Considerable evidence indicates that about 600,000 years ago, humans inhabited what has since become the desolate Sahara of northern Niger. Long before the arrival of French influence and control in the area, Niger was an important economic crossroads, and the empires of Songhai, Mali, Gao, Kanem, and Bornu, as well as a number of Hausa states, claimed control over portions of the area.
During recent centuries, the nomadic Tuareg formed large confederations, pushed southward, and, siding with various Hausa states, clashed with the Fulani Empire of Sokoto, which had gained control of much of the Hausa territory in the late 18th century. In the 19th century, contact with the West began when the first European explorers--notably Mungo Park (British) and Heinrich Barth (German)--explored the area searching for the mouth of the Niger River. Although French efforts at pacification began before 1900, dissident ethnic groups, especially the desert Tuareg, were not subdued until 1922, when Niger became a French colony.
Niger's colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered her West African colonies through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies. A further revision in the organization of overseas territories occurred with the passage of the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956, followed by reorganizational measures enacted by the French Parliament early in 1957. In addition to removing voting inequalities, these laws provided for creation of governmental organs, assuring individual territories a large measure of self-government. After the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. Following full independence on August 3, 1960, however, membership was allowed to lapse.
For its first 14 years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-
party civilian regime under the presidency of Hamani Diori. In 1974, a
combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant
corruption resulted in a military coup which overthrew the Diori
regime. Col. Seyni Kountche and a small group of military ruled the
country until Kountche's death in 1987. He was succeeded by his Chief
of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who released political prisoners, liberalized
some of Niger's laws and policies, and promulgated a new constitution.
However, President Saibou's efforts to control political reforms failed
in the face of union and student demands to institute a multi-party
democratic system. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands by
the end of 1990. New political parties and civic associations sprang up
and a National Conference was convened in July 1991 to prepare the
way for the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of free and
fair elections. A transition government was installed in November 1991
to manage the affairs of state until the institutions of the Third Republic
were put in place in April 1993.