• Official name: Republique de Niger (Republic of Niger)
• Location: West Africa
• International organisations: African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, Organisation of Islamic Conference, United Nations, World Trade Organisation
• Borders: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Nigeria
• Coastline: None
• Land area: 1,267,000 Km2
• Population: 15,300,000
• Annual GDP (PPP) per capita: US$700 (2009 CIA estimate). World ranking: 188
• Ethnicity: Almost the entire population is of Sudanic and Berber stock. The largest groups are the Hausa (56%), Djerma (22%), Fula (8.5%) and Tuareg (8%).
• Languages: French is the official language. The majority of the population speak Hausa and related African languages.
• Religion: 80% of the population are Sunni Moslems, and most of the rest follow indigenous beliefs.
• Form of government: Presidential democratic republic. Niger is divided into seven departments and one capital city district.
• Capital: Niamey
• Constitution: The Constitution of the Republic of Niger came into effect in January 1993, but was substantially amended by referendum in 1999.
• Head of state: The President, elected by direct universal suffrage for a five-year term.
• Head of government: The President, who appoints all ministers.
• Legislature: Niger has a unicameral legislature. The National Assembly (Assemblee Nationale) has 83 members elected for five-year terms, 75 elected from multi-member constituencies and eight elected to represent national minorities.
• Electoral authority: The National Independent Election Commission (CENI) administers national elections.
• Freedom House 2011 rating: Political Rights 5, Civil Liberties 4
• Transparency International Corruption Index: 26% (123 of 178 countries rated)
• Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom 2010 Index: 71.5% (104 of 178 countries rated)
• Heritage Foundation Economic Freedom 2010 Index: 54.3% (126 of 178 countries rated)

Political history

Until the 19th century the territory which is now Niger was ruled by various Hausa and Fulani states in northern Nigeria. It was penetrated by the French in the 1880s and formally annexed in 1900. Niger became a separate colony in 1922. Along with the rest of French West Africa, it became self- governing within the French union in 1958 and independent in 1960.

The nationalist leader Hamani Diori became President, and ran a fairly mild version of the African one-party state system. The country was devastated by drought in the early 1970s, and this led directly to the 1974 coup which deposed Diori and brought a military regime to power.

Niger was then ruled by Seyni Kountché until his death in 1987. Under his successor, Ali Saibou, a new constitution was adopted in 1992, but President Mahame Ousmane was deposed in a second military coup in 1996. The military ruler Ibrahim Bare Mainassara was assassinated in 1999. This allowed a return to democratic government under a new Constitution.

Tandja Mamadou was elected President in 1999 and re-elected in 2004, in elections generally held to be free and fair. The 1999 Constitution barred him from a third term, and also made it illegal to try to alter this constitutional provision. In May 2009 the Constitutional Court ruled that Tandja could not hold a referendum on allowing him to run for a third term. In June Tandja therefore seized power and declared the constitution suspended and the Court abolished. The referendum was then held, but it had no constitutional valdity and was marked by very low turnout. Tandja declared his own term extended until 2012, but in February 2010 the army stepped in and deposed him. The military junta headed by Salou Djibo announced that it would return Niger to democratic rule. It honoured this pledge, and in reasonably free elections in January and March 2011 the veteran oppositionist Mahamadou Issoufou was elected president.

Before Tandja's coup the dominant political party was his National Movement for the Development Society. The main opposition parties were Issoufou's Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism and the Democratic and Social Convention.

Freedom House's 2011 report on Niger (which was written before the 2011 elections) says: "Niger is not an electoral democracy. While observers considered the national polls held in 1999 and 2004 to be largely free and fair, President Mamadou Tandja's unconstitutional moves to extend his rule in 2009 dismantled much of the country's democratic progress, and the 2010 coup increased the military's control over government... The opposition openly welcomed the February 2010 coup as an opportunity to advance democratic development... Corruption is a serious problem in Niger, and observers have raised transparency concerns regarding uranium mining contracts... In 2010, the transitional government made efforts to restore freedoms of speech and of the press... Constitutional guarantees of freedoms of assembly and association are largely upheld, but authorities have restricted the operations of some nongovernmental organisations... The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and courts have shown some autonomy in the past, though the judicial system is overburdened and has been subject to executive and other interference."

Updated November 2011