Niger, country, Africa: Early History and Colonialism

Early History and Colonialism

Numerous Neolithic remains of early pastoralism have been found in the desert areas of Niger. Ptolemy wrote of Roman expeditions to the Aïr Massif. In the 11th cent. a.d., Tuareg migrated from the desert to the Aïr region, where they later (c.1300) established a state centered at Agadez. Agadez was situated on a major trans-Saharan caravan route that connected N Africa with present-day N Nigeria. In E Niger, Bilma, a salt-mining center, was on another important trans-Saharan route that linked N Africa with the state of Bornu (located in present-day NE Nigeria).

In the 14th cent. the Hausa (most of whom lived in what is now N Nigeria) founded several city-states in S Niger. In the early 16th cent. much of W and central Niger came under the Songhai empire (centered at Gao on the Niger River in present-day Mali), and after the fall of Songhai at the end of the 16th cent. E and central Niger passed to Bornu. In the 17th cent. the Djerma people settled in SW Niger near the Niger River. In the early 19th cent. Fulani gained control of S Niger as a result of the holy war waged against the Hausa by the Muslim reformer Usuman dan Fodio.

At the Conference of Berlin (1884–85) the territory of Niger was placed within the French sphere of influence. The French established several military posts in S Niger in the late 1890s, but did not occupy Agadez until 1904 because of concerted Tuareg resistance. In 1900, Niger was made a military territory within Upper Senegal–Niger, and in 1922 it was constituted a separate colony within French West Africa. Zinder was the colony's capital until 1926, when it was replaced by Niamey. The French generally governed through existing political structures and did not alter substantially the institutions of the country; they undertook little economic development and provided few new educational opportunities.

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