History of West Africa

For millennia, the territory of the modern West African Federation has been home to numerous brilliant indigenous civilizations. It is not until the 15th century that the region of West Africa came into intense contact with Europe, via the rapidly expanding slave trade. Upon European contact with the Western Hemisphere, an estimated 25 million Africans, mostly from the region of West Africa, were transported to the Americas as slaves. As the nation-states of western Europe -- particularly France, which had outposts along the Sénégalais and Guinéen coasts dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries -- industrialized in the 19th century, they considered the possibility of colonial expansion into West Africa, considering its potential as a market for their goods. Throughout the 1860's and 1870's, France steadily expanded into West Africa at the expense of the indigenous states. At the Berlin Conference of 1885 which ratified the final partition of Africa between the western colonial powers, France was given title over almost all of West Africa, save for the lower Niger basin and Sierra Leone, which were ceded to Britain.

The French colonies in West Africa were organized into a loose federation under the control of a Governor-General based in the Sénégalais city of Dakar. Until the end of the 19th century, France was concerned mainly with consolidating the lands under its control. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that France began to consider the possibility of modernizing the West African colonial economy. The French administration sought to increase productivity and extract valuable resources. They fostered production of groundnuts and cotton where appropriate conditions were present and imposed taxation as a means of inducing participation in the cash economy. Where crops could not be grown, they encouraged migration to wage-earning areas elsewhere in West Africa, or even across the Atlantic Ocean to underpopulated Guiana. In the First World War, a native army of two hundred thousand was raised and transported to the trenches of the Western Front, where almost a quarter of their number died.

By the 1920's, French West Africa had become one of France's most important colonies, ranking alongside Algeria, Guiana, and Indochina. Economic modernization, and French cultural influence, had created the beginnings of an indigenous middle class working alongside the larger number of European and Algerian French. It was this indigenous middle class that began to support the idea of a self-governing West Africa more loosely associated with France. Although many French resisted the idea, the trend towards decentralization of power inside the British Empire and the establishment of federal institutions in France proper and her overseas colonies of settlement created an inevitable impetus towards West African self-government.

In 1939, after years of negotiations between the French colonial government and West African political parties -- particularly Houphouet-Boigny's RDA (Rassemblement démocratique africain) and Senghor's Convention africaine -- French West Africa was given effective home rule by the loi cadre. The loi cadre sought to establish a compromise between the RDA's desire for West Africa's transformation into a cluster of independent self-governing colonies and Senghor's ideal of a strong central government based in Dakar. Both a federal West African parliament, based in Dakar, with ultimate control over such things as national economic policy, the development of an integration transportation network, and relations with the metropole, and local parliaments in each of the colonies concerned with local affairs, were established. The bravery of West African soldiers in the European theatre of the Second World War created a new sympathy for West African concerns in France.

In the post-war era, the West African federation prospered, gaining full membership in the French Community in 1959, and finally gaining full independence from the Community in 1969. From its beginnings, the West African Federation was in a privileged position relative to most of the rest of Africa, since it retained a close association with the European Confederation along with the smaller and more vulnerable former French colonies in the Caribbean, and in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. West Africa enjoyed remarkable economic growth, as European and South American investors took advantage of West Africa's inexpensive but moderately skilled labour force and West Africa's strategic position on air routes between western Europe and South America. Cities such as Dakar, Conakry, Abidjan, and Accra quickly acquired new belts of factories and suburbs, while the agriculture of the interior was modernized. By the early 1980's, West Africa was on the verge of emerging as a member of the select group of newly industrializing countries.

Although West Africa was spared along with the rest of the African continent from the Third World War, West Africa did suffer terribly from the famine intentionally provoked by President Chang of the United States. This famine took the lives of one-third of West Africa's citizens outright. Although the West African government was able to preserve rule in the coastal areas and in the larger cities of the interior, social structures collapsed throughout most of rural West Africa, bringing about anarchy and precipitating a large number of local famines. By early 1984, when the entire territory of West Africa had been brought back under government control, forty-five million of West Africa's prior population of 75 million had died.

The horrors of 1982-1983 forever changed West Africa. The devastation of rural West Africa led to mass migrations, not only to West Africa's major cities but to Europe, particularly Francophone Europe. There, the seven million West Africans permanently settled inside the European Confederation performed a vital service by sending their surpluses wages to West Africa, saving the national economy from collapse. 1982-1983 also transformed the ethnolinguistic composition of West Africa: Although the West African peasantry was uniformly decimated, many of the smaller ethnolinguistic communities were reduced to non-viability. In the West African interior, many members of these communities assimilated into larger and more cohesive ethnic and linguistic communities, such as those of the Wolof in Senegal, the Hausa in the upper Niger basin, the Ewe and Ashanti of Côte d'Or, and the Bambara of the upper Mali basin. On a West African level, though, the continuing migration from rural areas of West Africa to West African metropolises seemed likely to encourage the expansion of French at the expense of most indigenous West African languages.

Perhaps the most profound change in West Africa was on the West African mentality. Prior to the events of 1982-1983, nearly the entire West African population was confident about a prosperous future. The death of 60% of the West African population in the space of two years brought an end to West African optimism. Just as many Eurasians of the 14th century reacted to the death of a third of the Eurasian population in the Black Death by turning to religious extremes, so did many West Africans. With the help of the League of Nations and the Tripartite Alliance, the West African government managed to repress such disparate threats as the threatened Fulani jihad of 1985 and the attempt by the apocalyptic Children of God cult to forcibly "agrarianize" and "traditionalize" the Côte d'Or in 1986. The annexation of the failed Sierra Leonian state in 1988 removed the last major enclave of instability near West Africa's borders. By the end of the 1980's, the West African Federation had stabilized.

West Africa's recovery from the 1982-1983 period accelerated in the 1990's, as the revival of agriculture and international trade coincided with an increase of remittances from West Africans in the European Confederation. The flood of West African peasants to West African cities and to Europe began to decline over the decade as South American and European investment began to return to pre-War levels.

The multiple invasions of Eurasia and the Americas in 1998 fortunately had little effect on West Africa, as nearly all of the actual combat occurred in regions of central Eurasia. Since Tripartite Alliance Earth gained full membership in the ITA, West Africa has undergone considerable modernization, due in large part to international and offworld investment, and to the gradual emergence of a thriving export-oriented industrial sector. Purchasing power adjusted GNP per capita was some 11 300 écus in 2000, while real growth per capita has averaged at 6 to 7 percent per annum since 1995. The large West African diaspora in Europe has also brought West African culture -- music, literature, graphic arts -- new prominence. With some reservations, a prosperous West Africa seems to be inevitable.