Facts About Niger's Culture, Geography, and History
Niger is the largest country in Western Africa. We have put together the following 12 interesting facts about Niger to give you an overview of this 1.2 million kilometers square land.
12. Niger, officially the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. Niger borders seven countries.
Niger got its independence from France in 1960. It borders Algeria and Libya to the north, Chad to the East, Nigeria and Benin to the south, and Burkina Faso and Mali to the west. Niger has had turbulent political history characterized by military coups and Constitutional coups. There have been five New Constitutions in place over its independence period and almost a dozen military coups.
11. Unlike the Nile that is unclear, the Niger River is clear over the whole course. This is attributed to an absence of silt.
Niger River, the third-longest river in Africa, has its source in Guinea. It runs 4,180 kilometers passing through five countries before pouring its content into the Atlantic Ocean via the Niger Delta. What makes waters of Niger River to be clear is due to its headwaters flowing over ancient rocks that have very little silt.
Niger River is bow-shaped – at first, running away from the Atlantic Ocean just some 250 kilometers from the shores and making a long journey through the interiors towards Sahara desert only to turn back towards the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles ahead.
The Niger River cuts through a very fascinating terrain planting along several lakes on its path. This makes it such a great place for nature excursions.
10. The nation is a secular state with the separation of religion and state guaranteed in the constitution. The most dominant religion practiced in Niger is Islam, with about 80% of the populace identifying themselves as Muslims.
Despite Niger being predominantly Muslim, Islam is not a State religion. There is a clear separation of religion and State. Governments are secular and religious fundamentalism is not adverse as practiced in the Middle East and some parts of North Africa.
9. The main staple food of Niger is millet.
Millet is a great crop when it comes to surviving harsh and dry conditions. This is why millet does well in Niger and thus its main staple food. While peanuts are also grown, millet is dominant due to it being easy to store for long and use as a base meal for other meals.
Millet can be ground to make porridge or gruel. It can be eaten together with meat, vegetables, soup, and other accompaniments. It can also be fed to domesticated birds.
8. Traditional sports such as horse racing, camel racing, and wrestling still survive and form a focal point in the socialization of the Niger people.
Modernity in Niger is still far away. Most of the communities still engage in ancient practices. Horses and camels being the main mode of transport in Niger, people find it easy to use them in racing activities just as the Western world uses cars in their transport and racing activities.
Men spend a lot of time on horses and camels as they travel and herd their cattle and other livestock. Nonetheless, the racing activities are quite entertaining and a great way to have fun and enjoy your holidays in Niger.
7. A mere 2.8% of the total land area in Niger is cultivated.
With 80% of its landmass resting in the hot Saharan Desert, there is little land left for cultivation. Most cultivation activities are carried along the banks of Niger River and the southern parts that border Nigeria and Benin. Furthermore, most of the population comprise of nomadic pastoralists who hardly practice cultivation.
6. The mains agricultural export from Niger is peanuts; the second-largest agricultural export is cotton.
Niger’s agriculture is still primitive and traditional. Combined with adverse climatic conditions, there is hardly large-scale commercial farming, save for cotton. Peanut is the dominant agricultural export. Peanut farming takes place along the southern borders, especially the Nigerian border region.
Only 12% of the land is arable. Most cultivation is done on small pieces of land averaging about 5 acres. There is little mechanization and very little irrigation.
UNICEF is one of the largest buyers of Niger’s peanut as it uses them to feed millions of children across Africa and developing countries that face acute protein malnutrition.
5. With a land area of 1,267,000 km square km, Niger is the largest country in West Africa.
Compared to the state of Texas, Niger is almost double its size. It is an expansive land with almost 80% of it being in the Sahara Desert. Although the bulk of Niger rests in Western Africa, a significant portion of it rests in central Africa, bordering Chad. Most of this huge swath of land lacks a vegetative cover.
4. Niger is one of the poorest nations on the earth with a UN Human Development Index of 2014 ranking it as 188th in the world.
Political instability, geographical factors, demographic factors, and poor governance, among other factors, have contributed to low levels of development in Niger. It is one of the most illiterate countries in the world with literacy levels that are just about 30%. Even though Niger has mineral deposits including uranium, oil, and gold, among others, these have not improved its economic status. It has had only one public university for long, with less than 50% of the children attending school. Human development is extremely low.
3. Niger has a rich cultural history having been the stomping ground of some of Africa’s most notably empires and kingdoms. The Songhai Empire and the Mali Kingdom were domiciled in this territory.
Human habitation in Niger is estimated to have started as early as 2 million years ago. Human settlements date as early as 7500 BCE. Apart from hosting the Songhai Empire and the Mali Kingdom, Niger was active in the trade of gold, salt, ivory, metals, and beads, among others. It was a trading route between the Southern empires of the Sahel and the Northern empires of the Mediterranean basin.
2. Tuareg men wear blue-dyed veils across their eyes and were referred to as the “Blue Men” of the Sahara Desert in bygone times.
The Tuaregs are descendants of the Berbers. As such, they practice Islam. However, they still retain their traditions, which, to some extent, contradict the teachings of Islam. For example, it is men rather than women that wear a veil. This blue-dyed veil is for men. Sometimes the dye leeches to their skin thus giving it bluish appearance.
This is what makes them called ‘Blue Men’. Apart from men wearing veil, it is also women who marry and divorce men. A man who gets married leaves his mother’s tent to go and live in his mother-in-law’s tent. When a man gets divorced, he goes back to his mother’s tent. It is a matrilineal society. Women own almost everything except camels and horses.
Tuareg culture is a unique culture that can teach the world a lot in terms of gender relations. It is a wonderful society to visit for cultural tourism.
1. Niger is considered one of the hottest nations in the world and is aptly nicknamed the “Frying Pan of the World.”
Niger rests at some of the hottest points of the Sahara Desert. Being close to the Equator contributes to it receiving a greater share of strong sun rays. Typical temperatures range between 31 degrees Celsius and 41 degrees Celsius. However, the air in the southern and southwestern regions can be unpleasantly warm and humid, unlike the eastern and northern parts whose air is dry.
Niger is an expansive land nurturing diverse cultures. It is a country that seems to harbor distinct nations. It is home to the famous Tuaregs and their more than one-millennium heritage that remains largely unadulterated. This is definitely a place to visit, especially if you are a fan of camel derby and authentic culture.