Niger, becoming independent in 1960 after the dissolution of French West Africa, has to wait longer than other French colonies in the region before even lip service is paid to the principles of democracy.
The country’s first president, Hamani Diori, is an experienced politician in the French system (as a delegate to the national assembly in Paris, and one of the assembly’s vice-presidents in 1957-8), but when he is elected president of Niger, in 1960, he immediately puts in place a single-party system, banning all opposition. Diori remains in power until in 1974, when he is toppled in a coup led by his military chief of staff, Lt-Col. Seyni Kountché.
Kountché rules as a military dicator until his death in 1987. He is peacefully succeeded in the role by his cousin, Col. Ali Saibou. It is Saibou who finally attempts Niger’s transition to democracy. He convenes in 1991 a national conference with powers to vote on the country’s future.
The conference votes to strip Saibou of his executive role (while leaving him as titular head of state) and to put in place a transitional government until elections can be held in 1993. In these elections an alliance of opposition parties (AFC, Alliance of Forces for Change) wins a majority of seats in the national assembly and forms Niger’s first democratic government. The AFC candidate, Mahamane Ousmane, is elected president.
A shift in the coalition leads to a change of government in 1995. But this is almost academic, since the army takes power again in 1996 in a coup led by Col. Ibrahim Baré Mainassara.
Mainassara arranges new elections later in the same year. The presidential election bring Mainassara himself 52.5% of the vote, whereupon the opposition parties challenge the result (unsuccessfully) in the supreme court, claiming widespread electoral fraud. The opposition then boycotts the subsequent parliamentary elections, giving control of the national assembly to Mainassara’s party, the National Union of Independents for Democratic Renewal.
The 1990s are dominated in Niger by a bitter conflict with the nomadic Tuareg in the north of the country (as is the case also in neighbouring Mali during the same period). Several different Tuareg insurgent groups emerge, demanding greater autonomy over their region and support for the ancient but threatened Tuareg culture (in such details as the teaching of the Tuareg language, Tamashek, in schools).
In 1995 the government agrees a peace accord and an amnesty with one of the Tuareg groups. In 1997 the last of them accepts the terms of the agreement.