Nigeria (20), Ghana -- the former Gold Coast (19) -- and Sierra Leone (18) are now sovereign members of the Commonwealth. The only British dependency left in West Africa is little Gambia (18). Each of the four is surrounded by ex-French republics -- apart from Sierra Leone's 'English-speaking' neighbour, Liberia.
Britain's oldest West African settlement was Fort James at the Gambia mouth ( 1689), but this fell into disuse and was reoccupied only in the early 19th century. Sierra Leone's name was given by Portuguese explorers to the coastal mountains just south of Free- town. Freetown was founded in 1792 as a settlement for freed slaves, slavery being illegal in Britain itself since 1772. After the slave trade too had been banned by Britain in 1807, Africans rescued by naval patrols from slaving ships were also resettled there. ( Liberia (18) and Libreville in Gabon (16) reveal their similar origins in their names). The resulting community of educated Freetown Creoles played a big part, as teachers, missionaries and traders, in developing other West African areas, in particular Nigeria (they also held senior administrative posts in their own colony during the 19th century, but lost these openings for advancement when British policy changed). The Sierra Leone colony remained limited to a small area round Freetown, and a British protectorate over the rest of Sierra Leone -- about the size of Scotland -- was proclaimed only in 1896 (the imposing of taxes provoked a rebellion there in 1898).
Freetown (which has an excellent harbour) remained the centre of British activity in West Africa until the later 19th century, when interest shifted to the Gold Coast, and then to Nigeria -- the most populous area in West Africa.
Nigeria is easily Africa's largest nation in terms of population; Ghana's cocoa gives it relative prosperity; Sierra Leone, poorer and with only 21/2 million people, embarked on independence in 1961 with a confidence largely based on diamonds and iron ore. But Gambia's independent survival seems improbable, and its smallness and lack of resources suggest an eventual merger with Senegal (15, 18).
The British trust territories of Togoland and Cameroons -- parts of former German colonies -- have been absorbed by their neighbours (19, 21). The federation of the former British Southern Cameroons with the ex-French Cameroons represents the only real attempt so far to unite ex-French with ex-British territories in Africa (the 'union' of Ghana and Guinea -- K, 13, 19 -- being still a tenuous affair), and it is being closely watched by their neighbours.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Book title: An Atlas of African Affairs. Contributors: Andrew Boyd - Author, Patrick Van Rensburg - Author. Publisher: Praeger. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1962. Page number: 80.
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