Niger #430 (1978)

Niger #430 (1978)

Niger #430 (1978)
Niger #430 (1978)

The Republic of Niger (République du Niger in French) is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River, located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. Niger lies between latitudes 11° and 24°N, and longitudes 0° and 16°E. Niger’s area is 489,191 square miles (1,267,000 square kilometers) of which 116 square miles (300 square kilometers) is water. This makes it slightly less than twice the size of France, and the world’s twenty-second largest country. Over 80 percent of its land area covered by the Sahara Desert. The country’s predominantly Islamic population of about 19 million is mostly clustered in the far south and west of the country. The capital city is Niamey, located in the far-southwest corner of Niger.

Niger is a developing country, and is consistently one of the lowest-ranked in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI); it was ranked last at 188th for 2014. Much of the non-desert portions of the country are threatened by periodic drought and desertification. The economy is concentrated around subsistence and some export agriculture clustered in the more fertile south, and the export of raw materials, especially uranium ore. Niger faces serious challenges to development due to its landlocked position, desert terrain, inefficient agriculture, high fertility rates and resulting overpopulation without birth control, poor education and poverty of its people, lack of infrastructure, poor health care, and environmental degradation.

Nigerien society reflects a diversity drawn from the long independent histories of its several ethnic groups and regions and their relatively short period living in a single state. Historically, what is now Niger has been on the fringes of several large states. Since independence, Nigeriens have lived under five constitutions and three periods of military rule. Following a military coup in 2010, Niger has become a democratic, multi-party state. A majority live in rural areas, and have little access to advanced education.

Niger Map

Early human settlement in Niger is evidenced by numerous archaeological remains. In prehistoric times, the climate of the Sahara (Tenere desert in Niger) was wet and provided favorable conditions for agriculture and livestock herding in a fertile grassland environment five thousand years ago.

In 2005–06, a graveyard in the Tenere desert was discovered by Paul Sereno, a paleontologist from the University of Chicago. His team discovered the 5,000-year-old remains of a woman and two children. The evidence, along with remains of animals that do not typically live in desert, are among the strongest signs of the ‘green’ Sahara in Niger. It is believed that progressive desertification around 5000 BCE pushed sedentary populations to the south and south-east (Lake Chad).

By at least the fiftth century BCE, Niger became an area of trans-Saharan trade, led by the Berber tribes from the north, using camels as an adapted mean of transportation through the desert. This trade has made Agadez a pivotal place of the trans-Saharan trade. This mobility, which would continue in waves for several centuries, was accompanied with further migration to the south and interbreeding between southern black and northern white populations. It was also aided by the introduction of Islam to the region at the end of the seventh century. Several empires and kingdoms also flourished during this era up to the beginning of colonization in Africa.

The Songhai Empire was an empire bearing the name of its main ethnic group, Songhai or Sonrai, and located in western Africa on the bend of the Niger River in present-day Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. In the seventh century, Songhai tribes settled down north of modern-day Niamey and founded the Songhai city-states of Koukia and Gao. By the 11th century, Gao had become the capital of the Songhai Empire.

From 1000 to 1325, The Songhai Empire prospered and managed to maintain peace with its neighboring empires including the Mali Empire. In 1325, the Songhai Empire was conquered by the Mali Empire, but was freed in 1335 by prince Ali Kolen and his brother, Songhai princes held captive by Moussa Kankan, the ruler of the Mali Empire. From the mid-fifteenth to the late 16th century, Songhai was one of the largest Islamic empires in history.

Between the Niger River and the Lake Chad lay a fertile area and Hausa kingdoms. These kingdoms flourished from the mid-fourteenth century up until the early nineteenth century when they were conquered by Usman dan Fodio, founder of the Sokoto Empire. The Hausa kingdoms were not a compact entity but several federations of kingdoms more or less independent of each other. Their organization was somewhat democratic: the Hausa kings were elected by the notables of the country and could be removed by the latter.

The Hausa Kingdoms began as seven states founded according to the Bayajidda legend by the six sons of Bawo. Bawo was the unique son of the hausa queen Daurama and Bayajidda or (Abu Yazid by certain Nigerien historians) who came from Baghdad. The seven original hausa states were: Daoura (state of queen Daurama), Kano, Rano, Zaria, Gobir, Katsena and Biram.

In the nineteenth century, contact with Europe began with the first European explorers — notably Monteil (French) and Barth (German) — to travel to Niger.

