Niger, in West Africa’s Sahara region, is four-fifths the size of Alaska. It is surrounded by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. The Niger River in the southwest flows through the country’s only fertile area. Elsewhere the land is semiarid.
The nomadic Tuaregs were the first inhabitants in the Sahara region. The Hausa (14th century), Zerma (17th century), Gobir (18th century), and Fulani (19th century) also established themselves in the region now called Niger.
Niger was incorporated into French West Africa in 1896. There were frequent rebellions, but when order was restored in 1922, the French made the area a colony. In 1958, the voters approved the French constitution and voted to make the territory an autonomous republic within the French Community. The republic adopted a constitution in 1959 but the next year withdrew from the Community, proclaiming its independence.
During the 1970s, the country’s economy flourished due to uranium production, but when uranium prices fell in the 1980s, its brief period of prosperity ended. The drought of 1968–1975 devastated the country. An estimated 2 million people were starving in Niger, but 200,000 tons of imported food—half U.S.-supplied— substantially ended famine conditions.
The 1974 army coup ousted President Hamani Diori, who had held office since 1960. The new president, Lt. Col. Seyni Kountché, chief of staff of the army, installed a 12-man military government. A predominantly civilian government was formed by Kountché in 1976.