Political Rights: 3
Civil Liberties: 3
Status: Partly Free
Life Expectancy: 45
Religious Groups: Muslim (80 percent), other [including indigenous beliefs and Christian] (20 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Hausa (56 percent), Djerma (22 percent), Fula (9 percent), Tuareg (8 percent), Beri Beri (4 percent), other (1 percent)
Niger's political rights and civil liberties ratings improved from 4 to 3 due to the greater representation of minorities in government and modest improvements in press freedom.
President Mamadou Tandja was expected to win a second term in the second round of presidential elections to be held in December 2004. He led the first round of voting held in November. Press freedom registered modest improvements during the year.
After gaining independence from France in 1960, Niger was governed for 30 years by one-party and military regimes dominated by leaders of Hausa or Djerma ethnicity. After 13 years of direct military rule, Niger was transformed into a nominally civilian, one-party state in 1987 under General Ali Seibou. International pressure and pro-democracy demonstrations led by the umbrella organization Niger Union of Trade Union Workers forced Niger's rulers to accede to the Africa-wide trend towards democratization in 1990. An all-party national conference drafted a new constitution that was adopted in a national referendum in 1992.
Mahamane Ousmane, of the Alliance of Forces for Change, won a five-year term as the country's first democratically elected president in 1993 in elections deemed to be free and fair. General Ibrahim Bare Mainassara overthrew Ousmane in January 1996 and won fraudulent elections six months later. Parliamentary elections in November were held in an atmosphere of intense intimidation and were boycotted by most opposition parties.
In April 1999, Mainassara was assassinated by members of the presidential guard. The head of the guard led a transitional government that held a constitutional referendum in July and national elections in November. In the presidential election, Tandja won in a second round of polling with 60 percent of the vote, defeating former president Ousmane. Tandja's party, the National Movement for a Developing Society (NMDS), and its partner, the Democratic and Social Convention, achieved a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly by winning 55 of the 83 seats. The other coalition – the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), and the Rally for Democracy and Progress – won the remaining 28 seats. Both elections were deemed to be free and fair by international observers.
Tandja was expected to win a second term in presidential elections held in December 2004. Tandja led the first round of voting in November and will face off against Mahamadou Issoufou of the PNDS. Tandja's party and its allies made a strong showing in local government elections in July 2004. Analysts say Tandja's rural development policies have received strong support from subsistence farmers, who account for the majority of the population.
Niger is working with the United States as part of the Pan Sahel Initiative to promote security and stem the growth of terrorist organizations across the vast Sahel region.
Niger is struggling to implement unpopular structural reforms in an economy based mainly on subsistence farming, small trading, herding, and informal markets. Uranium is the most important export, but world demand has declined. The IMF, in June 2004, praised Niger for its poverty-reduction efforts.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens of Niger can change their government democratically. Both the presidential and legislative polls in November 1999 were considered to be free and fair. In the first round of voting for presidential elections in November 2004, President Mamadou Tandja of the NMDS led with 40.7 percent, followed by Mahamadou Issoufou of the PNDS with 24.6 percent and Mahamane Ousmane of the Democratic and Social Convention with 17.4 percent. Six candidates contested the first round of voting. Tandja and Issoufou faced a runoff in the second round in December and Tandja was expected to win. The ruling party, backed by a coalition of four other parties, was to compete for 113 National Assembly seats against six other parties in December.
In 2003, opposition parties, grouped in an alliance called the Coordination of Democratic Forces, criticized President Mamadou Tandja for what they said was an attempt to drive through a revision of the country's electoral law without the consultation of opposition parties. A new law would no longer oblige government ministers to resign before seeking electoral office. It would also abolish a requirement that the head of the Independent National Electoral Commission be a judge or magistrate.
Niger's president is directly elected every five years. The country has a power sharing presidential system, with the president as head of state and the prime minister as head of government. The president must choose the prime minister from a list of three persons presented by the majority party or coalition in the representative unicameral National Assembly.
Niger was ranked 122 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index. Niger's Association for the Fight against Corruption broadcast a series of television sketches in 2001 about the problem of corruption to raise awareness of the issue. The Network of Malian Journalists against Corruption and Poverty has expressed dismay over the slow pace of prosecution once wrongdoers are exposed.
Constitutional protections for free expression are guaranteed, but these rights are not always respected in practice. Criminal penalties are exacted for violations such as slander. Members of the media acknowledge that financial difficulties and a lack of training make it difficult to stay independent. A government newspaper and several private publications circulate, and there are dozens of private radio stations, some of which broadcast in local languages. The government does not restrict Internet access.
Press freedom saw modest improvements in 2004, with only one journalist was reportedly detained during the year, compared with several journalists who were arrested in 2003. The Media Foundation for West Africa, based in Accra, Ghana, reported that the director of the independent radio station Saraounia FM was arrested in August 2004 after an interview with the reputed leader of a rebel group was aired. Mamane Abou, director of Niger's private weekly newspaper Le Republicain, was released from prison in January 2004 after spending two months in jail for criminal defamation. An appeals court granted his provisional release pending a second criminal case that was brought against him for "theft of documents." He was arrested in November 2003 in connection with an article that accused several government ministers of using unauthorized government funds to pay for government contracts; a criminal court sentenced him to six months in jail and ordered him to pay a hefty fine.
Freedom of religion is respected, although, at times, Muslims have not been tolerant of the rights of members of minority religions to practice their faith. Islam is practiced by 80 percent of the population. Academic freedom is guaranteed but is not always respected. Security forces used tear gas to break up demonstrations at Abdou Moumouni University in 2004 and some students were arrested. They had set up barricades, burned tires and damaged vehicles while protesting against scholarship arrears, poor housing conditions and a lack of transportation. The students were released within two weeks.
Constitutional guarantees of freedom of assembly and association are generally respected. Human rights and other nongovernmental organizations operate openly and freely in Niger and publish reports that are often highly critical of the government. Workers have the right to form unions and bargain for wages, although more than 95 percent of the workforce is employed in the non-unionized subsistence agricultural and small-trading sectors.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and courts have shown signs of independence. However, the judiciary is overburdened, limited by scant training and resources, and occasionally subject to executive interference and other outside influence. Efforts at reform are underway, and respect for human rights has improved under Tandja's government. However, prolonged pretrial detention remains a problem. Prisons are characterized by overcrowding and poor health and sanitary conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups have unrestricted access to prisons and detention centers.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities persists, despite constitutional protections. The Hausa and Djerma ethnic groups dominate government and business, although major ethnic groups are represented at all levels of government. The government has supported greater minority representation in the National Assembly by designating eight seats for representatives of "special constituencies," specifically ethnic minorities and nomadic populations.
Nomadic peoples, such as the Tuaregs and many Peul, continue to have less access to government services. Under pressure from human rights groups, the National Assembly in 2003 banned the keeping or trading of slaves. The local human rights group Timidria campaigns against the practice of slavery.
Women suffer extensive societal discrimination, especially in rural areas. Family law gives women inferior status in property, inheritance rights, and divorce. In the East, some women among the Hausa and Peul ethnic groups are cloistered and may leave their homes only if escorted by a male and usually only after dark. Domestic violence against women is reportedly widespread. Sexual harassment and performing female genital mutilation are criminal offenses. Several women's rights organizations operate in the country, and the government has begun a project aimed at improving gender equality.
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