West Africa – Overview

History of the region: colonialism

West Africa has a long history as it has been settled for nearly fifteen thousand years. The first humans to come to the area had migrated from the eastern part of Africa as they needed to expand the area in which they were hunting and gathering. These were the first people to settle the area however they were soon joined by cattle ranchers from Northern Africa who needed more grazing area. At the time what is now the Sahara desert was actually a plain full of vegetation that proved to be ideal for grazing cattle.

Over time these early settlers developed their own empires. The Mali Empire would become the most powerful and would develop trading routes with the rest of Africa. This would make them very wealthy which naturally attracted competitors. In the fourteenth century Mali Empire would be eclipsed by the Songhai Empire. They would take over the trade routes that had been developed by their predecessors allowing them to become wealthy. Unfortunately there time in the sun was short lived as less than a hundred years later Portuguese explorers would show up and everything would start to change.

The early Europeans mostly left West Africa alone. The Portuguese established a trading post but they had actually been looking for a way to reach India by rounding Africa. It was not until after Columbus discovered America that the Europeans took an interest in West Africa. As the Spanish started to colonize the Americas they realized that they would need laborers to do the hard work. This was the start of the African slave trade and the Europeans started to colonize the area. While the British and the Portuguese took position of some of the territory it was mostly the French who colonized West Africa.

The European powers would stay and continue to rule Africa until after the Second World War. At this point the movements for independence started and the European nations really didn’t have the means to continue running the colonies anyway. As a result most of the region gained its independence in a very short period of time in the fifties and sixties. Unfortunately independence for most countries in West Africa proved to be no better than being ruled by colonial powers. Since the Europeans left there has been a long string of civil wars and dictators as the tribes that made up the populations fought for control.

Over the last few years there has been a period of relative peace through most of West Africa. There has been some occasional fighting but nothing like it used to be. There are still plenty of dictators in the area and the tribes still have disputes with one another but for now they seem to be able to along together in relative peace.