Learn more about West Africawesternmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa (which coincides with common reckonings of the region) includes the following 16 countries:
West Africa is an area with a great span of geography, bioregions, and cultures. It is oriented west of an imagined north-south axis lying close to 10° east longitude. The Atlantic Ocean forms the western and southern borders of the region. The northern border is the Sahara Desert, with the Niger Bend generally considered the northernmost part of the region. The eastern border is less precise, with some placing it at the Benue Trough, and others on a line running from Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad.
Colonial boundaries are reflected in the modern boundaries between contemporary West African nations, cutting across ethnic and cultural lines, often dividing single ethnic groups between two or more countries.
 Geography and climate
West Africa occupies an area in excess of 6,140,000 km², or approximately one-fifth of Africa. The vast majority of this land is plains lying less than 300 meters above sea level, though isolated high points exist in numerous countries along the southern shore of the region.
The northern section of West Africa is composed of semi-arid terrain known as Sahel, a transitional zone between the Sahara desert and the savannahs of the western Sudan to the south. Equatorial forests form a third belt between the savannahs and the southern coast, ranging from 160 km to 240 km in width.
 Culture and religion
Traditionally Western Africa can be divided between two main groups of people; namely the predominantly Middle Eastern 'Arab' people north of the Sahara and the Predominanlty Black African people south thereof. While north of the Sahara the ethnicity and culture of the people is more an extension of the middle east, south of the Sahara the most recognized culture is what is thought of as predominantly "African". Despite the wide variety of cultures in West Africa, from Nigeria through to Senegal, there are apparent similarities in dress, cuisine, musical genres and religions. Islam is the predominant religion of the West African interior (bordering the vast Sahara desert) and the far west coast of the continent; Christianity is the predominant religion in coastal regions of Nigeria, Ghana, and Cote d'Ivoire; and elements of indigenous religions (see Voodoo) are practised throughout the interior (these religions are the original beliefs of the native population). Before the decline of the Mali and Songhai Empires there was a sizable group of Jewish communities in areas like Mali, Senegal, Mauritania, and Nigeria. The only practicing Jewish communities that currently exist in West Africa are in Ghana and Nigeria. Along with historic migrations, these religions have culturally linked the peoples of West Africa more than those in other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The game Oware is quite popular in many parts of West Africa. Football is also a pastime enjoyed by many, either spectating or playing. The national teams of some West African nations, especially Nigeria, regularly qualify for the World Cup.
Mbalax, Highlife, Fuji and Afrobeat are all modern musical genres which enjoin listeners in this region. Traditionally, musical and oral history as conveyed over generations by Griots are typical of West African culture.
A typical formal attire worn in this region is the flowing Boubou (also known as Agbada and Babariga), which has its origins in the clothing of nobility of various West African Empires in the 12th Century.
The Djembe drum, whose origins lie with the Mandinka peoples, is now a popularly played drum among many West African ethnic groups. The Djembe, along with the highly intricate silk Kente cloth of the Akan peoples of Ghana and the distinct Sudano-Sahelian architectural style seen in the many mosques of the region (see Djenné), are the primary symbolic icons of West African culture.
Family is an important aspect as well, being a main priority.
The history of West Africa can be divided into five major periods: first, its prehistory, in which the first human settlers arrived, agriculture developed, and contact made with the Mediterranean civilizations to the north; the second, the Iron Age empires that consolidated trade and developed centralized states; third, the slave-trading kingdoms, jihads, and colonial invaders of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; fourth, the colonial period, in which France and Great Britain controlled nearly the whole of the region; fifth, the post-independence era, in which the current nations were formed.
Early human settlers, probably related to the Pygmies, arrived in West Africa around 12,000 BCE. Sedentary farming began around the fifth millennium, as well as the domestication of cattle. By 400 BCE, ironworking technology allowed an expansion of agricultural productivity, and the first city-states formed. The domestication of the camel allowed the development of a cross-Saharan trade with Mediterranean cultures, including Carthage and the Berbers; major exports included gold, cotton cloth, metal ornaments and leather goods, which were then exchanged for salt, horses, and textiles.
The development of the region's economy allowed more centralized states to form, beginning with the Soninke Ghana Empire in the eighth century. Based around the city of Kumbi Saleh in modern-day Mauritania, the empire came to dominate much the region until its defeat by Almoravid invaders in 1052. The Sosso Empire sought to fill the void, but was defeated (c. 1240) by the Mandinka forces of Sundiata Keita, founder of the new Mali Empire The Mali Empire continued to flourish for several centuries (most particularly under Sundiata's grandnephew), Kankan Musa I before a succession of weak rulers led to its collapse under Mossi, Tuareg and Songhai invaders. In the fifteenth century, the Songhai would form a new dominant state based around Gao, the Songhai Empire, under the leadership of Sonni Ali and Askia Mohammed. Meanwhile, south of the Sudan, strong city states arose in Ife, Bono, and Benin around the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Further east, Oyo arose as the dominant Yoruba state and the Aro Confederacy as a dominant Igbo state in modern-day Nigeria.
