An Atlas of African Affairs

By Andrew Boyd; Patrick Van Rensburg | Go to book overview

17. Commonwealth West Africa

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.

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An Atlas of African Affairs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Foreword 7
  • A. Population 10
  • B. Regions and Barriers 12
  • C. Languages and Peoples 14
  • D. European and Asian Settlement 20
  • E. 'Pre-European' History 22
  • F. Europeans on the Coast 24
  • G. the European 'scramble' 26
  • H. the New Political Map 28
  • I. British and French Heritages 30
  • J. United Nations Activity 32
  • K. Pan-Africanism and Regional Unity 34
  • L. Africa Overseas 36
  • M. Education 38
  • N. Health and Pests 40
  • O. Minerals 42
  • P. Transport 44
  • Q. Power, Development And Research 46
  • 1. the Maghreb 48
  • 2. Morocco and Mauritania 50
  • 3. Algeria 52
  • 4. Tunisia and Libya 54
  • 5. Egypt and Its Neighbours 57
  • 6. Suez Canal 58
  • 7. Suez-Sinai Conflict, 1956 60
  • 8. the Nile 62
  • 9. Egypt 64
  • 10. the Sudan 66
  • 11. Ethiopia 68
  • 12. the Somalis 70
  • 13. West Africa 72
  • 14. Ex-French Africa 74
  • 15. Ex-French West Africa 76
  • 16. 'Equatorial' Africa 78
  • 17. Commonwealth West Africa 80
  • 18- Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia 82
  • 19. Ghana and Its Neighbours 84
  • 20. Nigeria 86
  • 21. Cameroons 88
  • 22. Two Congos 90
  • 23. Post-Belgian Congo 92
  • 24. Lower Congo 94
  • 25. Between the Lakes 96
  • 26. Ruanda-Urundi 98
  • 27. British East and Central Africa 100
  • 28. Uganda 102
  • 29. Kenya 104
  • 30. Tanganyika and Zanzibar 106
  • 31. the Rhodesias 108
  • 32. Katanga and Copperbelt 110
  • 33. Nyasaland 112
  • 34. Angola and Mozambique 114
  • 35. Malagasy (madagascar) 116
  • 36. South Africa and Its Neighbours 118
  • 37. Protectorates and S.W. Africa 120
  • 38. Eastern South Africa 122
  • Index 125
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