West Africa

Niger

Niger Flag

Niger, Republic of the Inland of West Africa. The country is without a coastline and borders Mali in the west, Algeria and Libya in the north, Chad in the east, Nigeria and Benin in the south and Burkina Faso in the southwest.

Much of the country is desert and sparsely populated, most of the country’s inhabitants live in the more fertile southwest corner of the country. The capital Niamey is located on the river and is the country’s largest city.

There are mainly two peoples groups in Niger, in the desert areas in the north one finds the Tuareg, while songhai predominates in agricultural areas around Niamey and along Niger. This division of the country is reflected in both history and culture.

Niger was part of French West Africa, became an independent republic in 1960.

The name is after the river Niger, by a Tuaregord n’higrenren, ‘flowing water, river’. The river flows through the country from west to east.

Niger’s national anthem is Auprès du grand Niger puissant (‘By the mighty Niger’).

People and society

Over ninety percent of Niger’s population are Muslims, who mainly follow several directions in Sufi Islam. This Sufism is mixed with local religions and practices. There are also practitioners of traditional religions in Niger.

While the inhabitants of the capital Niamey are mainly Hausa- speaking, the Tuaregs dominate much of the desert in the northeast. In total, the country has ten official languages. In the metropolitan area, the administration language is French, Arabic, buduma, full, zarma-songhai, hausa, kanuri and gourmet schema. In the north and among the Tuareg, there are tamazigh, tassawaq and tebu.

Niger has a rapidly growing population and the population is quite young. Life expectancy is 55 years for men and 56 years for women. Living conditions are poor and the country continues to fall at the bottom of the UN living standards index. The reason for this is, among other things, poor schooling.

In recent years, Niger has welcomed refugees from the conflicts in Mali and Nigeria, which has put additional pressure on few resources.

State and politics

Niger was given a new constitution in 2010. As before, power is divided between the president, who is formally the head of state, and a prime minister, who governs the government. It is the government that has the executive power and a national assembly that has the legislative power. The National Assembly has 113 members, elected for a five-year term.

It is the president who appoints the prime minister, and he also has the opportunity to send questions for a referendum. From 2011, Mahamadou Issoufou has been President. He won a second term in 2016, after the opposition boycotted the election.

Niger’s judicial system is based on the French and uses investigative judges in criminal cases. Alongside the secular justice system, there is a system of traditional counsel that often deals with disputes or family matters. These can be both traditional leaders and Islamic scholars, or sharia experts.

The military is still important in Niger. Since 1990, the country has experienced several Tuareg uprisings in the north, as well as radical Islamist groups. With conflict in many neighboring countries – Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Chad, there is fear of more conflict also in Niger. Among other things, it is speculated that Boko Haram, which has its origins among canoeing countries in Nigeria, will establish more permanently in Niger.

Camel market in the Agadès area

Camel market in the Agadès area. The town of Agadès, located on the southern outskirts of the Aïr massif, is a center for nomadic Tuaregs. Several periods of drought have led to very difficult conditions for this nomadic people, and many have abandoned the nomadic way of life and become permanent residents.

Economy and business

Niger has one of the largest deposits of uranium in the world. Uranium is important both for the nuclear industry and for the development of nuclear weapons, which has given Niger a strategic importance. Uranium exports from Niger mainly go to France. The country also has some other mining and some oil deposits.

Alongside mineral resources, Niger exports agricultural products such as cattle and animal skins, peanuts and onions. Especially to Nigeria, in the south. However, agriculture is very vulnerable to drought, and poor years mean that the country has to import food.

Niger is part of the currency cooperation in West Africa, and the currency, West African Franc, is linked to the euro. It makes the economy more stable, but the country is still struggling with high foreign debt. Niger is dependent on food aid for most years.

Knowledge and culture

Although Niger was part of the Songhai Empire, there were no major learning centers within what are today’s boundaries, as it was in Mali. After the fall of the Songhai Empire, Timbuktu continued to be a learning center for the region and its many forms of religious practice. It also means that you have a written historical tradition for the area.

