Under pressure, Niger criminalized slavery in 2003, but about 43,000 people are still thought to be held as slaves. In March 2005, a public ceremony freeing 7,000 slaves was planned, but at the last minute the government reversed itself, denying that slavery existed in the country.
Niger found itself a pawn in the war against Iraq when both the U.S. and Britain claimed that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger, citing this as evidence that Saddam Hussein was reconstituting his countrys nuclear weapons program. While the U.S. evidence for the Iraq-Niger uranium connection was exposed as a forgery, Britains Butler report, released in July 2004, concluded the claim was “credible,” based on separate evidence. But the final report of the Iraqi Survey Group in Sept. 2004—the U.S. report assessing evidence of Iraqs weapons of mass destruction—concluded that the “ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991.”
In 2005, Niger faced its worst locust infestation in 15 years as well as a severe drought. The UN reported that 3.6 million citizens were suffering from malnutrition. President Tandja, however, claimed the food crisis was propaganda invented by the countrys political opposition.
Prime Minister Hama Amadou resigned in June 2007, after a no-confidence vote against his government passed in parliament. Members of his government are under investigation for allegedly embezzling funds from the education ministry. Former trade minister Seyni Oumarou was appointed to succeed Amadou. In June 2008, Amadou was arrested on charges of embezzling state funds.