Saint-Louis, the former capital of Senegal, was founded in 1659, although continuous French control of the Senegal coast dates only from the late 18th century; and Dakar, the former metropolis of French West Africa, is a focus of Africa's French civilization as well as an excellent port. North lies desert Mauritania (2), eastward the 2,000 mile sprawl of ex-French West Africa, now divided into eight sovereign republics (14). Both the area and its peoples are very varied. Between the desert and the rain-forest of the Ivory Coast lie the open 'bush' and grasslands of the upper Niger and western Sudan, stretching to Lake Chad and beyond. For many centuries, sizeable kingdoms rose and fell on and around the Niger as the Songhai, Malinke, Soninke, Tuareg and Fulani contended for power (C, E). Timbuktu was a famous centre of trans-Sahara trade and Islamic culture. In the 18th and 19th centuries the Fon kingdom in Dahomey became known for its massive human sacrifices and for the troops of women in its large standing army. Some tribal antipathies still threaten the unity of the new states; most of their governments have taken strong measures against local opposition.
Senegal (phosphates, groundnuts, titanium, some manufacturing) and Ivory Coast (coffee, cocoa, timber, palm oil, manganese, diamonds) are the more prosperous of the republics. Guinea's less advanced economy has been boosted since 1952 by the mining of iron ore near Conakry, where bauxite was already being exploited. But most of the republics rely on French aid, while Guinea, after its sharp break with France in 1958 under the leadership of President Sékou Touré, obtained loans from Ghana, Russia and China (13, 19).
Mali, like Ghana, is an old name revived (E). The Mali Federation planned in 1958 was to embrace Senegal, Volta and Dahomey as well as the present Mali republic, then still known as French Sudan ( Soudan). But Volta and Dahomey backed out; later they and Niger joined the loose Conseil de l'Entente group, whose real leader is President Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast (14). Senegal and Soudan quarrelled in 1960 and their Mali Federation broke in two. Soudan renamed itself Mali, and drew close to Guinea, developing an anti-western policy that won communist praise. But France did not apply to it the total withdrawal of official personnel and support that it had applied to Guinea in 1958, and Mali remained in the franc monetary zone, like most of its neighbours. And even Guinea, despite its communist connections, took care not to frighten off the French mining companies whose operations provide its main export earnings.