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West Africa, with an area of over 2.5 million square miles and estimated population of 325.5 million (wikipedia 2011), is comparable in size and people to the continental USA. It is the most densely populated region of Africa despite the fact that millions of people were forcibly taken from her shores during the tragic period of the Slave Trade. The Urban Heritage of West Africa is a topic that has been researched by Dr. Watts. Nigeria alone has about 167 million people. Most people of African descent in Central, Caribbean and North America have roots deeply planted in West Africa.The geography of the region is consistent. The Atlantic coastal area, thickly vegetated and tropical, gives rise to low mountains in the interior. Beyond these lies a great flat grasslands (savannah) similar to those of East Africa, but settled by millions of people who cleared the land of vast animal herds long ago. The savannah gradually gives way to semi-desert (sahel) and then the Sahara itself. There are many rivers and waterways in West Africa, the largest being the Niger, Senegal, Gambia, Volta, and Benue Rivers. You can view a video of the land and arts of the Benue region. After the rainy season, a huge floodplain is formed on the western Niger River that is the size of Portugal. This area is also called the western Niger Bend and witnessed the development of cities such as Jenne, Mopti, Gao, and the famous muslim intellectual center, Timbuktu. These waters are rich with fish. Agriculture and trade have been widespread for centuries. Hundreds of thousands of horses, donkeys and camels  were used in  savannah and sahel regions.

          Recent scholarship has unveiled that agriculture itself was invented in many parts of Africa. The fishing hook was invented in the Niger Bend region by the Bozo people nearly 5,000 years ago. Yam cultivation is at least 8000 years old in West Africa. Throughout the southernmost parts of West Africa, all the way from what is now Guinea to Nigeria, literally millions of tons of yams are grown every year.     

West Africa has seen the rise and fall of many empires and states, and has over 200 historic urban centers.  Several of these empires­, Takur (ca.800-1285 A.D.), Ghana (700-1200 A.D.), Mali (1237-1450 A.D.),  Songhai (1460-1591 A.D.), and Kanem-Bornu (1348-1890) encouraged the spread of trade and Islam over a long period of time. Over half of the people of West Africa are muslims. Traditional African religions are very strong and historic in West Africa as well. The Asante Empire (ca.1670-1900 A.D.) , Yoruba Kingdoms (ca.1100-1830), Benin (ca. 1440-1900) and Mossi (1200-1900 A.D. ) were powerful states.

West Africans fiercely resisted colonial  invasions by the British, French, and Germans (1885-1905) making  European colonial rule last for a relatively short period (1900-1960). This same period in history, however saw many technological improvements (cars, airplanes, radios, television, computers) that made the gap between the industrial countries and the Third World  grow even wider. Today, many West African governments are striving to bring more technology and democracy to the region. Some of West Africa’s populous, interesting cities are Lagos, Dakar, Accra, Kano, Abidjan, Lome, Port Harcourt, Conakry, Benin City, Abuja, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Freetown, Monrovia, Bamako, Niamey, Wagadugu, Kumasi, Timbuktu and St. Louis, Senegal. You can go to Google Earth and literally fly over these and other African cities, using detailed satellite images, for a truly eye-opening experience.


Modern West Africa consists of 15 countries ranging in size from (Mali to the Gambia)  and in population from (Nigeria pop: 176 million to Guinea Bissau pop: 1,647,000)

These countries are – counterclockwise from west to east:



Guinea Bissau


Sierra Leone


Ivory Coast







Burkina Faso