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 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 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 which 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 in 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 newspapers.
Rivalries within a ruling coalition elected in 1994 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 June 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 the international embargo on Libya seeking funds for 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 in 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 MNSD/CDS coalition, Mamadou Tandja won the presidency.
Niger's new constitution was approved in July 1999. It restores the semi-presidential system of government of the December 1992 constitution (Third Republic) in which the president of the Republic, elected by universal suffrage for a 5-year term, and a prime minister named by the president share executive power. The unicameral legislature is comprised of 83 deputies elected for a 5-year term under a proportional system of representation. Political parties must attain at least 5% of the vote in order to gain a seat in the legislature. Niger's independent judicial system is composed of four higher courts--the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the High Court of Justice and the Court of State Security.
The constitution also provides for the popular election of municipal and local officials, which are expected to take place after all political interests agree upon a governmental decentralization plan. The country is currently divided into 8 departments, which are subdivided into 36 districts (arrondissements). The chief administrator (prefet) in each department is appointed by the government and functions primarily as the local agent of the central authorities. The current legislature elected in October 1999 contains five political parties. President Mamadou Tandja was elected in November 1999 and appointed Hama Amadou as the Prime Minister. Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS, was elected President of the National Assembly (Parliament) by his peers. The first government of the Fifth Republic was installed on January 5, 2000, and a government reshuffle occurred on September 18, 2001. Serious unrest within the military occurred in August 2002, in Niamey, Diffa, and Nguigmi, but the government was able to restore order within several days. First-ever municipal elections are scheduled to take place late in 2003.
Niger is a poor, landlocked Sub-Saharan nation, whose economy centers on subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, reexport trade, and increasingly less on uranium, because of declining world demand. The 50% devaluation of the West African franc in January 1994 boosted exports of livestock, cowpeas, onions, and the products of Niger's small cotton industry. The government relies on bilateral and multilateral aid - which was suspended following the April 1999 coup d'etat - for operating expenses and public investment. In 2000-01, the World Bank approved a structural adjustment loan of $105 million to help support fiscal reforms. However, reforms could prove difficult given the government's bleak financial situation. The IMF approved a $73 million poverty reduction and growth facility for Niger in 2000 and announced $115 million in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.
The country's population is approximately 11.2 million. The economy is based mainly on subsistence farming, herding, small trading, and informal markets. Approximately 15 percent of the economy is in the formal sector, primarily in light industry and government services. Uranium is the most important export, though declining world demand has made this sector less profitable. The country's per capita income is less than $200 (146,000 CFA francs) a year. Drought, deforestation, soil degradation, and exceedingly low literacy are problems. The economy remained severely depressed. Most international aid (an important factor in the economy) was suspended following the 1996 coup d'etat; however, the country again is receiving substantial foreign assistance.
INCIDENCE OF CRIME
The crime rate in Niger is low compared to industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Niger. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Niger will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). The most recent and only complete data available for Niger are those submitted to INTERPOL for year 1996. According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 1996 was 1.28 per 100,000 population for Niger, 0.97 for Japan, and 7.41 for USA. For rape, the rate in 1996 was 0.67 for Niger, compared with 1.18 for Japan and 36.10 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 1996 was 0.02 for Niger, 1.96 for Japan, and 202.44 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 1996 was 19.02 for Niger, 14.20 for Japan, and 388.19 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 1996 was 4.72 for Niger, 177.65 for Japan, and 942.96 for USA. The rate of larceny for 1996 was 28.39 for Niger, 1057.83 for Japan, and 2975.91 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 1996 was 4.97 for Niger, compared with 26.79 for Japan and 525.92 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 59.07 for Niger, compared with 1280.58 for Japan and 5078.93 for USA
Security forces consist of the army, the Republican Guard, the gendarmerie (paramilitary police), and the national police. The police and gendarmerie traditionally have primary responsibility for internal security. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces. Following the 2000 kidnaping of a senior military official and the ensuing crisis, the armed forces stated publicly that they would abide by the rules of democracy and stay out of politics. During the year, the forces continued to abide by their statement; however, members of the security forces committed abuses.
The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, police occasionally beat and otherwise abused persons. Unlike in the previous year, there reportedly were no incidents of torture by the military.
On at least one occasion in February, 2001, police used tear gas to disperse protesting students. The Government reported that 4 students were hospitalized due to the effects of tear gas; 21 students were injured. Nineteen students were arrested, and several of the arrested students claimed to have been beaten in detention. Local human rights groups condemned the actions, and allegations of mistreatment ceased after human rights activists and opposition and government members of the National Assembly visited the detainees.
In late May, 2001, the 18 soldiers arrested for suspected involvement in the June 2000 kidnaping of a senior military officer, Major Djibrilla Hima, were released pending further investigation; however, it is unknown if any action was taken against the soldiers who allegedly beat and tortured 3 of the detained soldiers in 2000. The prosecutor with overall responsibility for the kidnaping case investigated the torture and disappearance allegations; however, he was removed from the case in mid-2000 following a month of intensive investigation. By year's end, there was no further investigation into the incident.
