Niger is one of the world's poorest countries.
A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger endured austere military rule for much of its post-independence history and is rated by the UN as one of the world's least-developed nations, the BBC reports.
The drought-prone country sometimes struggles to feed its people. Its main export, uranium, is prone to price fluctuations and agriculture is threatened by the encroaching desert. Niger is bargaining on oil exploration and gold mining to boost its fortunes.
Tuareg nomads seeking greater autonomy for the north have been waging a low-level war. Fears of Al Qaeda activity have been heightened by the kidnapping of foreigners.
With little primary education, Niger has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Its health system is basic and disease is widespread.
Niger banned the centuries-old practice of slavery in 2003. But anti-slavery organisations say thousands of people still live in subjugation.