African Studies Niger
Abdourahmane Idrissa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0203


Niger is the quintessential Sahelian country. Its territory lies entirely in that hot and arid steppe where the West African savanna gradually shades into the Sahara desert, constituting also a meeting ground between “Sudan” and “Bidan” (i.e., between “black” and “white” Africa). For centuries, this was a corridor for trade routes connecting the Mediterranean seaboard to centers of wealth and empire in West Africa, notably the Songhay Empire in the 16th century and the Hausa city-states until the early 20th century. Assembled almost as an afterthought of French colonial expansion around 1900, the country has long remained very much of marginal interest for international scholarship, although it has drawn focused attentions in particular areas of research. Thus, it is a darling of paleontology, and a Western passion for the Tuareg has yielded an enormous, if rather disproportionate, literature on the desert nomads. Yet Niger’s specificities lie precisely in its apparent marginality, which has allowed for the development of cultures away from the homogenizing force of the imperial (Ghana, Mali, Songhay) and state (Hausa city-states) hegemonies that controlled people in neighboring countries. As a result—although with the homogenizing overlay of Islam, a religion that became universal in the country during the colonial period—Niger is a richly diverse country, united by one dominant factor: a common resilient adaptation of people to the harsh Sahelian environment. Sitting at the juncture between North and West Africa, on the one hand, and Nigeria and the French-speaking Sahel, on the other, Niger is a crossroads that paradoxically draws its sense of national unity from the centrifugal forces that come from its peculiar geostrategic position. Latterly, interest in the country has diversified and expanded, and scholarship on many more aspects of its culture and history is being produced. One can therefore better grasp the pivotal role actually played by its peoples and territory in West Africa, past and present. Much of this output is, however, in French.

General Overviews

General works on Niger are sparse. There are only three comprehensive histories, and two of these, Séré de Rivières 1965 and Fuglestad 1983, stop at independence. Salifou 2010 is a more recent general history, first published in 1990. Salifou also authored a general presentation of the country, which combines the qualities of a textbook and those of a tourist guide (Salifou 2003). Volume 38 (June 1990) of Politique Africaine (Special Issue: Le Niger: Chroniques d’un Etat), the flagship French journal on politics in Africa, chronicles Niger’s political and economic evolution leading to the early 1990s, dealing with the rise and fall of the developmental state. Donaint and Lancrenon 1976 is an overview of the country; though dated, it still presents an accurate image of socioeconomic conditions in Niger, given that no structural transformation has occurred since it was published. On the Sahel and the West African region as a whole, mention may be made of Giri 1994, which provides a historical panorama (Giri 1994), and Mato 2007, an edited volume on Niger in West Africa.

  • Donaint, Pierre, and François Lancrenon. Le Niger. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1976.

    A short but detailed overview of Niger, with an emphasis on socioeconomic conditions by the mid-1970s. The conditions described remain much the same, even as the population has more than quadrupled since the 1970s.

  • Fuglestad, Finn. A History of Niger, 1850–1960. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    A narrative of over a century of Nigerien history leading to political independence in 1960. Aspects of this work are dated in terms of sources and some of the theoretical perspectives. However, it remains an invaluable, well-researched study for the period considered.

  • Giri, Jacques. Histoire économique du Sahel: Des empires à la colonisation. Paris: Karthala, 1994.

    This medium-size volume by a nonhistorian introduces the history of the Sahel from prehistorical times to the eve of colonialism, with an emphasis on economic structures and change. The work has no original thesis, but it is a handy resource on a subject that has seldom, if ever, been charted in a single volume.

  • Mato, Maman Waziri, ed. Les Etats-nations face à l’intégration régionale en Afrique de l’Ouest: Le cas du Niger. Paris: Karthala, 2007.

    A collection of studies on Niger’s insertion—formal and informal, political and economic, past and present—in the West African region by Nigerien scholars, in a series on West African regional integration. Each essay in the volume is followed by a comment piece by a different scholar.

  • Raynaut, Claude, and Robert Buijtenhuijs, eds. Special Issue: Le Niger: Chroniques d’un Etat. Politique Africaine 38 (June 1990).

    This special issue of Politique Africaine offers an analytical review of Niger’s first thirty years of independence. Articles cover the evolution of political institutions, the political role of the military, traditional chieftaincy, the Tuareg, economic dynamism, crisis, and aid.

  • Salifou, André. Histoire du Niger: Époques précoloniale et coloniale. Paris: Nathan, 2010.

    The general history of reference of the country. It covers the medieval era and provides overviews of the histories of Niger’s ethnic societies across the centuries, with a stress on the Hausa, the Songhay-Zarma, and the Tuareg. The book was first published in 1990 and stops with the fall of Niger’s first republic, in 1974.

  • Salifou, André. Le Niger. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2003.

    A general introduction to Niger that includes geographic descriptions, light history covering several centuries, and a factual presentation of recent events, both political and economic, into the late 1990s.

  • Séré de Rivières, Edmond. Histoire du Niger. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1965.

    A history of Niger’s peoples from precolonial centuries to the early years of independence.

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