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Niger is an arid, landlocked country of the Sahel with a population of 12 million. It is bordered by Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Chad and Libya. Niger is a former French colony which was granted independence in 1960. The land is mostly desert plains and dunes, with rolling savanna in the southeast.
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Not until 1993, 35 years after independence from France, did Niger hold its first free and open elections. A 1995 peace accord ended a five-year Tuareg insurgency in the north. Coups in 1996 and 1999 were followed by the creation of a National Reconciliation Council that effected a transition to civilian rule by December 1999. In 2009, a coup d'état toppled the elected government, and Niger is currently controlled by a military junta.
Local, traditional food includes:
- a dense millet porridge with an okra sauce, a pepper sauce, a tomato sauce, or a squash sauce on top, sometimes with veggies and a couple chunks of meat
- rice with the above sauces
- mushy macaroni pasta with an oily red sauce
- rice & beans
- corn cous-cous mixed with moringa leaves, black-eyed peas, and sauce (called dumbou in Djera/Zarma, and only available in Djerma/Zarma regions)
Availability varies widely by region, but visitors may wish to try the following delicious specialties, usually available as street food:
- dumbou (see above)
- kilishi: beef jerkey that comes in three flavors: regular, peanut-spiced, and hot-pepper-spiced
- masa: delicious sourdough pancakes eaten with a peanut/hot pepper/ginger spice mix or a brown sauce
- fari masa: fried dough balls served with either a squash/tomato salsa or sugar
- chichena: like fari masa above, but made from bean flour instead of wheat flour
- koudagou (Djerma/Zarma): fried sweet potato chunks with sauce
Less exotic but also tasty:
- brochettes — meat kabobs made from either beef, lamb, or goat
- omelet sandwiches
- mangoes: if in season, they are bigger and juicier than any available in the western world
- yogurt: pasteurized, sweet, and available wherever there is a fridge
- fried fish sandwiches
- ground beef sandwiches
- plates of garlicky green beans or peas (usually in bars and restaurants)
Careful of the salads — usually not ok for western travelers even in the city.
- Drink plenty of filtered or bottled water. You will get dehydrated during your trip to Niger at one point. At times it can be hard to find bottled water, but ask for "Purewater" (pronounced pure-wata) that comes in sealed plastic bags for usually 25F (50F in some hard-to-reach places). You will also need to replenish your salts more frequently than you are accustomed.
Keep in mind that drinking alcohol is generally forbidden in Muslim culture, so take extra care to keep drunken inappropriate behavior behind closed doors and out of the public eye.
The national beer is called, appropriately, Biere Niger. The only other locally produced beer is a franchise of the French West-African Flag brewery. While taste is in the eye of the beerholder, Biere Niger is decent. Both are brewed in the same tank from the same ingredients with the slightest variation on how much reconstituted malt they put in each batch. All other beer, boxed wine, and hard liquor is imported.
In rare pockets of the capital you can find millet beer homebrew, brewed by Burkinabe immigrants. This is drunk out of calabash gourd bowls. Some compare the taste to a dry, unsweetened cider. See the Niamey section for directions.
Locally-made non-alcoholic drinks are delicious. Safety depends on the water quality: generally ok in the capital and NOT ok in rural areas. They are either sold by women out of their houses (ask around), by young girls from trays on their heads, or by young boys pushing around coolers. These drinks include:
- lemu-hari: a sweet lemony-gingery drink
- bisap: a dark red kool-aid-type drink made from hibiscus leaves
- apollo: a thick, pinkish-brownish drink made from the baobab fruit
- degue: sweet yogurt with small millet balls (like tapioca)
To drink, you bite the corner off the bag.
The West African CFA franc (XOF) is used by Niger. It is also used by Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Togo. While strictly a separate currency from the Central African CFA franc (XAF), the two currencies are used interchangeably at par throughout all CFA franc (XAF & XOF) using countries.
Both CFA francs are guaranteed by the French treasury and are pegged to the euro at 1 euro = 655.957 CFA francs.
Nigerien artisanal specialties include:
- intricately imprinted leather boxes (ranging from small 5cm boxes to full-size trunks)
- other leather goods
- silver jewelry
- colorful hand-woven wedding blankets
- colored straw mats (and here, we don't mean the plastic mats from China)
- fabric (only the Enitex brand is made in Niger, but there are many other kinds that are also good)
See the Niamey section and the Balleyara section for sample prices of these goods and where to find them.
The currency used in Niger is the CFA Franc (FCFA — XOF) — pronounced "say-fah". $1 = 464 FCFA (as of January 2010).
ATMs — MasterCard/ Maestro withdrawals are available at Banque Atlantique in Niamey.
Credit cards are almost never accepted anywhere.
American dollars and other foreign currency are not accepted as currency, only to exchange into local money via a bank or black market. Exception: near the border of Nigeria, Nigerian currency Naira is accepted.
Bargaining and haggling is essential and expected. It's best to have a low price and a maximum price in mind before entering into a negotiation. If the price is higher than you want, just say thanks and walk away: if you were offering a fair price you will be called back. If you were offering too low a price, you won't be called back, but you can always go back later and offer more.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Niger on Wikivoyage.