Following the 1885 Berlin conference during which colonial powers outlined the division of Africa into colonial spheres, French military efforts to conquer existing African states were intensified in all French colonies including Niger. This included several military expeditions including the Voulet Chanoine Mission, which became notorious for pillaging, looting, raping and killing many local civilians on its passage. On May 8, 1899, in retaliation for the resistance of queen Sarraounia, captain Voulet and his men murdered all the inhabitants of the village of Birni-N’Konni in what is regarded as one of the worst massacres in French colonial history. French military expeditions met great resistance from several ethnic groups, especially Hausa and Tuareg groups. The most notable Tuareg revolt was the Kaocen Revolt. The French authorities also abolished the widespread slavery among Tuareg communities.

In 1920, Niger was separated from Upper Senegal & Niger and became a separate colony. The first stamps used in the new colony were stamps of Upper Senegal and Niger overprinted TERRITOIRE DU NIGER in 1921. The same stamps were surcharged in 1922. From 1926, stamps marked prominently NIGER and in smaller letters AFRIQUE OCCIDENTALE FRANCAISE were issued. Between 1944 and 1959, Niger used the stamps of French West Africa.

Niger’s colonial history and development parallel that of other French West African territories. France administered her West African colonies through a governor general at Dakar, Senegal, and governors in the individual territories, including Niger. In addition to conferring a limited form of French citizenship on the inhabitants of the territories, the 1946 French constitution provided for decentralization of power and limited participation in political life for local advisory assemblies.

The end of the colonial era was characterized by a transformation of the political environment in French West Africa and Niger. The Nigerien Progressive Party, the Nigerien section of the African Democratic Rally Party, founded in May 1946, united various tendencies of Nigerien people in the movement for national independence. In alliance with progressive French elements and other independence African movements, the movements acquired the suppression of forced labor and arbitrary requisitions as well as legal equality between the African and the French citizens.

Following the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956, and the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community. On December 18, 1958, the Republic of Niger was officially created with Hamani Diori as the head of the Counsel of Ministers of the Republic of Niger. On July 11 1960, Niger decided to leave the French Community and acquired full independence on August 3, 1960 with Diori as its first president.

The first stamps of Niger as an autonomous republic were issued in 1959 and are marked REPUBLIQUE DU NIGER. Stamps up to the 1970s tended to be large engraved issues similar to other former French colonies, including stamps featuring famous paintings like those of France. Later, more cheaply produced stamps were issued but designs continue to be large pictorials, typically of local relevance with some issues designed to appeal internationally to thematic stamp collectors.

Niger does not appear to distinguish between commemorative and definitive stamps, and unlike many African countries, has not issued cheaply produced definitive stamps for domestic mail use. A series of 14 small official stamps were issued in 1962 and a replacement set in 1988. Several series of postage due stamps have also been issued. A number of stamps have been issued which purport to be from Niger but which are believed to be illegal issues.

For its first fourteen years as an independent state, Niger was run by a single-party civilian regime under the presidency of Diori. In 1974, a combination of devastating drought and accusations of rampant corruption resulted in a coup d’état that overthrew the Diori regime.

Col. Seyni Kountché and a small military group under the name of Supreme Military Council deposed Diori in April 1974, following a military coup, the first of many in the post-colonial history of Niger. President Kountché ruled the country until his death in 1987.

Kountché was succeeded by his Chief of Staff, Col. Ali Saibou, who was confirmed as Chief of the Supreme Military Council on November 14 1987, four days after Kountché’s death. He introduced political reforms and drafted a new constitution, with the creation of a single party. He went on to rule the country as the Chief of the Supreme Military Council.

The 1989 referendum led to the adoption a new constitution and the creation of the Second Republic of Niger. General Saibou became the first president of the Second Republic after winning the presidential election on December 10, 1989. His presidency started during the Second Republic largely following his efforts at the end of the previous military regime with attempts at normalizing the political situation in the country with the release of political prisoners, liberalization of laws and policies.

President Saibou’s efforts to control political reforms failed in the face of trade union and student demands to institute a multi-party democratic system. On February 9, 1990, a violently repressed student march led to the death of three students, which led to increased national and international pressure for a National Conference. The Saibou regime acquiesced to these demands by the end of 1990.

The National Sovereign Conference of 1991 marked a turning point in the post-independence era of Niger and brought about multi-party democracy. A transitional government was installed in November 1991 to manage the affairs of state until the institutions of the Third Republic were put into place in April 1993. The transitional government drafted a new constitution that eliminated the previous single-party system of the 1989 Constitution and guaranteed more freedom. The presidency of Mahamane Ousmane was characterized by political turbulence, with four government changes and early legislative elections called in 1995.