In addition, one has a rich oral tradition, which has also been a source of inspiration for several Nigerian writers. Among the most famous is the historian Boubou Hema (1906–1982) who was also a central politician during the first period of independence in the 1960s. The autobiography Kotia Nima, which is based on its own history, saw the family and the village’s history, and then ended up telling the whole country’s story received the prestigious French literary award Grand Prix literaire d’Afrique noire. Hema also wrote professional history and in 2008 the National Museum of Niamey got his name.

Another writer based on oral tradition, and that found in historical archives, is Abdoulaye Mamani (1932–1993). His novel about Queen Sarraounia and her fight against the French also became a film in 1986, directed by Med Hando (born 1936 in Mauritania). Both writer and director interviewed a number of older people with knowledge of what happened when Sarraounia lost to the French in 1899. The film won a number of awards.

Also the oral tradition among the Tuareg has its bearers, the poet Hawad (born 1950) who now lives in France, writes in tamazigh, and is translated into French.

Art in Niger

Artwork

Traditional art is characterized by both ethnic diversity and Niger’s geographical location. Household ceramics have simple shapes and are often decorated with white, red and black geometric motifs in continuous horizontal bands or with relief decorations. Djerma ceramics are known for their intricate patterns covering the entire surface. Worth mentioning is also the full basket weaving work of the Fulani people and the hausa and Fulani people gourds decorated with geometric patterns, as well as the Tuaregene’s richly decorated wooden spoons and saucers.

In the textile arts, the wedding rugs (tera-tera) of the djerma and songhai people stand out. They are composed of thin white bands, and decorated with black and red geometric motifs. Other rugs are made in multicolored patterns embroidered.

The National Museum of Niger, Niamey (founded in 1958) contains handicrafts made by the country’s various people groups. Interest in and collection of ethnographic material has increased significantly in the 1990s.

Visual arts

The country’s artists draw inspiration from daily life in Niger and from their own cultural heritage. Boubacar Boureima’s (born 1950) paintings are, for example, abstract representations of djerma and songhai’s wedding carpets. Most artists are either self-taught or have received their education abroad.

Architecture in Niger

Traditional architecture includes of round straw houses with tapered ceilings and square, clay-clad cottages. The facades of the house people’s homes are decorated with colorful flowers, geometric or linear designs made by specialists. In the cities, modern high-rise buildings were erected in the 1960s according to the Western pattern.

Music in Niger

The music scene is varied and encompasses both Islamic and non-Islamic traditions associated with the individual folk groups.

Among the Hausas are representative orchestras and praise singers with drum ensembles related to leading people, in addition folk and modern popular music. Of traditional instruments used kakaki (long, straight metal wondering), Tambura (timpani), Farai (short trelur), ganga (tofelltromme) and k’afo (page blown animal horn).

The Fulanis have both their own and an Islamic song repertoire and use instruments such as hoddu (three-stringed lute), nyeyanyooru (one-string fiddle), rustle and flute.

Due to prolonged cultural contact, the music of the song sharks is influenced by the traditions of the Hausa.

The Tuaregs stand out in that they do not have professional musicians, the song repertoire is gender-specific and the song style exhibits certain Arabic-Oriental features. Their most important instruments are inzad (one-string fiddle), tindé (one-piece drum) and saréwa (end-blown flute).

Traditional music and dance have been strengthened since the country became independent.

Nigerian Theater

A few professional theater groups existed during the colonial era. André Salifou established himself as a central playwright in the 1940s with a piece about Tanimoune, historical ruler of Zamagaran, and his attempt to create an independent state of the state. A theater in the Hausa language has flourished since Niger became independent. The theater has been used by the government to promote social development, and has more or less become an instrument for the government’s interests. Religious traditions have been incorporated into the theater work and used in the context of dance dramas accompanied by music and pantomime. Radio and television have had an impact on the spread of a popular theater culture, as well as festivals.