Niger, in West Africa’s Sahara region, is surrounded by Mali, Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, and Burkina Faso. The Niger River in the southwest flows through the country’s only fertile area. Elsewhere the land is semiarid.
The nomadic Tuaregs were the first inhabitants in the Sahara region. The Hausa (14th century), Zerma (17th century), Gobir (18th century), and Fulani (19th century) also established themselves in the region now called Niger.
Niger was incorporated into French West Africa in 1896. There were frequent rebellions, but when order was restored in 1922, the French made the area a colony. In 1958, the voters approved the French constitution and voted to make the territory an autonomous republic within the French Community. The republic adopted a constitution in 1959 but the next year withdrew from the Community, proclaiming its independence.
French, inherited from the colonial period, is the official language. It is spoken mainly as a second language by people who have received a formal western education and serves as the administrative language. Niger has eight main indigenous languages which are also classified as “national languages”: Hausa (Hausa group), Zarma (Zarma-Sonrai group), Tamasheq (Tuareg group), Fulfulde (Peulh or Fula group), Kanuri (Kanuri group), Tubu (Tubu group), Arabic (Arabic group) and Gourmanchéma (Gourmanché group). Each is spoken as a first language primarily by the ethnic group with which it is associated. Hausa and Zarma-Sonrai, the two most spoken languages, are widely spoken throughout the country as first or second languages.
Islam, widespread in the region since the 10th century, has greatly shaped the culture and the people of Niger. Islam is the most dominant religion practiced by 99% of the population.