The parliamentary election forced cohabitation between a rival president and prime minister and ultimately led to governmental paralysis. As part of an initiative started under the National Sovereign Conference the government signed peace accords in April 1995 with Tuareg and Toubou groups that had been in rebellion since 1990. These groups claimed they lacked attention and resources from the central government. The government agreed to absorb some of the former rebels into the military and, with French assistance, to help others return to a productive civilian life.

The government paralysis and the political tension was used as a motivation for a second military coup. On January 27, 1996, Col. Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara led a military coup that deposed President Ousmane and ended the Third Republic. Col. Maïnassara created the National Salvation Council composed of military officials, which he headed. The Council carried out a six-month transition period during which a new constitution was drafted and adopted on May 12, 1996.

Presidential campaigns were organized in the months that followed. General Maïnassara entered the campaign as an independent candidate and won the election on July 8, 1996. The elections were viewed nationally and internationally as irregular since the electoral commission was replaced during the campaign.

Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara became the first president of the Fourth Republic. His efforts to justify questionable elections failed to convince donors to restore multilateral and bilateral economic assistance; a desperate Maïnassara ignored an international embargo against Libya and sought Libyan funds to aid Niger’s economy. In repeated violations of basic civil liberties by the regime, opposition leaders were imprisoned and journalists often arrested, and deported by an unofficial militia composed of police and military.

On April 9, 1999, Maïnassara was assassinated during a military coup led by Maj. Daouda Malam Wanké, who established a transitional National Reconciliation Council to oversee the drafting of a constitution for the Fifth Republic with a French-style semi-presidential system. The new constitution was adopted on August 9, 1999 and was followed by presidential and legislative elections in October and November of the same year. The elections were generally found to be free and fair by international observers. Wanké withdrew himself from government affairs after the new and democratically elected president was sworn in office.

After winning the election in November 1999, President Tandja Mamadou was sworn in office on December 22, 1999, as the first president of the Fifth Republic. The first mandate of Tandja Mamadou brought about many administrative and economic reforms that had been halted due to the military coups since the Third Republic. In August 2002, serious unrest within military camps occurred in Niamey, Diffa, and Nguigmi, but the government was able to restore order within several days. On July 24, 2004, the first municipal elections in the history of Niger were held to elect local representatives, previously appointed by the government. These elections were followed by presidential elections. President Tandja Mamadou was re-elected for a second term, thus becoming the first president of the republic to win consecutive elections without being deposed by military coups. The legislative and executive configuration remained quite similar to that of the first term of the President: Hama Amadou was reappointed as Prime Minister and Mahamane Ousmane, the head of the CDS party, was re-elected as the President of the National Assembly (parliament) by his peers.

By 2007, the relationship between President Tandja Mamadou and his prime minister had deteriorated, leading to the replacement of the latter in June 2007 by Seyni Oumarou following a successful vote of no confidence at the Assembly. From 2007 to 2008, the Second Tuareg Rebellion took place in northern Niger, worsening economic prospects at a time of political limited progress. The political environment worsened in the following year as President Tandja Mamadou sought out to extend his presidency by modifying the constitution which limited presidential terms in Niger. Proponents of the extended presidency, rallied behind the Tazartche movement, were countered by opponents (anti-Tazartche) composed of opposition party militants and civil society activists.

In 2009, President Tandja Mamadou decided to organize a constitutional referendum seeking to extend his presidency claiming to respond to the desire of the people of Niger. Despite opposition from opposition political parties and against the decision of the Constitutional Court which ruled earlier that the referendum would be unconstitutional, President Tandja Mamadou modified and adopted a new constitution by referendum. It was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court but the President dissolved the Court and assumed emergency powers. The opposition boycotted the referendum and the new constitution was adopted with 92.5% of voters and a 68% turnout, according to official results. The adoption of the new constitution created a Sixth Republic, with a presidential system, as well as the suspension of the 1999 Constitution and a three-year interim government with Tandja Mamadou as president. Political and social unrest spiraled before, during and after the referendum project and ultimately led to a military coup in 2010 that ended the brief existence of the Sixth Republic.

In a February 2010 coup d’état, a military junta led by captain Salou Djibo was established in response to Tandja’s attempted extension of his political term by modifying the constitution. The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy led by General Salou Djibo carried out a one-year transition plan, drafted a new constitution and held elections in 2011 that were judged internationally as free and fair.

Following the adoption of the newest constitution of 2010 and the presidential elections, Mahamadou Issoufou was elected as the first president of the Seventh Republic.

I only have one stamp from Niger in my collection. Scott #430 was released on February 25, 1978, as part of a set of five stamps and one souvenir sheet marking the 400th anniversary of the birth of Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The 200-franc denomination portrays the painting “Portrait of Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria” and was printed by lithography, perforated 14.

