Niger for centuries was a center of conflict among the various people of West Africa. In the 11th century, Niger was invaded by the Tuareg, who displaced the Hausa in the north. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the area was the center of struggle between the Songhai and Kanem-Bornu empires. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Fulani, in a series of Islamic holy wars, conquered areas of Niger.

The first European contact was in 1806, when the Scotsman Mungo Park explored the Niger River. The French came in the 1890's and conquered part of Niger in 1899. By 1906 all of the area had been brought under their control. Niger was made a colony in 1922 and an overseas territory of France in 1946. After World War II a nationalist movement began in Niger, and its leaders began pressuring France to grant independence to the territory. In 1958 Niger was made a self-governing state within the French Community, and in 1960 it was granted full independence.

In 1974, the army seized power in a coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountche. Making himself president, Kountche ruled autocratically until his death in 1987. His successor was Colonel Ali Saibou.

In 1992 Niger adopted a democratic constitution, and in 1993 held elections. Mahamane Ousmane was elected president, but was overthrown in 1996 by a military junta, which suspended the constitution. General Ibrahim Bare Mainassara declared himself head of state.

Niger voters approved a new constitution in May, 1996, and elected Mainassara as president in July, though opponents claimed that the presidential election was fraudulent. In April, 1999, Mainassara was assassinated, and the military took over the government. A new constitution was approved by voters in July. In November of that year, Niger held elections to restore civilian rule. Voters elected Mamadou Tandja, the head of the National Movement of the Development Society, as president in 1999 and 2004. Drought and the invasion of locusts in 2004 and 2005 brought about food shortages throughout Niger.