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Niger Modern History

The first years in Niger after independence from colonial power France 1960 were marked by political contradictions and unsuccessful attempts at reconciliation between the ruling circle of conservative and French-friendly President Hamani Diori and the opposition in exile, led by leftist politician Djibo Bakary.

Within the country, the president faced resistance, especially from students and intellectuals. The dissatisfaction was compounded by a period of severe drought that culminated in 1973. With opposition, all opposition was suppressed. President Diori remained until 1974, when the military took power in a coup, led by Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché. All political activities were banned.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Niger. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Kountche's access to power coincided with the return of the rain and the financial situation improved. However, the regime was shaken by several new coup attempts, which were followed by tougher repression. At the beginning of the 1980s, the economy gained a boost thanks to increased uranium exports, but the drought set in again and the economy deteriorated again.

When Kountché passed away in 1987, Army Chief Ali Saïbou took over as Niger's ruler. He banned all parties except his own, the National Movement for Social Development (MNSD). However, the regime was met by strong protests in the country and foreign aid donors pushed for democratization.

Contemporary History of NigerDemocracy is introduced

In 1992, Saïbou's regime succumbed to the pressure; multi-party systems were introduced and elections were held for a parliament. An alliance between six opposition parties prevailed. In the presidential election the following year, Mahamane Ousmane, leader of the Democratic and Social Assembly (CDS) party, won.

However, the transition to democracy was made more difficult by the fact that the economy was deteriorating again. At the same time, armed rebel groups emerged among Tuaregs, who had moved abroad from the drought in the 1970s but who returned in the early 1990s. The rebels considered themselves to be in breach of the democratization process and made demands for self-determination in northwestern Niger. The toubou people and Arab groups in the south and east also took up arms against the regime.

Tensions also increased in the rest of society. The trade union movement carried out a series of strikes against the government's austerity policy and soldiers took local officials hostage in an attempt to get unpaid wages. The government was forced to step down after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament.

The new parliamentary elections held in 1995 were won by the previous regime's party MNSD with allies. MNSD leader Hama Amadou became head of government.

The same year, the government signed a peace agreement with the largest Tuareg rebel group and promised regional autonomy and social development in the north. Other Tuareg groups made peace with the regime in 1997. However, the fulfillment of the promises to the rebels went slowly.

Military coup again

The contradiction between President Ousmane and Prime Minister Amadou led the military to launch a coup in early 1996. The coup leader, Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahmin Baré Maïnassara soon set up a civilian government, but the takeover of power prompted France and other major donors to stop the aid. It contributed to the adoption of a new constitution in May 1996. It provided for multi-party systems but at the same time gave the president increased powers.

Maïnassara won in the 1996 presidential election and his party The Front for the Defense of Democracy (FRDD) also won the parliamentary elections boycotted by most of the opposition.

In connection with the unrest during the local elections in early 1999, Maïnassara was assassinated by soldiers from the presidential guard. Maïnassaras was succeeded by one of his closest men who soon reintroduced civilian rule. In the presidential election held the same year, MNSD's candidate Mamadou Tandja won. The parliamentary elections were won by MNSD and Hama Amadou returned as prime minister.

The time after the election became rife with violent clashes between security forces and protesters, who objected to, among other things, missing wages and the arrest of student leaders. In the fall of 2000, riots broke out when Islamist groups protested against a fashion show in the capital Niamey.

Soldiers do mutiny

In July 2002, soldiers in the city of Diffa in south-eastern Niger revolted in protest against poor working conditions and for not getting their pay. The revolt also spread to Niamey and Nguimi, but it was quickly defeated. President Tandja announced a state of emergency and military courts were set up to investigate suspected revolts. Officially, the revolt demanded two human lives.

The uprising led to the freedom of the press being cut. Journalists were arrested for reporting on the soldier uprising, and the confrontation between the government and the media continued in 2003 when a number of private radio stations were closed. Two editorial staff have been jailed since their newspapers reported high-level corruption.

When the economic situation worsened in 2004 as a result of a fall in uranium, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank gave two-thirds of Niger's foreign debt. At a later stage, Niger's debts were wiped out to the western countries in the so-called Paris Club.

In December 2004, Tandja was re-elected for another five years and his MNSD with allies won a majority of the seats in the parliamentary elections held simultaneously.