The law requires that police have a search warrant, normally issued by a judge; however, human rights organizations reported that police often conducted routine searches without warrants. Police may conduct searches without warrants when they have strong suspicion that a house shelters criminals or stolen property. The State Security Law also provides for warrantless searches.
Arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. Although the Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the law prohibits detention without charge in excess of 48 hours, police sometimes violate these provisions in practice. If police fail to gather sufficient evidence within the detention period, the prosecutor can give the case to another officer, and a new 48-hour detention period begins. The law provides for a right to counsel, although there is only one defense attorney known to have a private practice outside the capital. A defendant has the right to a lawyer immediately upon detention. The Government provided a defense attorney for all indigents in felony cases, including minors. Bail was available for crimes carrying a penalty of less than 10 years' imprisonment. Widespread ignorance of the law and lack of financial means prevented the accused from taking full advantage of these rights. Police, acting under authority given them by the Security Law, occasionally conducted sweeps to detain suspected criminals.
On February 21, 2001, police arrested 19 students after forcibly dispersing a demonstration in Niamey; several of the arrested students claimed that they were beaten in detention. At year's end, eight students remained in custody.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of the arrest of journalists.
Following the 2000 Maradi riots, police arrested approximately 100 persons in Maradi and others in Niamey. In May the prisoners held in Niamey were released; however, at year's end, 20 persons in Maradi remained in custody awaiting trial; they were charged with unauthorized demonstration and threatening public order.
In late May, the 18 soldiers arrested for suspected involvement in the June 2000 kidnaping of a senior military officer, Major Djibrilla Hima, were released pending further investigations.
The judicial system is overloaded seriously. There are no legal limits on pretrial confinement of indicted persons. Detention often lasts months or years. In 2000 the Justice Ministry made efforts to accelerate the process. For example, in November a multilateral workshop reviewed systemic problems in the judiciary to determine how future donors can best allocate future aid resources as part of a planned overhaul of the judicial system. Some persons have been waiting as long as 6 years to be charged. Of the 550 prisoners in Niamey's Civil Prison, approximately 350 were awaiting trial or had no charges brought against them.
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it occasionally was subject to executive interference. Although the Supreme Court on occasion has asserted its independence, human rights groups claimed that family and business ties influence lower courts. Judges sometimes feared reassignment or having their financial benefits reduced if they rendered a decision unfavorable to the Government. However, there has been evidence in previous years of increased judicial independence.
Defendants and prosecutors may appeal a verdict, first to the Court of Appeals, then to the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals reviewed questions of fact and law, while the Supreme Court reviewed only the application of the law and constitutional questions. There also were customary courts.
Traditional chiefs can act as mediators and counselors and have authority in customary law cases as well as status under national law where they are designated as auxiliaries to local officials. Chiefs collect local taxes and receive stipends from the Government, but they have no police or judicial powers and can only mediate, not arbitrate, customary law disputes. Customary courts, located only in large towns and cities, try cases involving divorce or inheritance. They are headed by a legal practitioner with basic legal training who is advised by an assessor knowledgeable in the society's traditions. The judicial actions of chiefs and customary courts are not regulated by law, and defendants may appeal a verdict to the formal court system. Women do not have equal legal status with men and do not enjoy the same access to legal redress.
Defendants have the right to counsel, to be present at trial, to confront witnesses, to examine the evidence against them, and to appeal verdicts. The Constitution affirms the presumption of innocence. The law provides for counsel at public expense for minors and indigent defendants charged with crimes carrying a sentence of 10 years or more. Although lawyers complied with government requests to provide counsel, the Government generally did not remunerate them.
Conditions in all 35 of the country's prisons are poor and life threatening. Prisons are underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded. For example, in Niamey's Civil Prison, there are approximately 550 prisoners in a facility built for 350. Family visits are allowed, and prisoners can receive supplemental food and other necessities from their families. Prisoners were segregated by gender, and minors and adults were incarcerated separately. Pretrial detainees were housed with convicted prisoners. Corruption among prison staff was rampant. There were credible reports that prisoners can bribe officials to leave prison for the day and serve their sentences in the evenings. Prisoners also can claim illness and serve their sentences in the national hospital. The majority of the prisoners who escaped from the prison in Zinder in 1999 were recaptured; however, others remained at large at year's end. Human rights monitors, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were granted unrestricted access to prisons and detention centers and visited them during the year.
Domestic violence against women was widespread, although reliable statistics were not available. Wife beating reportedly was common, even in upper social classes. Families often intervened to prevent the worst abuses, and women may (and do) divorce because of physical abuse. While women have the right to seek redress in the customary or modern courts, few do so due to ignorance of the legal system, fear of social stigma, or fear of repudiation. Women's rights organizations reported that prostitution often was the only economic alternative for a woman who wants to leave her husband.
Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned widely by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is practiced by several ethnic groups in the western department of Tillaberi (which includes Niamey and the towns of Say, Torodi, and Ayorou) and the eastern department of Diffa. In July the National Assembly outlawed FGM; however, some observers believed the Government has not publicized sufficiently the fact that the practice is now a criminal act.