Portrait of the Artist by by Peter Paul Rubens, 1623 (Royal Collection)
Portrait of the Artist by by Peter Paul Rubens, 1623 (Royal Collection)

Rubens was born on June 28, 1577, in Siegen, Nassau-Dillenburg, Holy Roman Empire (now North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany). He is widely considered as the most notable artist of the Flemish Baroque art school. A proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, Rubens is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist, scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. He was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.

His commissioned works were mostly “history paintings”, which included religious and mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He painted portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits, and in later life painted several landscapes. Rubens designed tapestries and prints, as well as his own house. He also oversaw the ephemeral decorations of the royal entry into Antwerp by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand in 1635.

His drawings are mostly extremely forceful but not overly detailed. He also made great use of oil sketches as preparatory studies. He was one of the last major artists to make consistent use of wooden panels as a support medium, even for very large works, but he used canvas as well, especially when the work needed to be sent a long distance. For altarpieces he sometimes painted on slate to reduce reflection problems.

Rubens died from heart failure, a result of his chronic gout, on May 30, 1640, in Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), He was interred in Saint James’ church, Antwerp.

His epitaph read:

D.O.M./PETRVS PAVLVS RVBENIVS eques/IOANNIS, huius urbis senatoris/flfius steini Toparcha:/qui inter cæteras quibus ad miraculum/excelluit doctrinæ historiæ priscæ/omniumq. bonarum artiu. et elegantiaru. dotes/ non sui tantum sæculi,/ sed et omnes ævi/ Appeles dicit meruit:/atque ad Regum Principumq. Virorum amicitias/gradum sibi fecit:/a. PHILIPPO IV. Hispaniarum Indiarumq. Rege / inter Sanctioris Concilli scribas Adscitus,/ et ad CAROLVM Magmnæ Brittaniæ Regem/Anno M.DC.XXIX. delegatus,/pacis inter eosdem principes mox initæ/fundamenta filiciter posuit./ Obiit anno sal. M.DC.XL.XXX. May ætatis LXIV. Hoc momumenteum a Clarissimo GEVARTIO/olim PETRO PAVLO RVBENIO consecratum/ a Posteris huc usque neglectum,/ Rubeniana stirpe Masculina jam inde extincta/ hoc anno M.DCC.LV. Poni Curavit./ R.D. JOANNES BAPT. JACOBVS DE PARYS. Hujus insignis Eccelsiæ Canonicus/ ex matre et avia Rubenia nepos./ R.I.P.//

Portrait of Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria by Peter Paul Rubens, 1606 (National Gallery of Art)
Portrait of Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria by Peter Paul Rubens, 1606 (National Gallery of Art)

The “Portrait of Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria” is an oil painting by Rubens, dating to 1606. It is now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. It was commissioned by Marquess Giacomo Massimiliano Doria, of Genoa, and shows his wife (and cousin) shortly after their wedding in 1605; she came from the equally prominent Spinola family. He died in 1613 and she remarried another Doria. It has been cut several times on each side, removing the garden shown in the background and the lower part of the figure.

The overall dimensions of the painting are now 60 x 39 inches (152 by 98 centimeters) after the original was reduced in size during the nineteenth century. Rubens completed a pen and brown ink study for the painting, which is held in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, enabling identification of sections eliminated. Details removed include the bottom of the Marchesa’s floor-length wedding gown as the painting has been cut just below her knees and the architecture that formed the backdrop. Writing in The Burlington Magazine in 1951, Christopher Norris indicated the sketch portrayed a woman older than the 22-year-old Marchesa.

In the painting the Marchesa is placed in an opulent setting to convey luxury; adorned with jewels, she wears a satin and lace dress with a broad ruff round her neck. Light is used to emphasize the draping of her bulky wedding gown and she looks down on the viewer establishing the necessity to site the finished portrait above the height of viewers.

Marquess Giacomo Massimiliano Doria commissioned the portrait of his bride — they married on July 9, 1605 — and the painting remained in his ownership until his death in 1613 when it passed to his brother, Giovanni Carlo Doria (1576-1625). It subsequently became the property of Marchessa Brigida Spinola-Doria’s second husband, probably in 1625, passing back to the Marchesa until her death in 1661. It remained in the family until given to relatives of Rati Opizzone. By 1848, it was held in Paris by Simon Horsín-Déon. Four years later, in 1854, the portrait was in London and sold several times before being purchased by the Samuel H. Kress foundation in 1957 who donated it to the National Gallery of Art in 1961.

First exhibited in 1952 at the Minneapolis Institute of Art when it was likely in the ownership of the Duveen Brothers, it was also displayed at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1953. Since 1961, it has regularly been featured in exhibitions.

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