The Robinson Library

The Robinson Library >> French West Africa (General)
French West Africa

Afrique Occidentale Française

French West Africa was a federation of eight territories in western Africa that were administered by France from 1895 to 1958. Those territories were Dahomey (now Benin), French Guinea (now Guinea), French Sudan (now Mali), Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). The administrative capital was Dakar, now the capital of Senegal.

map of French West  Africa


The Portuguese were the first Europeans to explore the west African coast, in the late-1400's. They were followed by the French, the Dutch, and the English. In 1624, King Louis XIII granted a French company a charter to trade in Senegal. In 1658, the French established St. Louis, now a city in Senegal, as a fortified trading post at the mouth of the Senegal River.

Throughout the 1700's, Britain and France fought for control of western Africa. In 1815, Britain finally recognized French control of St. Louis and Gorée at the tip of the Cape Verde peninsula, but France did not seriously extend its control throughout the region until the late-1800's.

In 1895, France grouped its colonies in western Africa under the authority of a Governor General. Dakar became the Governor General's headquarters in 1902.

France proclaimed a constitution for the Federation of West Africa in 1904, but many areas were far being completely controlled. Some remained under military authority until after World War II.

French West Africa became a federation of eight overseas territories within the French Union in 1946. France extended citizenship rights to the Africans at that time, but gave only some of them the right to vote. In 1956, France gave all Africans in the federation the right to vote.

When France adopted a new constitution in 1958, French Guinea voted to leave the French Union and become an independent country, but the other seven territories voted to remain associated with France within the new French Community. In 1960, French Sudan and Senegal united to form the Mali Federation, which then negotiated with France for full independence within the French Community. The Mali Federation broke up in August of that same year, however, and French Sudan became the Republic of Mali. The other five republics then asked for full independence, and all had been granted that independence by the end of 1960.


World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, 1978

See Also

Ivory Coast
Burkina Faso
World War II

Questions or comments about this page?

The Robinson Library >> French West Africa (General)

This page was last updated on December 29, 2018.