Geographical Size: Niger is a vast landlocked country in Central Africa, covering approximately 490,000 square miles. More than 80 percent of the land is covered by the Sahara Desert. Niger is named after the Niger River. The country is bordered by Libya to the northeast, Chad to the east, Nigeria to the south, Benin to the southwest, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, and Algeria to the northwest. More than 80% of its land area lies in the Sahara Desert.
Population: Estimated at 23.18 million (2019), with an approximate 3.8 percent annual growth rate. More than 50 percent of the country’s population is Hausa, which are also the largest ethnic group in neighboring northern Nigeria. Another large ethnic group is the Zarma-Songhai. The Fulani, Kanuri, Arabs, Toubou, and Tuareg ethnic communities comprise an estimated 20 percent of the country’s population.
Language: French (official language). Other official languages include Arabic, Buduma, Fulfulde, Gourmachema, Hausa, Kanuri, Zarma and Songhai, Tamasheq, Tassawag, and Tebu. Each language is spoken as a first language by its associated ethnic group. Hausa and Zarma-Sonrai are the most widely spoken languages either as first or spoken languages.
Religion: Islam is the predominant religion by an estimated 99 percent of the population. Of the two other main religions, Christianity is practiced by an estimated 0.3% of the population, and Animism by 0.2%.
Capital: Niamey. Lying on the Niger River’s east bank, it is the country’s largest city and administrative and economic center. Its population in 2012 was estimated at 978,029.
Currency: West African CFA Franc.
Government Type: Semi-presidential system. Government rule is divided between a President, who serves as head of state, and a Prime Minister, who serves as the head of government. The President is eligible to serve for two 5-year terms. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. It also has a unicameral legislature called the National Assembly, which authorizes the appointment of the Prime Minister. The last election was held on February 21, 2016.
Head of State/President of the Republic: PresidentMahamadou Issoufou, 67, who secured a second term in the February/March 2016 elections. He has been President of Niger since April 7, 2011. He served as Prime Minister of Niger from 1993 to 1994, President of the National Assembly from 1995 to 1996, and he has been a candidate in each presidential election since 1993. He is the head of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS-Tarayya). He is an ethnic Hausa, and was born in the town of Dandaji in Tahoua Department. Prior to politics, he worked as an engineer, served as National Director of Mines from 1985 to 1985, as Secretary-General of the Mining Company of Niger (SOMAIR).
Head of Government: Prime Minister Brigi Rafini, 67 (since April 7 2011). He is from the Iferouane in Agadez Region, and an ethnic Tuareg. He is a former Minister of Agriculture and the Fourth Vice-President of the national Assembly from 2004 to 2009.
Opposition Leader: Hama Amadou, 70, head of the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation (Moden/FA Lumana Africa). He was Prime Minister from 1995 to 1996 and from 2000 to 2007. Amadou is currently in exile in Benin (he was previously in exile in France), due to alleged corruption charges against him. In March 2019, the Nigerien government filed a request to Interpol for his extradition. This conflict has limited his opposition’s ability to mobilize its electoral base in elections.
Significant Historical Events
1960: Niger gained its independent from France.
1960 to 1993: Beginning in 1960, Niger was under single-party and military rule until 1991 when General Ali Saibou was pressured to hold multiparty elections, which introduced a democratic government in 1993.
1996: Following political infighting, Colonel Ibrahim Bare led a coup.
1999: Bare was killed in a counter coup by military officers who restored democratic rule. Elections brought Mamadou Tandja to power as President in December.
2004: Tandja was reelected as President.
2009: Tandja spearheaded a constitutional amendment allowing him to extend his term as President.
February 2010: Military officers led a coup that deposed President Tandja and suspended the constitution.
April 2011: Following the coup, Issoufou Mahamadou was elected President.
January 2016: Issoufou Mahamadou was reelected to a second term as President.
March 2017: A court sentenced opposition leader Hama Amadou in absentia to one year in prison on charges of involvement in human trafficking. The opposition maintained that the charges were politically motivated. Other opposition leaders were imprisoned.
March 2017: In response to jihadist insurgent attacks, the government declared a state of emergency in the Diffa, Tillabéri and Tahoua Regions.
Drivers of Instability
In Niger, drivers of instability consist of crises in climate, economy, influx of refugees, political system, the security situation, and insurgencies by terrorist groups.
As a landlocked and mostly desert country, Niger is severely affected by climate change, particularly drought, which negatively impacts on the productivity of its agricultural and livestock sector. In another manifestation of climate change, the country, including Niamey, the capital, is regularly subject to significant rainfall in the summer, causing widespread floods and accompanying infrastructural damage, including deaths.