 Slavery and European contact
Following the 1591 destruction of the Songhai capital by Moroccan invaders, a number of smaller states arose across West Africa, including the Bambara Empire of Ségou, the Bambara kingdom of Kaarta, the Peul/Malinké kingdom of Khasso, and the Kénédougou Empire of Sikasso. Portuguese traders began establishing settlements along the coast in 1445, followed by the French and English; the African slave trade began not long after, which over the following centuries would debilitate the region's economy and population. The slave trade also encouraged the formation of states such as the Bambara Empire and Dahomey, whose economies largely depended on exchanging slaves for European firearms, which were then used to capture more slaves.
The expanding Atlantic slave trade produced significant populations of West Africans living in the New World, recently colonized by Europeans. The oldest known remains of African slaves in the Americas were found in Mexico in early 2006; they are thought to date from the late 16th century and the mid-17th century. <ref>"Skeletons Discovered: First African Slaves in New World". January 31, 2006. LiveScience.com. Accessed September 27, 2006.</ref> European and American governments passed legislation prohibiting the Atlantic slave trade in the 19th century, though slavery in the Americas persisted in some capacity through the century in the Americas; the last country to abolish the institution was Brazil in 1888. Descendants of West Africans make up large and important segments of the population in Brazil, the Caribbean, the United States, and throughout the New World.
In the early nineteenth century, a series of Fulani reformist jihads swept across the Western Sudan. The most notable include Usman dan Fodio's Fulani Empire, which replaced the Hausa city-states, Seku Amadu's Massina Empire, which defeated the Bambara, and El Hadj Umar Tall's Toucouleur Empire, which briefly conquered much of modern-day Mali. However, the French and British continued to advance in the Scramble for Africa, subjugating kingdom after kingdom. With the fall of Samory Ture's new-founded Wassoulou Empire in 1898 and the Ashanti queen Yaa Asantewaa in 1902, West African military resistance to colonial rule came to an effective end.
Britain controlled The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Nigeria throughout the colonial era, while France unified Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire and Niger into French West Africa. Portugal founded the colony of Guinea-Bissau, while Germany claimed Togoland, but was forced to divide it between France and Britain following First World War. Only Liberia retained its independence, at the price of major territorial concessions.
 Postcolonial era
Following Second World War, nationalist movements arose across West Africa. In 1957, Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah, became the first sub-Saharan colony to achieve its independence, followed the next year by France's colonies; by 1974, West Africa's nations were entirely autonomous. Since independence, many West African nations have been plagued by corruption and instability, with notable civil wars in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Côte d'Ivoire, and a succession of military coups in Ghana and Burkina Faso. Many states have failed to develop their economies despite enviable natural resources (see: Petroleum in Nigeria), and political instability is often accompanied by undemocratic government. AIDS is also a growing problem for the region, particularly in Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, and Nigeria. Famine has been a problem in parts of northern Mali and Niger, the latter of which is currently undergoing a food crisis.
 Regional organizations
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), founded by the 1975 Treaty of Lagos, is an organization of West African states which aims to promote the region's economy. The West African Monetary Union (or UEMOA from its name in French, Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine) is limited to the eight, mostly francophone countries that employ the CFA franc as their common currency. The Liptako-Gourma Authority of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso seeks to jointly develop the contiguous areas of the three countries.
Every country of West Africa is also a member of the African Union except Morocco.
 See also
- Ashanti people
- Fula people
- Ghana Empire
- Hausa people
- Jews of the Bilad el-Sudan (West Africa)
- Mali Empire
- Mande people
- Yoruba people
- Davidson, Basil. Africa in History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
 External links
- Loccidental The News reference for West Africa.
- A website dedicated to West African djembe drumming
bs:Zapadna Afrika bg:Западна Африка ca:Àfrica Occidental cs:Západní Afrika cy:Gorllewin Affrica da:Vestafrika de:Westafrika es:África occidental fr:Afrique de l'Ouest ko:서아프리카 hr:Zapadna Afrika id:Afrika Barat is:Vestur-Afríka it:Africa Occidentale sw:Afrika ya Magharibi ms:Afrika Barat nl:West-Afrika ja:西アフリカ no:Vest-Afrika pl:Afryka Zachodnia pt:África Ocidental ru:Западная Африка sq:Afrika perëndimore sl:Zahodna Afrika sr:Западна Африка sh:Zapadna Afrika fi:Länsi-Afrikka sv:Västafrika tr:Batı Afrika zh:西部非洲