Niger is an independent, democratically governed republic that lies to the north of Nigeria. Much of the country lies within the Sahara Desert belt, and forms part of the landlocked West African Region. The capital city is Niamey.

The official language is French but a number of African languages are more widely spoken. The local currency is the CFA-franc. (US$ / CFA Franc – current exchange rate).

The economy of Niger focuses on rural, subsistence agriculture, re-export trade and a small cotton industry and is thus largely affected by weather conditions. The mining industry in Niger is key to its economy and is a major source of foreign exchange and government revenue. The country is largely reliant upon the exploitation of its vast uranium deposits and has been affected by a declining international demand and lower prices for uranium. Its oil industry is an important sub-element in its economy. The upstream potential of Niger has yet to be established. On the downstream side, 4 international oil companies are engaged in the distribution and marketing of petroleum products. Electricity is provided by the parastatal utility Societe Nigerienne d’Electricite (Nigelec). Niger receives power from two local thermal power stations and from the hydro-electric station on the Kainji Dam in Nigeria.

Debt relief and economic aid cover the country’s operating expenses and public investment and the IMF and the World Bank have designed structural adjustment programmes for Niger. Public finance management has been addressed through a widening of the tax base and strengthening of tax administration. Expenditure restructuring has taken place through a substantial cut of the wage bill in 1997 and an increase in non-wage social services expenditure. 1997 also saw the launch of a major privatisation program of the water, power and telecommunications utilities.

The international time zone for Niger is GMT and the international dialling code is +227. International airports at Niamey and Agades serve Air Afrique and Air France while regional airports are at Arlit, Diffa, Tahoua and Zinder. All visitors to Niger require visas except nationals of the European Union, Scandinavian countries, and most West and North African countries.

Medical services may require advance payment and can be expensive. Vaccinations may also be required prior to arrival in Niger and medical insurance should be arranged. The state of health, current immunisation status, location and the local disease situation create the risk of possible contraction of cholera, hepatitis A, malaria, meningitis, schistosomiasis, tuberculosis, typhoid and yellow fever.

Shaun Bakamoso

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