Reaching the Nations

Niger

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area:  1,267,000 square km.  Landlocked in sub-Saharan Western African, Niger is landlocked and borders Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Algeria.  The Sahara Desert experiences a hot, arid climate and occupies all but the southern 20% of the country.  Agriculture is limited to the southern areas with savannahs receiving the most precipitation.  The terrain is very flat with a few mountains in the middle of Niger.  The Niger River runs through the far western portions of the country.  Overgrazing and desertification are the primary environmental concerns.  Niger is divided into eight administrative regions, one of which is the capital district.

Population: 15,306,252 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 3.677% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 7.75 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: male 51.39, female 53.85 (2009)

Peoples

Haoussa: 55.4%

Djerma Sonrai: 21%

Tuareg: 9.3%

Peuhl: 8.5%

Kanouri Manga: 4.7%

Other: 1.2%

Haoussa live in the most densely populated areas in southern Niger and in northern Nigeria.  Djerma Sonrai populate areas along the Niger River.  Tuareg reside in northern desert areas, the Peuhl or Fulani in Central Niger, and the Kanouri Manga in southeastern areas.

Languages: Hausa (36%), Zarma (15%), other (49%).  French is the official language.  21 native languages are spoken.  Most widely spoken languages will less than one million speakers include Fula dialects (900,000), Tamajaq dialects (700,000), and Kanuri dialects (420,000).  Languages with over one million speakers include Hausa (5.46 million) and Zarma (2.35 million). 

Literacy: 28.7% (2003)

History

African tribes settled Niger thousands of years ago.  Various African kingdoms have exerted influence on the region, namely the Songhai, Mali, and Hausa.  France began trading and exploring the area in the 19th century but did not make Niger a colony until the 1920s.  Independence from France occurred in 1960 followed by single-party military rule until 1991.  Niger held its first multi-party elections in the early 1990s which held to the establishment of a democratic government in 1993.  The democratic government was short-lived and was overthrown in 1996 by military leader named Ibrahim Bare.  Pro-democracy fighters killed Bare in 1999 and reestablished the democratic government.  Mamadou Tandja has remained president for the past decade and continues to push toward lengthening his term in office.  Fighting between ethnic groups and little government control of Niger has consistently hurt economic development and stability.  Insurgency has regularly occurred with some marginalized ethnic groups, mainly the Tuaregs.  The Tuaregs rebelled in 2007 and brought war to northern Niger for two years before a ceasefire was reached.  Another military coup overthrew the government in February 2010.

Culture

Islam heavily influences society.  Polygamy is widespread and socially accepted.  At least one-third of women are in a polygamous marriage.[1]  Niger has low rates of substance abuse including alcohol and tobacco.  The population suffers from few social and educational institutions.  Only 15% of women are literate.

Economy

GDP per capita: $700 (2008) [1.5% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.340

Corruption Index: 2.8

Niger is one of the poorest nations in the world and ranks as one of the worst for quality of life.  The greatest obstacles which have prevented growth and continue to curtail economic development include rapid population growth, a landlocked location, recurrent drought, and desertification.  Economic growth has been sporadic, increasing by an estimated 9.5% in 2008 and only 3.3% and 3.2% in 2007 and 2009 respectively.  High inequality of wealth also characterizes the economy.  Agriculture employs 90% of the workforce and produces 39% of the GDP.  Services account for 44% of the GDP but employ 4% of the population.  Nearly two-thirds of Nigeriens live below the poverty line.  Primary agriculture products include cowpeas, cotton, and peanuts.  The largest industry is uranium mining which provides the majority of the export earnings.  Fluctuating world prices in uranium heavily influence the overall economy.  Several mineral resources remained poorly or not fully exploited including gold, coal and oil.  Niger's primary export partner is Japan, which receives 80% of exports.  Primary import partners include France, China, and Algeria. 

Niger has widespread corruption which has also limited economic growth and development.  Corruption levels rank average for among the rest of Africa.  The president dissolved parliament and the constitutional court in order to retain his power after these institutions declared that he could not run for a third term.[2]  Little progress has been made to improve corruption problems.

Faiths

Muslim: 97%

Christian and other: 3%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic: 16,000

Seventh Day Adventists  227  1

Jehovah's Witnesses  275  6

Latter-day Saints  less than 50  0

Religion

Islam dominates society and daily life.  Indigenous beliefs exist particularly in rural areas among minority groups but the nation has become increasingly Muslim.  There is a small Christian community in the larger cities, especially Niamey, who also comprise foreigners from nearby African nations. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution provides religious freedom which is usually upheld by the government.  Government has expressed concern over maintaining harmony between religious groups and some officials unsuccessfully tried to restrict freedom of speech in order to maintain civil order.  Government recognizes both Christian and Muslim holidays.  Political parties are not permitted to integrate religion with politics.  Religious groups must register with the government.  Government has not shown favoritism to particular religious groups.  Foreign missionaries may operate in the country but must register with the government.  Religious courses may not be taught in public schools. 