Food shortage and refugee stream

Tandja's second term was preceded by a severe drought in combination with grasshopper attacks on the harvests. When about 2.5 million Nigerians were threatened by starvation, the new government was forced to import large quantities of grain. In the summer of 2005, the food shortage worsened and the hungry began to flee to neighboring Nigeria. The UN Disaster Relief Commission criticized the Nigerian government for toning down the extent of the crisis and for not doing enough to prevent it. The drought led to an increased fight for pasture among the country's many nomads.

By this time, the relationship between Tandja and Amadou's head of government began to grate. They openly showed that they had different opinions on certain issues, and MNSD was divided into a faction that supported Tandja and one that supported Amadou. When Amadou was accused of corruption in the media, he was dismissed in 2007 by a vote of no confidence in Parliament. He was later imprisoned and deposed as party leader. Amadou claimed that the charges against him were invented to politically harm him.

The Tuaregs who made peace with the government in 1995 resumed their armed struggle in 2007. The Nigerian Justice for Justice (MNJ) movement carried out a series of attacks on military targets and uranium mines in northern Niger as well as the airport in the city of Agadèz.

The MNJ felt that the 1995 peace agreement had not been implemented and that the northern parts of the country had continued to be neglected. The movement demanded greater autonomy and that the region's residents would have access to up to 30 percent of the profits from the uranium mining in the north. In 2008, the attacks escalated. After many trips, a peace agreement was signed in May 2009 between the government and the rebels.

Tandja clings to power

Tandja had promised to leave his post when his term expires in December 2009, but he changed as the day of his departure began to approach. In May 2009, he announced his intention to arrange a referendum on a new constitution that would extend his mandate as president. Tandja's plans to remain as president aroused strong opposition from opposition parties, trade unions and other groups. Criticism also came from the United States.

Tandja's actions led his critics within the MNDS to jump off and form a new party Movement for a Democratic Niger (Moden) that supported the deposed Amadou. (Amadou himself was in France since he was recently released from prison for health reasons.)

When the Constitutional Court rejected Tandja's plans for a referendum, the president said he ignored the court's ruling. He dissolved Parliament and began to govern by decree, that is, by issuing temporary laws without Parliament's approval. He also dissolved the Supreme Court.

Tandja passed the referendum that took place in August 2009. According to the authorities, 92 percent of the voters agreed to the new constitution, which gave Tandja a third term and removed the re-election limit for the presidential post. The authorities stated that voter turnout was 68 percent, while the opposition, which called for a boycott, estimated it to be 4 percent.

The new constitution came into force in mid-August and parliamentary elections were announced until October 20.

Elections and new military coup

A newly formed alliance of several opposition parties, voluntary organizations and trade unions continued to thwart Tandja's attempt to remain in power. The alliance called for a boycott of the parliamentary elections announced by Tandja until October 20. It was still kept as planned. On the same day, the regional cooperation organization Ecowas decided to temporarily exclude Niger, and the US and the EU withdrew aid. Tandjas MNSD won as expected a clear majority in the election.

However, the joy of rolling the victory was short-lived for Tandja. In February 2010, he was deposed in a military coup. Several opposition leaders welcomed the coup and the junta leaders also received strong popular support. To this was contributed the military's resolute handling of an imminent famine disaster.

In October, the junta organized a referendum on a new constitution and an overwhelming majority of Nigerians were reported to have agreed to the Constitutional Law, which reintroduced the restriction on re-election to the presidential post and gave Parliament back some of the powers deprived of the 2009 constitutional change. The proposal also gave the leaders of the Cup 2010 amnesty.

Presidential elections were held on January 31, 2011. Among those running were Seyni Oumarou for MNDS, Hama Amadou for Moden and Mahamadou Issoufou for Nigerian Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS). Issoufou won with 58 percent of the vote in the second round, held on March 12 between him and Oumarou. The parliamentary elections held at the same time were also won by PNDS.

Issoufou appointed Brigi Rafini, a Tuareg from Northern Niger, to his head of government; Rafini had served in the government in the 1990s and also had extensive experience as a regional politician. Amadou, who supported Issoufou in the second round of the presidential election, was rewarded by Moden receiving five ministerial posts. Oumarou also should have been offered a seat in the government but declined.

 
 

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