Niger factfile

23rd May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Niger, where Islamist militants staged twin car bomb attacks on an army base and a French-run uranium mine on Thursday, is an impoverished, mainly desert state in west Africa.

A French colony for six decades up until 1960, it derives most of its income from exports of uranium ore.

Key facts:

GEOGRAPHY: Spread over 1,267,000 square kilometres (458,075 square miles). It takes its name from the Niger river, which provides irrigation in its southwest, where the capital Niamey is located.

The landlocked country has borders with Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali and Nigeria.

POPULATION: 17.1 million in 2012 according to government figures.

The largest population groups are from the Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups, with small Peul and Tuareg minorities. Over 90 percent of the population are Muslims. The official language is French.

HISTORY: The region became part of France's west African empire at the end of the 19th century, and achieved independence with other such countries in 1960.

Since then Niger has oscillated between military and democratic regimes, punctuated by rebellions of the Tuareg minority.

A coup took place in April 1999, but the military handed over power to an elected civilian regime under president Mamadou Tandja at the end of that year.

Tandja won a presidential election in 2004, but in August 2009 he dissolved parliament as part of a bid to allow him to stay in power.

In February 2010 the military seized power, ousting Tandja and promising a return to democracy.

Mahamadou Issoufou was elected president in March 2011 over his rival Seini Oumarou, bringing an end to the political transition established by the military after it overthrew Tandja.

In recent years Niger has been shaken by the presence on its vast territory of Islamist activists, who have carried out several high-profile abductions, notably in the north.

ECONOMY: There have been frequent famines in recent years.

Niger is the world's fourth biggest uranium producer after Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia and the mineral is its main export.

In late 2011 Niger officially became an oil producer, with the opening of a refinery at Olelewa, in the centre-east of the country, run by the state and a Chinese company.

Per capita gross national income stood at $360 dollars in 2011, according to the World Bank.

External debt stood at $1.408 billion in 2011 (World Bank)

ARMED FORCES: 5,200 soldiers, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (2013).

© 2013 AFP

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