A vast, arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert, Niger is rated by the UN as one of the world's least-developed nations.
Niger fell victim to a series of coups and political instability following its independence from France in 1960.
Today the country struggles in the face of frequent droughts, insurgency and wide-spread poverty. Niger is betting on increased oil exploration and gold mining to help modernize its economy.
But basic rights issues, such as slavery - which was only banned in 2003 and still remains a problem - and a high rate of illiteracy and disease, remain stubborn challenges.
The US has a significant military presence in the country, intended to combat Islamist militants. Niger has become noted as a major transit route for migrants heading to Europe.
The Republic of Niger
Population 16.6 million
Area 1.27 million sq km (489,000 sq miles)
Major languages French (official), Hausa, Songhai, Arabic
Major religions Islam, indigenous beliefs
Life expectancy 55 years (men), 56 years (women)
Currency CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) franc
Niger leader: Mahamadou Issoufou
Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou became president in March 2011 polls that ended a year-long military junta.
The election was aimed at returning democracy after former president Mamadou Tandja was ousted by the army in February 2010 following a decade in power.
The military junta that overthrew him vowed to usher in a civilian government, and none of its members ran in the election.
Mr Issoufou gained another term in a run-off election in March 2016 that was boycotted by supporters of his opponent, Hama Amadou, who had been jailed.
Radio is a key news source and local privately-owned stations operate alongside the national state broadcaster.
Many media outlets struggle to survive financially. Journalists face difficulties, including detention or prosecution over critical reporting.
Around 10% of citizens are online.
Some key events in Niger's history:
1890 - French occupy Niger.
1960 - Niger becomes independent but a severe drought devastates the country, which enters a period of political instability and coups.
1990 - A rebellion starts in northern Niger, adding to the country's political unrest.
2003 - Slavery is outlawed and Niger gains international prominence when then-US President George Bush claims Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger for its nuclear programme.
2005 - UN warns that millions of people face severe malnutrition because of food shortages caused by drought and locust infestations.
2010 - A new constitution designed to restore civilian rule approved in referendum; Mahamadou Issoufou becomes president in 2011.