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Africa 2006,

 The nomadic Tuaregs were the first inhabitants of this Sahara region. They were followed by the Hausa (14th Century), the Zerma (17th Century), the Goboir (18th Century) and the Fulani. About 1,000 years ago, Arab traders first made contact with the Hausa in the Sahel region and introduced them to the Muslim faith. The Hausa were subjugated by Songhai around 1500 but regained their independence in 1591. In 1806 Mungo Park, the first European to reach this remote region, encountered Hausa, Songhai, Fulani and Tuareg. In 1903 the French created colonies in the Sahel and southern Sahara, extending from Senegal through French Sudan (Mali) and Upper Volta (Burkina Faso) to Niger. Due to stiff resistance from the Tuareg and Kanuri peoples, France's conquest of Niger was not finalized until 1922. Niger was granted independence in 1960 under Hamani Diori who drove out Marxist rivals headed by his cousin Djibo Bakary. In 1974, Diori was overthrown by Col. Seyni Kountché who invited back Bakary and others and included them in a new government of national unity. When Kountché died in 1987 he was succeeded by Colonel Ali Saibou who solidified one-party rule under the Mouvement National de la Société de Devéloppement or National Movement for the Development Society (MNSD). He in turn lost to Mahamane Ousmane and the Alliance des Forces du Changement (AFC) in free elections in 1993. Ousmane was ousted in a coup by Ibrahim Baré Mainassara in 1996. Baré, considered corrupt and ineffective as a leader, was assassinated in April 1999 and succeeded by Pres. Mamadou Tandja, who was subsequently reaffirmed in his post in free elections in 1999 and 2004. There is a ceasefire in effect between Tuareg rebel movements and the government but these nomadic, impoverished descendants of the Berbers and Arabs maintain a fiercely insular culture and show little affinity for the black African majority in Niger.