Sahara Territory


Niger map.

Total population: +/- 15,3 millions.
Saharan population: +/- 1,5 millions (10%).
Total population density: 12 hab/km2.
Saharan population density: 1,5 hab/km2.
Ethnics: 55% hausas, 21% djermas, 10% peuls, 10% berbers (touareg), 2% kanouris and 2% toubous.
Languages: French, hausa, berber and other tribal languages.
Religions: 80% islamic, 20% christian and animist.
Life expectancy: 53 years.

Niger is a country so poor as Chad is, but it has the aggravating of a worse climate. The Sahara and the Sahel cover almost the totality of the country; only a small area of fertile savannah is present in the south-western region. During the last half century Niger suffers from a strong desertification process. Niger probably has the harshest climate in the world, with an average temperature of about 30º C that in summer time exceeds 50º C in the Erg of Ténéré. In Niger cultivable lands are scarce and the population has almost multiplied by five in the last 40 years.

Conflicts are also present in Niger, provoked by droughts and famines. Niger started to be unstable shortly after its independence in 1960. The touareg, that live in the Air mountains, have rebelled against the government at least two times during the last decades. These conflicts caused temporary abandonments on the small towns in the Air mountains. Most of the refugees fled to local bigger towns such as Agadez and Arlit while some abandoned the country and settled in southern Algeria, where at least they would find stability. In recent times the roads in the Air mountains were reported to be mined and therefore closed. This obstruction to access to remote oasis towns in the Air mountains and the overall situation of insecurity ruined the expectatives of an incipient tourism income.

The ruined ksars of Djaba (left image) and Djado (right image), two abandoned villages that are 8 km distant one from the other. These settlements were abandoned by unclear reasons; maybe the insane amount of mosquitoes that roam in the nearby swamps were the cause. The ksar of Djado is surrounded by malarial swamps and adobe dwellings are now occupied by scorpions and snakes.

The ruins of Djaba. The ruins of Djado.

A toubou woman from Chirfa. A photo of a toubou woman taken around 1960 in the village of Chirfa, located 7 km to the south-south-east of Djado, just in the opposite direction of Djaba, which is north-north-west. Chirfa is smaller than other oasis settlements in the Ténéré; it is just a bunch of isolated houses spreading through the area, with no street structure present. The toubou settled at Chirfa dominate today the oases of Djado and Djaba, gathering dates from the palms. Chirfa is a remote village and has to rely on passing caravans and trucks to obtain the everyday goods. Vehicles generally can refuel at Chirfa and that helps to make this village to be a well known settlement despite its insignificant size.

Left image: in the oases of the Ténéré, apart from the water and dates, the only good available is the salt. Fachi and Bilma oases are well known for their salines. The salt has to be traded to get the necessary goods for living the everyday in these remote oases lost in the heart of the Ténéré.
The salt cones are mostly salt mixed with some kind of sandy binder. Shaped this way they can fit into a harness wear by the camel and get transported to the grasslands further south. There they get broken up and are left to dissolve in water from where cattle will drink and get their salt and minerals.

Right image: in the past times many salt caravans (known as taghlamt) crossed the Ténéré towards or from Agadez, following the route Agadez-Fachi-Bilma. These caravans, today largely replaced by trucks, were operated by the touareg and made their route twice a year, taking around three weeks to complete the route in both directions. Camel caravans usually don't stop until the end of the day, because the moment they do, camels would start shedding their loads.
Food and supplies were carried from Agadez each November and March and traded mainly for the salt blocks condensed in the salines of oasis towns, and to a lesser extent for dates and vegetables. Many touareg traders owned salines and date plantations in the oases, holding bonded laborers there, and travelled with the caravans to administer their properties. The caravans generally numbered 10000 camels, stretching about 25 kilometers long. In 1906 a caravan was reported by the french to have 20000 camels. Since the introduction of trucks in the trading routes, the caravans have been decreasing in size.

Salt blocks made in Fachi. A salt caravan crossing the Ténéré.

Left image: a herd watering in a well in the Air mountains. These mountains are the home of many touareg in Niger. There they live in small oasis villages such as Timia or Iferouane. These oases produce amounts of vegetables that are sold in other nearby towns.

Right image: the touareg women in Niger traditionally wear a braid that they hold in the ear.

A well in the Air mountains. A touareg woman from Niger.

A family of touareg from Arlit. A targui family from Arlit, an industrial town in the western border of the Air mountains. At Arlit are located the mines of uranium that are a ray of hope for the economy of a country that still doesn't take advantage from its natural resources.

Agadez was in the past a prime trading town in the Sahara and the main targui enclave. In the XVI century it belonged to the Songhai Empire and had around 30000 inhabitants. Today it is a city with around 90000 inhabitants but it has lost its former importance. Agadez architecture is still almost completely traditional; a wide extension of humble adobe houses with one or two heights that is overlooked by the minaret of the Great Mosque. This mosque is so humble as the rest of the buildings, armed with adobe on a structure of trunks. The contrast of this mosque when compared with the mosques of the mediterranean Africa portrays the economic position of Niger. In Agadez only some main streets are paved and not surprisingly many buildings show serious deterioration.

Agadez has been traditionally a center of craftmanship where artisans produce many different goods that are sold elsewhere. The arts of silver jewelry, leatherwork and forge are typical. Many takouba swords are made in Agadez and some caravaneers still carry them in their travels.

Agadez is a city of adobe buildings. Agadez and the minaret of the Great Mosque.

Agadez was in the past an important trading town. Agadez is an important center of craftmanship.

Niger Geography


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