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After its first encounter with European powers in the 19th century, Niger, a landlocked Sahelian state, became a French colony in 1922.

Under this period of colonial rule, the people of Niger were only entitled to limited French citizenship, with power being held by distant colonial governors.

But in the 1950s, the French government came up with reforms to increase Nigerien political participation and enhance measures towards self-government.

In 1958, French colonies in Africa were allowed to hold a referendum on their membership in the French Community, providing a major move towards independence.

In Niger, the “Yes” campaign, headed by the Nigerien Progressive Party under the leadership of Hamani Diori, won the referendum, which led to Niger declaring itself a republic within the French Community.

Diori became the prime minister, and France’s Fifth Republic and the Nigerien National Assembly agreed on July 28, 1960, that Diori would govern Niger after its August 3 independence until it could hold elections in November of the same year.

In the first Nigerien elections, Diori was elected and sworn in as president, after French officials banned competing parties.

Diori was elected to three five-year terms but his administration was met with so many setbacks after he introduced a single-party system that suppressed his opponents.

His 14-year stay in power was characterized by great strife between opposing groups, allegations of corruption and the unfortunate Sahelian drought of the 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1974, he got removed from power in a military coup led by his military chief of staff, Lt-Col. Seyni Kountché.

Kountché ruled as a military dictator, denting hopes of a democratic process until he passed away in 1987.

His chief of staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who succeeded him finally made progress towards transitioning the country to democracy.

Apart from promulgating a new constitution, Saibou released some political prisoners and liberalized some of the country’s laws and policies.

He further agreed to union and student demands to set up a multi-party democratic system and in 1991, he convened a national conference with powers to vote on the country’s future.

The conference vote deprived Saibou of his executive role and brought in place a transitional government until elections were held in 1993.

An alliance of opposition parties (Alliance of Forces for Change) won a majority of seats in the national assembly and formed Niger’s first democratic government.

The AFC candidate, Mahamane Ousmane was elected president and after a change of government in 1995, the army stepped in again and took over power in 1996 in a coup led by Col. Ibrahim Baré Mainassara.

Mainassara organized new elections that same year and won. The opposition challenged the results in court but did not succeed.

Essentially, Niger, after its 1960 independence, had to grapple with series of coups and political instability, as well as uprisings as the nomadic Tuareg who were in the north of the country fought for recognition of their identity in the 1990s.

Currently, the country, which is rated by the UN as one of the world’s least-developed nations, is struggling due to frequent insurrections, droughts and poverty.

Slavery, which was only banned in 2003, is still a problem; and the country also aims at curbing its high rate of disease and illiteracy.

With increased oil exploration and mining activities, Niger, which is currently being led by Mahamadou Issoufou, is reportedly hoping to revive its economy for overall development.

Mildred Europa TAYLOR (Face 2 Face)

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