Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of orange (top), white, and green with a small orange disk (representing the sun) centred in the white band; similar to the flag of India, which has a blue spoke wheel centred in the white band.
Location: Western Africa, southeast of Algeria.
Geographic coordinates: 16 00 N, 8 00 E
Climate: desert; mostly hot, dry, dusty; tropical in extreme south.
Independence: 3 August 1960 (from France).
Capital City: Niamey.
Population: 10,075,511 (July 2000 est.).
Head of State: President Mamadou TANDJA (since 22 December 1999).
Area: 1.267 million sq km.
Type of Government: republic.
Currency: 1 Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (CFAF) = 100 centimes.
Major peoples: Hausa 56%, Djerma 22%, Fula 8.5%, Tuareg 8%, Beri Beri (Kanouri) 4.3%, Arab, Toubou, and Gourmantche 1.2%, about 1,200 French expatriates.
Religion: Muslim 80%, remainder indigenous beliefs and Christians.
Official Language: French.
Principal Languages: French, Hausa, Djerma.
Major Exports: uranium ore 65%, livestock products, cowpeas, onions (1998 est.).
History: Fossils and artefacts in Niger testify to a long period of human habitation, and both Roman and later Arab historians described contact and trade with the region. During the Middle Ages the western part of present-day Niger formed part of the SONGHAI empire, established during the 7th century by Berbers, and had accepted Islam by the 11th century.
Much of eastern Niger belonged to the state of KANEM-BORNU (14th-19th century). In the south city-states arose (c.14th century) among the Hausa and became southern termini for trans-Saharan commerce. During the early 19th century the Hausa states were conquered by Fulani under the Muslim reformer USMAN DAN FODIO.
In the 1890s the French signed treaties with the rulers of the Say, Gaya, and Dosso states, but Niger did not become a formal French colony within French West Africa until 1922.
In 1960 the colony gained its independence, and Hamani Diori, who had led the independence movement, became the first president. From 1968 to 1974 a severe drought took place throughout the Sahel, and Niger's residents, especially the nomadic peoples of the north, suffered severely. Diori governed until 1974, when a group of army officers accused him of mismanaging relief efforts during the Sahelian drought. A military and civilian council, headed first by Col. Seyni Kountoche (until his death in 1987) and later by Col. Ali Seybou, then ruled the country.
In 1989 the first national elections since 1960 were held. Seybou, running unopposed, was elected to a 7-year term as president under a new constitution establishing a second republic. Rising demands for political reform led to the convening of a national conference in 1991 that stripped President Seybou of his powers. Pending a referendum on a new constitution and multiparty elections, the government is run by a prime minister, Amadou Cheiffou, with the aid of a transitional parliament, or high council.
In December 1992, a referendum authorized the creation of a Third Republic with a multiparty system of government. In mid-February 1993, a nine-party coalition won a majority of seats in the National Assembly, the first multiparty elections since independence was achieved more than 30 years ago.