For this edition of the Wednesday Who, I’ve got a short biography about Hamani Diori, the first president of Niger, for whom Niamey International Airport was named.
Born on 6 June, 1916 in Soudouré, French West Africa (present-day Niger), Hamani Diori was first a teacher before deciding to join politics after World War II.
His foray into government began in 1946 with a decision to co-found the Progressive Party of Niger, itself an offshoot of the African Democratic Rally (in French, Rassemblement Démocratique Africain), itself a growing group of pan-African nationalists who didn’t oppose union with France so much as seek greater autonomy — as well as improved educational systems and labor markets — from them.
Also in 1946, Diori was elected to the French National Assembly as a representative from Guinea; he would serve on-and-off in this role until 1957, when he became vice president of the legislature. However, that same year his political rival, the significantly more anti-colonialist Djibo Bakary became Niger’s first African leader; with Diori’s much wider support from France and tribal chiefs, he was able to greatly dilute Bakary’s influence, becoming Prime Minister of still French-controlled Niger in 1958, and banning Bakary’s Sawaba political party from any official capacity the following year, per Britannica. Tellingly, the Sawaba party would continue to plague Diori’s political life throughout the 1960s.
Niger finally gained independence from France on 3 August, 1960; soon thereafter, Diori was elected as the first president of the country. But, as founder of the Niger Progressive Party, which had the backing of the French government, he was almost a shoe-in, as the French had banned other political parties from participating.
At first, Diori was considered a statesman and good negotiator, solidifying ties with France, and even helping to discuss ending the fierce Biafran War happening in Nigeria from 1967-1970. That’s right about where the compliments end.
Upon independence, Niger was the poorest of the former French colonies, consisting of a highly agriculture-focused economy subject to frequent droughts and inefficient soil. Corruption was rampant — there are reports that members of his administration stole drought relief supplies and sold them to the highest bidders — and assassination attempts were made on Diori and his family; his wife was killed in one such attack in 1974.
With a single party system of control, successive droughts, widespread graft, and a swiftly increasing population, Diori was overthrown on 15 April 1974 by his army Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché, and subsequently imprisoned in the city of Zinder until 1980.
Starting in 1980, Diori was on parole in the capital Niamey; Ali Seibou, then-president of the country, granted him freedom in 1987. Hamani Diori relocated to Morocco, where he died in Rabat on 23 April, 1989.