A 1998 study by CARE International indicated that 5 percent of women between 15 and 49 years of age had undergone FGM; however, a 1999 symposium cited a World Health Organization global study of 20 percent. Statistics regarding this practice were not considered to be fully reliable. Clitoridectomy was the most common form of FGM. The Government worked closely with a local NGO, UNICEF, and other donors to develop and distribute educational materials at government clinics and maternal health centers.
Prostitution, which is illegal and hidden, is more prevalent near major mining and military sites. Child prostitution was a problem.
Despite the Constitution's provisions for women's rights, the deep-seated traditional belief in the submission of women to men results in discrimination in education, employment, and property rights. Discrimination is worse in rural areas, where women do much of the subsistence farming as well as child-rearing, water- and wood-gathering, and other work. Despite constituting 47 percent of the work force, women have made only modest inroads in civil service and professional employment and remained underrepresented in these areas.
Women's inferior legal status was evident, for example, in head of household status: A male head of household has certain legal rights, but divorced or widowed women, even with children, are not considered to be heads of households. Among the Hausa and Peul ethnic groups in the east, some women are cloistered and may leave their homes only if escorted by a male and usually only after dark. In 1999 the Government ratified the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; in 2000 the Ministry of Justice formed a committee of legal scholars, which began reviewing appropriate law. Islamic groups criticized the ratification and complained that they were not consulted beforehand. Women's groups so far have been silent on the ratification, allegedly due to fear of reprisals.
National service was mandatory for all young women who have completed university studies or professional training. National service lasts from 18 months to 2 years, and women can serve as teachers, health service workers, or technical specialists; however, military service was not an option
Although the Constitution provides that the Government promote children's welfare, financial resources are extremely limited. The minimum period of compulsory education is 6 years; however, only approximately 32 percent of children of primary school age attend school, and approximately 60 percent of those who finish primary schools are boys. The majority of young girls are kept at home to work and rarely attend school for more than a few years, resulting in a female literacy rate of 8 percent, compared with 23 percent for men.
Some ethnic groups allowed families to enter into marriage agreements on the basis of which young girls from rural areas were sent by the age of 10 or 12 and sometimes younger to join their husband's family under the tutelage of their mother-in-law. During the year, the National Assembly considered changing the law to prohibit this practice and establish a minimum age for marriage; however, no legislation was passed by year's end. In 2000 the Minister of Justice formed a commission to examine the problem of child brides; at year's end, the commission's work was ongoing.
FGM is performed on a small percentage of girls.
There were credible reports of underage girls being drawn into prostitution, sometimes with the complicity of the family. Child prostitution was not criminalized specifically, and there is no precise age of consent; however, the law condemns "indecent" acts towards minors, but it was left to a judge to determine what constitutes an indecent act. Such activity and a corollary statute against "the incitement of minors to wrongdoing" are punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison.
TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS
The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons, and there was evidence that the country is a transit point and destination for a small number of trafficked persons. Internal trafficking occurs, and there was anecdotal evidence that organized rings may victimize young girls who come to work as household helpers.
Trafficking in persons generally was conducted by small-time operators who promised well-paid employment in Niger. Victims, primarily from Benin, Togo, Nigeria, and Ghana, are escorted through the formalities of entering the country, where they find that their employment options are restricted to poorly-paid domestic work or prostitution. Victims also must use a substantial portion of their income to reimburse the persons who brought them to Niger for the cost of the trip. Compliance is enforced by "contracts," which are signed by illiterate victims before they depart their countries of origin; alternatively, the victim's travel document simply is seized. A local NGO also reported that some rural Nigerien children are victims of domestic trafficking in which the victim (or his/her family) is promised a relatively decent job only to be placed in a home to work as a servant. The victims must use their earnings to reimburse the persons who brought them to the city.
Internal trafficking, which is rooted in the traditions and poverty that underlie the country's largely informal economy, includes the child marriages of girls and the indenturing of boys to Koranic teachers. In response to economic hardship, some parents arranged for their young daughters to marry older men, presumably without their consent, and then send them to join their husband's families. Similarly some rural parents send their sons to learn the Koran in the cities where, in return for their education, the boys support their teachers by begging on the streets.
In August a Nigerian national was arrested for attempting to escort eight young women from Nigeria through the country on their way to Italy, allegedly for prostitution.
In September a 17-year-old former slave from Niger addressed the U.N. Conference Against Racism in South Africa. She told the conference she had been brought up in slavery, like her mother and grandmother. At the age of 15, the Tuareg clan sold her for $300 (223,500 CFA francs) to a trader in Nigeria, from whom she escaped; she said Tuareg clans in the country continued to trade in black slaves.
In 2000 the Justice Minister stated that the Government intended to study the issue of trafficking as part of the more comprehensive legal modernization effort launched by a commission of legal experts.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, approximately two thirds of economic activity occurs in the black market. This activity includes the sale of commercial goods, including petroleum, arms trafficking, and drug trafficking. Niger serves as a transit point for drug trafficking. Arms trafficking between Niger and its neighbors is also active.
Internet research and compilation by Phy Long Ngov