European Colonization of West Africa

European Colonization of West Africa


West Africa had been a major center of the slave trade. First the Portuguese and Dutch and later the British and French had established trading posts along the coast. When most European countries abolished the slave trade in the early 1800s, these former slaving centers turned to other types of commerce. They traded in palm oil, feathers, ivory, rubber, and other products from the interior. Eager to control this trade, Europeans began to push inland.


European countries sought to link their coastal possessions with new inland holdings. In the bulge of western Africa, the French claimed the ancient city of Timbuktu. They also increased the number of commercial settlements in the coastal areas of Senegal, French Guinea, the Ivory Coast (present-day Cote d’Ivoire), and Dahomey. By 1900 France had claimed a vast area called French West Africa.


In many cases, the French as well as other Europeans met with fierce resistance in their drive to colonize Africa. In what is today Senegal, for example, Samory Tour? fought the French on and off from 1883 until he was captured in 1898. In another instance of heroic resistance, the king of Dahomey resisted the French until 1893.

The British competed with the French throughout West Africa. They, too, sought to connect their coastal settlements by means of interior expansion. The Gold Coast (modern Ghana) particularly interested them. Moving inland from coastal bases there, the British came up against the powerful African kingdom of Ashanti. By 1901, however, Britain had annexed all the territory of Ashanti and made the Gold Coast a colony.


The British also expanded into Nigeria, a territory to the east of the Gold Coast that took its name from the Niger, one of the great rivers of Africa. Control of the Niger River ensured control of a huge region rich in resources. In 1861 the British annexed the port city of Lagos and then pushed steadily inland. The Africans resisted the British, but British military forces crushed all resistance and brought Nigeria under colonial rule.

By the early 1900s, France, Britain, Germany, Spain, and Portugal had claimed all of West Africa except Liberia. Settled by freed slaves from the United States, Liberia had become an independent republic in 1847.


Although economically and militarily weak, Liberia maintained its independence. It no doubt would have become the protectorate of an ambitious European power if not for its special relationship to the United States. American diplomatic pressure discouraged European attempts to take over the small republic.



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