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Five things to know about Niger

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[FILES] Niger’s outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou speaks during an interview with AFP at the presidential palace in Niamey on December 29, 2020. – President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011 after the country’s last coup in 2010, is voluntarily stepping down after two five-year terms. Voters went to the polls on December 27, 2020 in Niger’s presidential and legislative elections. (Photo by Issouf SANOGO / AFP)

Here are five things to know about Niger, which votes in a presidential run-off election on Sunday.

– Poverty and migrants -With its 22.4 million — mainly Muslim — people, Niger is among the world’s poorest countries. For nine straight years it has ranked last out of 189 nations in the UN’s Human Development Index, which compares longevity, education, and income per capita.

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Despite progress, the extreme poverty rate remained very high at 41.4 percent in 2019, according to the World Bank.

Before the coronavirus pandemic led it to close its borders, Niger, which is almost three times the size of California, was a transit country for African migrants seeking to reach Europe.

– Politically unstable -Independent from France since 1960, Niger has not seen a peaceful handover of power since its first democratic elections in 1993, with every serious political crisis ending in a coup.

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Outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou, elected in 2011 and 2016, is not standing again, and his main rival Hama Amadou has been barred from running.

Issoufou supports his anointed successor Mohamed Bazoum, who won December’s first-round vote, in the run-off against former president Mahamane Ousmane.

– Jihadist threat -Along with Sahel neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is struggling with a jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then spread through highly-porous borders.

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It has also been attacked repeatedly in the south by Islamist militants from the Nigerian movement Boko Haram.

In late 2019 and early 2020, three jihadist attacks killed 174 people, leaving the country in shock.

More than 100 civilians were killed in attacks on two western villages on January 2, 2021.

Niger’s military has received training and logistical support from the United States and France, which have military bases there.

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In 2017 four US special forces and five Nigeriens were killed in an ambush on their joint patrol by about 50 men from the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara group. 

According to the UN, jihadist attacks, which often involve inter-communal conflicts, left 4,000 dead across Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in 2019.

– Uranium mines -Uranium is Niger’s leading export, with the country among the world’s biggest producers.

Niger also became a small-scale producer of gold and oil.

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But it has been buffeted by falling prices for both oil and uranium.

More than 40 percent of its GDP comes from agriculture, which also employs nearly 80 percent of the population, and is vulnerable to climate change, according to the African Development Bank.

Niger is already an arid nation but faces increasing desertification because of global warming and human activity.

It has endured repeated famines, with hunger in 1972-73 and 1984-85 blamed on drought and outdated agricultural methods.

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Flooding between June and October 2020 created a new crisis, resulting in 2.2 million people needing food aid.

Its promising growth prospects have also taken a hit from the Covid-19 pandemic.

– Tourism troubles – The Koure National Park, a haven for the West African giraffe, was closed after the Islamic State killed eight people in August, including six young French aid workers.

The clay architecture of the 15th-century Tuareg city of Agadez in the north is listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Site, and was very popular with tourists before the jihadist attacks scared them away. 

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