Niger’s economy is based on agriculture in the form of subsistence crops and livestock, and large uranium deposits. Agriculture represents approximately 40 percent of the country’s GDP and provides livelihood to more than 80 percent of the population. This economic sector, however, is vulnerable to negative weather events, particularly droughts, and to negative fluctuations in world commodity prices. On the positive side, Niger is the fourth largest producer of uranium in the world, and a net exporter of oil products and gold.
The country is considered one of the poorest countries in the world, with a ranking by the 2016 United Nations Human Development Index as the second least developed country in the world. It has a poverty rate of 44.1 percent and a per capita income of $420. In 2018, it ranked last (189th out of 189 countries) on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI). This is due to factors such as food insecurity, the lack of electricity in approximately 70 percent of the country, lack of industry, high population growth, a weak educational sector, and few prospects for work outside of subsistence farming and herding.
In other negative economic conditions, rampant corruption represents a high risk for businesses operating in the country, with weak anti-corruption legislation and poor enforcement of existing laws. This is accompanied by an inadequate system for collecting tax and custom duties. Cumulatively, these severely impact the efficiency of how businesses operate in the country.
Niger’s internal stability is exacerbated by its forced hosting of more than 300,000 refugees and displaced persons fleeing the humanitarian crises in the neighboring countries of Libya, Mali, and Nigeria. Refugee camps are concentrated in the southeastern region of Diffa and the northern and northwestern regions of Tahoua and Tillaberi, resulting in an internal humanitarian crisis. This includes the presence of more than 60,000 Malian refugees who entered the country since violence broke out in 2012 between armed rebels and Malian government troops. On another front, attacks by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and southeastern Niger have pushed tens of thousands of Nigerian refugees and Nigerien returnees across the border to Niger, thereby displacing thousands of locals in Niger’s already impoverished Diffa region.
In 2017, the Niger government implemented a $40 million emergency plan and requested assistance from development partners to cope with immediate humanitarian needs.
Niger experiences a high degree of political instability, which is caused by several factors. One factor is rivalry between President Mahamadou Issoufou and opposition leader Hama Amadou, who is in exile in Benin. Another factor is the high level of corruption in the public services sector, including inadequate public services and large disparities in the provision of services favoring urban over rural areas.
Niger’s geographical location between West and North Africa, vast open deserts, and lengthy porous borders have made it a transit point for operations by terrorists and criminals, such as illicit drug, weapons, and migrant traffickers. The security condition is further exacerbated by external threats such as the spillover from internal upheavals in the neighboring countries of Libya, Mali, and northeastern Nigeria.
The Nigerien police force is divided into the national police, which functions under the Interior Ministry and is responsible for urban law enforcement, and the gendarmerie, which functions under the Defence Ministry and has primary responsibility for rural security.
Criminal groups, including armed bandits and smugglers, operate in many parts of Niger, especially the border areas. This includes the border area with Nigeria, south of Zinder. It is advised against travelling out of Tahoua or other major cities like Niamey to other parts of Niger in the east and the north. Niger’s Agadez region is a major corridor for the illicit trafficking of goods, weapons, and people between Europe, North Africa, and West Africa. Terrorists also operate in these areas.
Due to the lack of cyber infrastructure and the relatively low rate of internet penetration, the prevalence of cybercrime is considered low. Information on cybercrime trends in Niger, however, may also be lacking because of the limited abilities of the country’s law enforcement and security forces to monitor and investigate such crimes.
Several primarily jihadi terrorist groups operate in Mali. Most of them are based in their home countries of Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and others, where their insurgencies are intended to overthrow their governments and install jihadi regimes, but they also operate in Niger, where they find safe haven due to a number of factors. These groups include the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), ISIS in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa (ISIS-WA), and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) – the group formed after the Sahara Branch of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Murabitoun, Ansar al-Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front merged in 2017.
The terrorists challenging Niger operate across the borders with its neighbors. In the southeast, for example, Boko Haram and ISIS-WA across Nigeria to attack civilian and military targets in Niger’s Diffa region. Al Qaida (AQ) and Islamic State affiliates transit the Mali and Burkina Faso borders in the west to attack security targets in Niger’s Tillabery region, with other groups crossing into Niger’s Agadez region in the north.
Terrorist groups’ activities also include targeting Westerners for kidnapping for ransom (KFR). The government reported Boko Haram had abducted 57 civilians during the first eight months of 2017, and that 47 of them remained unaccounted for as of September 2017.
The jihadi terrorist groups especially oppose any political or social activity associated with Western society, including voting, attending secular schools, and wearing Western dress.
The following is a selective listing of terrorist incidents since 2007.