Largest Cities

Urban: 16%

Niamey, Zinder, Maradi, Agadez, Tahoua, Arlit, Dosso, Birni n'konni, Tessaoua, Dogondoutchi.

None of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  10% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 50 (2008)

Few or no Nigeriens have joined the Church.  Members living in Niger are either Nigeriens who joined the Church in other nations and returned back to their homeland or foreigners. 

Congregational Growth

Branches: 0

In 1998, Niger was included in the Africa West Area.  No congregations are organized in Niger.

Activity and Retention

Active members likely only consist of native or foreign members who live Church teachings but do not meet for worship services.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, Arabic

All LDS scriptures and nearly all Church materials are available in French.  The Church has translated all LDS scriptures in Arabic and many unit, priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young men, young women, primary, missionary, family history, and audiovisual materials.  The Church has translated Gospel Principles and The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony in Hausa. 

Meetinghouses

There are no LDS meetinghouses in Niger.

Health and Safety

HIV/AIDS infects 0.8% of the population.  Poor sanitation conditions exist and medical infrastructure is limited.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has conducted emergency relief from drought and development work for agriculture.  Using funds donated from members during a fast in 1985 for those stricken by famine in Africa, the Church funded a project to start nurseries to provide trees for farmers to plant in order to reduce soil erosion.  This project involved government agencies to ensure success in the long run.[3]  40 tons of Atmit, a nutritious porridge for those suffering starvation, arrived in Niger in 2005 to feed 7,000 malnourished children.  Additional shipments were also made.  Logistics were provided by the Catholic Church.[4] 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church has not taken advantage of the degree of religious freedom enjoyed in a predominantly Muslim country.  No legal issues appear to have prevented the Church's establishment. 

Cultural Issues

The influence of Islam may be the largest obstacle for the Church to face.  Muslims have been much more tolerant of minority religious groups and should not pose a challenge to proselytism.  However Islam's influences on daily life and family may produce challenges for Muslim converts who may face ridicule and ostracism for joining the Church. 

The low literacy rate will greatly challenge the Church's establishment as most cannot read or write.  Low literacy for women has contributed to the high birth rate as they are less likely to find employment and instead stay at home.  Leadership development will be challenging if converts are illiterate.  The Church has the opportunity to provide service and find investigators through literacy programs.

The large number of Nigeriens in polygamous marriages challenge missionary efforts.  Those married to a polygamous spouse must divorce polygamous spouses in order to join the Church.  Those with formerly polygamous background also need an interview with a member of the mission or area presidency to approve their baptisms. 

National Outreach

No mission outreach occurs in Niger.  Only a few members may reside in the country.  Outreach will likely begin from Nigeriens joining the Church in other nations and returning to their homeland.

Urban centers with small Christian populations provide the greatest opportunities for establishing the Church.  These locations allow those in surrounding rural areas to travel and learn about the Church and prepare for additional cities to open.   

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity is limited to relocated members living the teachings of the Church.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The Church may face some integration challenges between the Haoussa majority and other ethnic groups once a presence is established.

Language Issues

The Church benefits from limited language materials in Hausa and a large body of materials in French.  No LDS materials are available in other native languages.  Additional language materials in Hausa and other Nigerien languages are unlikely until a large, strong local membership is developed.

Leadership

The Church lacks local members and does not appear to have any capable of leading a congregation. 

Temple

Niger is not assigned to a temple district, but members would likely travel to the Accra Ghana Temple. 

Comparative Growth

Several continental African countries have had no reported Church activity like Niger including the Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, and Senegal. 

Christian denominations have struggled to establish congregations and attract converts for the past several decades.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists both had less than 500 members in 2008.  Evangelical groups also report severely limited outreach.  The greatest organized Christian activity appears to occur with the Catholic Church which has had a long legacy compared to Protestant denominations.  The strong influence of Islam on daily life and the remoteness of Niger appear especially responsible for the low success of Christian proselytism.

Future Prospects

Establishing the Church in Niger will be challenging as there has never been a Church presence in Niger and there are very few if any Nigeriens who have joined the Church abroad.  Together with recent government turmoil, a Church presence in Niger appears unlikely for many more years.


[1]  "Gender equality and social institutions in Niger," Social Institutions and Gender Index, retrieved 5 February 2010.  http://genderindex.org/country/niger

[2] "Corruption Perceptions Index 2009,  Regional Highlights: Sub-Saharan Africa," Transparency International, 2009.  http://www.transparencia.org.es/INDICE%20DE%20PERCEPCI%C3%93N%202009/Regiones.%20Africa%20subsahariana.pdf

[3]  "Program ‘tailored to meet special needs,' " LDS Church News, 26 May 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20498/Programs-tailored-to-meet-unique-needs.html

[4]  Weaver, Sarah Jane. "Efforts to help starving children in Niger," LDS Church News, 20 August 2005. http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/47709/Efforts-to-help-starving-children-in-Niger.html