Niger, planet's 4th uranium producer and poorest country

Niamey (AFP) –


Niger, which holds elections on Sunday, is an arid uranium-rich nation south of the Sahara that faces repeated famines.

President Mahamadou Issoufou, who was elected in 2011, is running for a fresh mandate against 14 candidates.

- 4th biggest uranium producer but needs food aid -

Uranium is the country's leading export, and Niger ranks fourth among global producers after Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia.

After a tussle over the future of uranium mining, Niger and the French nuclear energy group Areva agreed in May 2014 on a deal at two uranium mines. Work at the giant Imouraren mine has been halted however, owing to unfavourable market conditions.

In late 2011, Niger officially became an oil exporting country as well following the inauguration of a refinery in Olelewa, central-eastern Niger, that is run by the state with help from a Chinese company.

But the country's resources failed to alleviate famine in 1972-73 and 1984-85 that were blamed on drought and outdated agricultural methods.

The UN has said that two million people will need urgent food aid in 2016 despite an 88,000-tonne surplus in cereal production.

- Political crises -

Since the country's first democratic elections in 1993, the country has seen several coups and political crises and power has never changed hands through an election.

Last December, thousands of opposition supporters staged demonstrations against Issoufou, accusing him of corruption and sowing discord among political parties to impose a dictatorship.

Tension between the two sides increased as public demonstrations were outlawed, opposition activists and journalists were arrested and media were censured.

On November 15, 2015, former premier and opposition leader Hama Amadou was arrested on returning from a year's exile in France and charged with involvment in a baby trafficking scandal.

He says the charges are trumped up and claims "a political case" has been created to prevent him from challenging Issoufou for office.

- Landlocked desert country -

Arid Niger neighbours Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Libya, Mali, Nigeria.

Spread over 1,267,000 square kilometres (458,075 square miles), Niger is almost three times the size of California.

It has been attacked repeatedly in the south by Islamist militants from the Nigerian movement Boko Haram, and in the north and west by other groups allied with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In 2014, the World Bank put its population at a little more than 19 million people, more than 90 percent of whom are Muslim.

It has the world's highest total fertility rate, with an official average of 7.1-8.0 children per woman, which contributes to widespread poverty.

World Bank data puts per capita gross national income at $410 per year, one of the lowest levels in the world. The bank estimates that 76 percent of the population lives on less than $2.0 per day.

The country has seen a huge shift in population from the countryside into urban centres, and many people depend on remittances from relatives working abroad.