNSD candidate Tandja Mamadou was elected president, and the MNSD again took the largest number of seats in the National Assembly.

 

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