West Africa was a federation
of eight French colonial territories in Africa: Mauritania,
Senegal, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea (now Guinea), Côte d'Ivoire
(Ivory Coast), Upper Volta (now Burkina
(now Benin) and Niger. It was
formed from individual coastal colonies which the French had first seized as
trading posts in the 17th and 18th centuries. French, in the 1880s and 1890s, conquered
large inland areas, and at first ruled them as either part of the Senegal
colony, or as independent entities, usually governed by French Army officers,
and dubbed "Military Territories". In the late 1890s, the French
government began to reign in the territorial expansion of its officers on the
ground, and transferred all the territories west of Gabon
to a single Governor based in Senegal.
The first Governor General of Senegal
was named in 1895, and in 1904, the territories he oversaw were formally named French West Africa.
Following the Second World War,
the French Fourth Republic
began a process of extending limited political rights in its colonies. The
French Empire was renamed the French Union. The Constitution of the French Fifth
Republic of 1958 again
changed the colonies structure from the French Union to the French Community.
Each territory was to become a "Protectorate" with the consultative
assembly named a National Assembly and the French appointed Governor renamed as
"High Commissioner" and made head of state of each territory. The
Assembly would name an African as Head of Government with advisory powers to
the Head of State.
Legally the federation ceased to
exist after the September 1958 referendum to approve this French Community. All
the colonies except for Guinea
voted to remain in the new structure, while Guineans voted overwhelmingly for
independence. In 1960, a further revision of the French constitution allowed
members of the French Community to unilaterally change their own constitutions.
The new nations of West Africa were born.