February 2007: A Tuareg rebellion broke out by elements of the Tuareg people living in the Sahara desert regions of northern Mali and Niger. It ended in May 2009 following a Libyan backed negotiated ceasefire and peace deal.
January 2011: Two young French citizens, who were working in humanitarian aid, were kidnapped by an al-Qaida affiliated group in Niamey, and subsequently killed as part of an unsuccessful rescue operation.
January 2015: A series of violent protests erupted, notably Zinder and Niamey, in reaction to President Issoufou’s participation in a march to protest the Charlie Hebdo-related terrorist attacks in Paris. Several people were killed and many were injured, with numerous buildings looted and burned.
October 14, 2016: Al Qaida-affiliated gunmen kidnapped Jeffery Woodke, an American aid worker, and killed two people (with one his bodyguard), in Abalak. They fled toward the border with Mali.
October 17, 2016: Gunmen belonging to the Mali-based Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) attempted to break into the Koutoukale high-security prison to free Islamist fighters. The attack was repulsed, with one attacker, who was wearing a suicide belt, killed.
January 2017: In an attack on a military base in southeast Niger, Boko Haram terrorists killed two soldiers and wounded seven others.
2017: In a spate of attacks, Malian jihadists
linked to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) group
attacked soldiers in Ouallam, killing 16 and wounding 18 others.
March 6, 2017: Terrorists belonging to the Islamic State Greater Sahara (SGS) attacked a position of the Nigerien gendarmerie between the villages of Wanzarbe and Yatakala, in the area of Bankilare, Tillabéri Region, near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso, killing seven gendarmes, and wounding four others.
June 28, 2017: Two Boko Haram suicide bombers attacked a refugee camp in Kabelewa, Diffa, killing three refugees and wounding 11 others.
July 2, 2017: Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 37 women and killed 9 people, in the village of Ngalewa in the South West of Niger.
October 4, 2017: ISIS-GS terrorists attacked U.S. and Nigerien Special Operations Forces in Tongo Tongo, Tillabery, killing four U.S. soldiers and five Nigerien soldiers and wounding two U.S. soldiers and four Nigerien soldiers.
October 21, 2017: Although no group claimed credit, jihadist gunmen from Mali attacked a police post in Ayorou near the border with Mali, killing 13 gendarmes.
June 4, 2018: Three suicide bombers who allegedly belonged to Boko Haram attacked a Quranic school in Diffa, near Lake Chad and the borders with Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon, killing 9 people and wounding 37 others.
May 14, 2019: Islamic State fighters ambushed a patrol of 52 Nigerien soldiers in the vicinity of Tonga Tonga, near the border with Mali, killing 28.
Counterterrorism Response Measures
Niger’s counterterrorism campaign faces multifaceted challenges. In general, the country’s long borders and vast areas of harsh terrain present numerous challenges to the country’s counterterrorism services, including making effective border security a challenge.
Officially, a series of laws criminalize acts of terrorism, consistent with international instruments. Nigerien law enforcement and security services take the lead in detecting, deterring, and preventing acts of terrorism on Nigerien territory. Counterterrorism investigations are primarily the responsibility of the Central Service for the Fight against Terrorism (SCLCT), an interagency body comprising representatives from Niger’s National Police, National Guard, and Gendarmerie. Information sharing occurred among the law enforcement agencies of SCLCT. Reportedly, however, these counterterrorism agencies had insufficient manpower, funding, and equipment to conduct their operations effectively.
In 2017, the SCLCT arrested 250 terrorist suspects on charges that included planning acts of terrorism, association with a terrorist organization, recruitment, and terrorist financing. Approximately 1,700 suspected Boko Haram members were detained in Nigerien prisons as of the beginning of 2017, with members of other terrorist groups detained, as well.
In 2017, Niger joined the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. In another counterterrorism alliance, Niger is also a member of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa, which is a Financial Action Task Force regional body.
CT Cooperation with United States
Niger’s counterterrorism (CT) measures are assisted by regional and international partners, especially the United States. From 2012 to 2017, for example, the U.S. Departments of Defense and State provided approximately $240 million in security assistance to programs in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE). The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) programming an additional US $30.9 million, including US $16 million for USAID/Office of Transition Initiatives for CVE programs. In addition to these assistance programs, a U.S. drone facility was completed in Agadez in 2019.
