Niger is extremely arid except along the Niger River in the southwest and near the border with Nigeria in the south, where there are strips of savanna. Most of the rest of the country is either semidesert (part of the Sahel) or part of the Sahara. In N central Niger is the Aïr Massif (average elevation: 3,000 ft/910 m; maximum elevation: c.5,900 ft/1,800 m), which receives slightly more rainfall than the surrounding desert. In addition to Niamey, other cities include Maradi, Tahoua, and Zinder.
The main ethnic groups are the Hausa, the Songhai and Djerma (Zarma), the Fulani, the Tuareg, and the Kanuri. The great majority of the population is rural and lives in the south. There is a significant migration of seasonal labor to Ghana, Nigeria, and Chad. About 80% of the population is Muslim; most of the rest adhere to traditional religious beliefs, except for a small Christian minority in the cities. The country's official language is French; Hausa, Djerma, and other indigenous languages as well as Arabic are also spoken.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.