On the 12th of July 1960, the New York Times published an article announcing that France had agreed to grant the West African nation of Niger independence from its colonial rule. The nation state’s independence wasn’t declared until August 3rd, which has become the official date of the country’s annual independence day celebrations.
The year 1960 has often been referred to as the “Year of Africa” alluding to the wave of African nations that claimed independence during this period. As part of Francophone West Africa, Niger’s independence was preceded by the French leader Charles De Gaulle deciding to permit member states of the French Community to claim independence should they choose to. Perceivably prompted by Guinea’s decision not to become a member state of the French Community and claiming independence two years prior to the “Year of Africa”, French colonies in Sub-saharan Africa became independent states in their own right, with Niger being the sixth out of thirteen French colonies.
In its earliest years, dating up to five thousand years ago, the northern regions of Niger were fertile lands inhabited by farmers until desertification some 2000 years later forced the people into a nomadic and indigenous culture that has been sustained in the country until today, made up of the Peul, Tuareg and Toubou people.
The existence of these nomadic groups despite colonisation is perceivably a testament to the tenacity of Nigerien culture, along with the fact that Niger was one of the last African countries to be colonised.
France’s pursuit for African nations in the “Scramble for Africa” essentially began in the 17th century but it wasn’t until 1922 that France took control of Niger where it became Colonie du Niger. Niger, under colonial rule, was not substantially different to other French West African countries. Niger had a governor, but like other French West African nations, the country was administered from Dakar in Senegal by a Parisian delegate.
French colonial rule was particularly short-lived in Niger, lasting only 28 years when Niger claimed independence in 1960, under Hamani Diori, the first Prime Minister of the Republique du Niger. It was hoped that Niger’s political and economic affairs would follow the trajectory set out by their independence. However, the end of French colonial rule in Niger, as with most independent African nation-states, did not allow for an easy transition to a democratic and self-sustaining government or economy. The Nigerien Progressive Party (PPN) was the central political party of the pre-independence era and became the only political party after the French government banned all political parties excluding the PPN.
Founder and leader of the PPN, Diori, was then Prime Minister until he was overthrown in a military coup in 1974. An advocate for maintaining the social structures and economic ties with France, Diori was received positively in Europe as a spokesman for Africa. However, in Niger, corruption was given space to flourish as his government was inadequate in preventing widespread famine.
The following years were spent under military rule. In 2011 Niger returned to democracy and Mahamadou Issoufou, Prime Minister between 1993 and 1994, and described by The Economist as “ally of the West”, was elected as President.
Despite the fact that Niger, like the rest of Africa, is still recovering from the social, political and economic trauma of colonial rule, the country in 2018, has proven to be headed in a positive pan-African direction. In June of this year, Issoufou expressed his disapproval of US and other foreign troops fighting in Niger. For Issoufou, the focus should be on helping the nation to “reinforce the operational capacity of our security forces through training, equipment and intelligence” instead of “fighting jihadists”. He also argued that “Europe is not doing enough to support Niger in addressing the root causes of migration”, as “Niger is doing its part to keep the number of people crossing the Mediterranean low” and therefore “Europe must do more to help fight poverty and create jobs”. In addition to this, Issoufou has also promised not to follow in the footsteps of many African leaders, and will step down as President at the end of his term in 2021.
Niger will commemorate their 58th independence day by planting new trees to preserve its ecosystem and combat desertification as is customary for Le Fête de l’Arbre, which translates to “The Tree Festival”.