As part of these CT cooperative programs, the U.S. also deployed Special Forces units in Niger. This came to light on October 4, 2017, when terrorists belonging to the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) ambushed Nigerien and U.S. Special Forces soldiers outside the village of Tongo Tongo, in the western Tillaberi region in Niger, near the border Mali border. In the ambush, five Nigeriens and four U.S. soldiers were killed, and eight Nigerien soldiers and two U.S. soldiers (including the team’s commander) were wounded. It was reported that the joint unit’s mission was to locate and capture Doundou Chefou, a top ISGS commander. The American Special Forces unit was part of a larger U.S. military assistance mission in Niger, consisting of some 800 personnel, tasked with training and equipping a new Nigerien Counter Terrorism (CT) force and conducting operations with a Nigerien unit until the new CT Company became operationally ready.
Regionally, Niger stood up the Central Sector Command Post in Niamey for the G-5 Sahel Joint Force, consisting of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, and Mauritania. It also conducted joint patrols with Chad and Nigeria as part of its CT cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram and ISIS-WA.
In early 2017, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali signed an accord creating the Liptako-Gourma authority to direct security operations in the Tri-Border Region where ISIS-GS and AQ are active. In mid-2017 this was folded into the G-5 Sahel Joint Force.
Niger deploys an infantry battalion to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali on a rotational basis.
Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)
Countering violent extremism (CVE) programs are run by the Niger government, through the High Authority for the Consolidation of Peace and the Ministry of Interior. Many of these programs, including symposiums, are administered through international partners and non-government organizations (NGOs).
In another conciliatory component of counterterrorism, the Niger government also engages in demilitarization, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programming. This is especially focused on former Boko Haram and ISIS-WA combatants and defectors who have turned themselves in to authorities in Diffa. In late December 2016, for example, the Minister of Interior announced an amnesty policy for Boko Haram and ISIS-WA fighters who desired to defect. This led in 2017 for some 172 former fighters to defect, with 167 housed in a government-run camp in the Diffa region.
Politically, in the short-term, Niger is expected to remain relatively stable under President Mahamadou Issoufou, who has announced that he will not stand for re-election in 2021 at the end of his two-term mandate, or amend the constitution to extend presidential term limits. In March 2019, Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum was named as the ruling PNDS presidential candidate, likely ensuring policy continuity if elected. On other political fronts, Issoufou will continue to enjoy strong donor support from Europe and the United States due to his co-operation in regional counter-terrorism, as well as taking steps to reduce illegal migration.
In another area, relations with Benin re expected to deteriorate due to its hosting of exiled Nigerien opposition leader Hama Amadou, although any disputes with such neighbors are more likely to be resolved through arbitration than military confrontation.
Social stability, however, is fragile, with downside risks expected, such as large-scale protests over the high cost of living and corruption, jihadist-related inter-communal violence and the social impact of climate crises.
Economically, the global recovery in uranium prices and economic assistance from Europe and the United States are expected to accelerate economic growth. Chinese investors will continue to be interested in the Agadem crude oil block and the refinery in Zinder town, so increased energy-sector investment is likely. Due to financial shortfalls, the government’s budgets will remain dependent on external financing in terms of aid from donor countries. As a result of these and other factors, Niger will be challenged to avoid accumulating debt to finance government programs, including those aimed at poverty reduction. It will be up to supervision by international financial bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to guide the Niger government to take the necessary measures to improve its fiscal capacity through appropriate budgetary controls to meet its fiscal targets.
Regarding future trends in terrorism, local inter-communal ethnic disputes will continue to complicate the counterterrorism campaign against Sahel jihadists. In a related trend, elements in ethnic groups will continue to identify themselves with these jihadist groups. Terrorist attacks by groups such as Boko Haram and Mali-based al Qaida- and Islamic State-related groups will continue, including attacks in the capital, Niamey, where they will also target venues patronized by Westerners, as well as transport hubs, mining sites, security forces, diplomatic assets, major hotels, and government buildings. The western Tahoua and Tillaberi regions will remain terrorist hotspots, where there are spillovers of terrorist activity from Mali. Kidnap risks are expected to be high around Agadez and along the borders with Mali and Libya.
Recommendations for Improving Current Situation
Stability in Niger, as with its neighbors, will be achieved if the combined efforts of internal and external actors succeed in resolving the country’s myriad problems. Niger will benefit from the global recovery in uranium prices, which should lead to greater economic diversification, with investments focused on the crude oil sector and its medium-term prospects for higher prices.
In conclusion, as with its neighbors who experience similar challenges, early warning forecasting mechanisms need to be established by Niger on the governmental and private sector levels that will support the prioritization of resource expenditures to redress problems in areas such as agriculture and livestock production that might be negatively affected by climate stress, politically-driven inter-communal and jihadist violence, and food shortage crises. These should include mechanisms such as the World Bank’s Famine Action Mechanism, the UN’s Early Action System, the ACLED violence monitoring datasets, and Uppsala’s Violence Early Warning System (VIEWS), and others.