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Environmental History of West Africa

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Chang, HyeJin
Term Paper, AP World History Class, June 2012

Table of Contents
I. Introduction
II. Geography and Climate of West Africa
III. Desiccation of the Sahara
III.1 Before the Desiccation
III.2 Drying of the Sahara
III.3 Influence on West African Prehistory
III.3.1 Migration of the Saharan Pastoralists
III.3.2 Advent of Agriculture and Livestock
III.3.3 Natural Barrier between North and West Africa
IV. Overcoming Brutal Environment : Trans-Saharan Trade
IV.1 Introduction of the Camel
IV.2 Economic Change through Gold Trade
IV.2.1 Gold Extraction in West Africa
IV.2.2 Trade Routes of Gold
IV.2.3 The Rise of Empires
IV.3 Cultural Change : The Spread of Islam in West Africa
IV.3.1 The Spread of Islam in North Africa and the Western Sahara
IV.3.2 The Islamization of West African States
V. Disasters due to Geographical Location and to Natural Resources
V.1 Geographical Proximity to America and its Impact
V.1.1 "Discovery" of America
V.1.2 Beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade
V.1.3 Slave Trade across the Atlantic Ocean
V.1.4 Impact on West Africa
V.2 Colonial Exploitation of Natural Resources
V.2.1 The Colonization of West Africa
V.2.2 European Exploitation of the West African Environment
VI. Ongoing Desertification in West Africa
VI.1 Overview of the Present-Day Climate Change
VI.2 Disappearing Forests in West Africa
VI.2.1 Current Status and Prospect
VI.2.2 Causes
VI.2.3 Efforts to Stop further Deforestation
VI.3 Population Growth and its Impact on the West African Environment
VI.4 Pollution due to Waste Dumping
VI.5 The Green House Effect and Global Warming
VII. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            This paper focused on studying the mutual relationship between environment and human history of West Africa. Therefore, the influence that the environment and peoples of West Africa wielded on each other throughout the history will be shown. This paper is chronologically organized, covering the environmental history of West Africa since prehistory until present day. This paper aimed to demonstrate that the environment of West Africa affected its history significantly and human occupation in this region has brought notable changes in environment as well.

II. Geography and Climate of West Africa
            Prior to discussing the environmental history of West Africa, it is necessary to study the general description about the geography and climate of this region. West Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. According to the United Nations, West Africa includes the following 16 countries which are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. The western and southern border of West Africa is the Atlantic Ocean. The Sahara desert forms the northern border, with the Ranishanu Bend generally considered as the northernmost part (1). The Cameroon-Nigeria border is the eastern border of West Africa, which is also an important physical and cultural diving line of the African continent as well (2). West Africa occupies an area in excess of 6,140,000 square kilometers, which is approximately one-fifth of Africa. The major portion of this land is plains lying less than 300 meters above sea level, while isolated high points exist in numerous countries along the southern shore. The northern section of West Africa is semi-arid terrain Sahel which a transitional zone between the Sahara desert, and the savanna of the western Sudan. Forests form a third belt between the savanna and the southern coast, ranging from 160 kilometers to 240 kilometers in width. (3)

III. Desiccation of the Sahara

III.1 Before the Desiccation
            Africa has experienced substantial changes in climate over the past 15,000 to 20,000 years. During the last ice age, it appears that the climate of Africa was significantly cooler and drier than it is now. Desert sand dunes formed up to several hundred kilometers beyond the limits of the present-day Sahara (4).
            As the ice caps of Europe and North America began to retreat some 15,000 years ago, Africa's climate became warmer and wetter and the desert margins retreated. What is now the Sahara became a fertile, savannah-type environment with substantial rivers and lakes (5). Large lakes like the modern Lake Chad covered much of the southern Sahara. These have left evidence which are deposits of diatoms, skeletons of reptiles, mammals and fish, and waterside human habitation sites. The largest lake in the Sahara was Mega-Chad which extended over 330,000 square kilometers to the 325 meters contour, while the modern lake has an area of only 25,000 square kilometers and is bounded by the 282 meters contour (6).
            Fossils and well-preserved rock paintings provide evidence of the profusion of wildlife and the presence of human hunters and herders in the present-day Sahara (7). A wide variety of fauna could then live in areas that are completely desertified nowadays such as Tenere, Tanezrouft and Maja Bet al-Kubra (8). The Neolithic sites discovered in these areas had rocks paintings of the large Ethiopian animals like elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, antelopes and hippopotamuses (9). The Sahara was also capable of supporting Mediterranean type of vegetation (10). Other rock paintings show that pastoralism, initially based on sheep and goat herding and later on cattle rearing, was well established in the Sahara (11). The discovery of a large number of intricately flaked stone arrowheads and bone harpoons found in this region suggests that hunting and fishing may had also played important role in the inhabitants' economy (12).

III.2 Desiccation of the Sahara
            Desertification of the Sahara was initiated by the changes in the Earth's orbit and tilt of Earth's axis since approximately 9000 years ago (13). Earth's tilt then was 24.14 degrees, as compared with the current 23.45 degrees. Perihelion, the point in the Earth's orbit that is closest to the Sun, occurred at the end of July while nowadays it occurs in early January. Furthermore, at that time, the northern hemisphere received more summer sunlight, which amplified the African and Indian summer monsoon (14).
            The changes in Earth's orbit occurred gradually, however, whereas the evolution of North Africa's climate and vegetation were quite abrupt. The desiccation was further amplified by the resulting atmospheric and vegetation feedbacks from the orbital changes (15). From around 5000 B.C., the general increase in temperatures began in the northern hemisphere, and it is evidenced by the melting of the glaciers of northern Europe. Such climatic change influenced the climate and vegetation in West Africa as well. The climate of the Sahara and other comparatively arid environments became much drier and less variable. All but the largest rivers disappeared and Lake Chad began to shrink (16). Actually, the amounts of rainfall decreased and water table was also lowered overall. Eventually the conversion into desert of the less well-watered regions started to occur (17).
            Other possible factors for desiccation also exist. One of the most important of these factors would be that, at the same time the ecological balance of the vegetation was being degraded, it was being exploited by the large herds of animals that were grazing on the Sahara region. Also harvest of vegetation by the inhabitants and cutting down of trees may have contributed in gradually converting the savanna into desert (18).

III.3 Influence on West African Prehistory

III.3.1 Migration of the Saharan Pastoralists
            As the drying of the Sahara intensified, it started to progressively force out people with their herds that used to inhabit in the Sahara region during the Stone Age. These people migrated a long way from their previous habitat, presumably because it became too dry to support their former pastoralistic way of life there (19). More specifically, the Saharan pastoralists, Libyan-Berbers in the north and Teda and Fulani who are the ancestors of the Zaghawa headed towards the south. This also led their flocks and herds southwards and to trespass onto lands primarily occupied by sedentary people who were already passing from vege-culture to agriculture.
            The pressure on sedentary Sudanese people exerted by these nomadic pastoralists is particularly evident in Mauritania, where all along the Tichit-Walata escarpment the remains of some dozens of villages were built on naturally defensive sites close to sources of water. These walled villages not only indicate that men had passed beyond hunting and gathering and reached the level of becoming settled cultivators and herders, but also that they were threatened by external danger, in this case the Libyan-Berber warriors from the Sahara. These villages, by the excavations carried out by American archaeologist Patrick Munson, date back to the period from 1400 to 380 B.C. (20).

III.3.2 Advent of Agriculture and Livestock
            Measurement of cattle bones found in archaeological sites in the Sahara indicate that North Africa provided the progenitors of Saharan domestic cattle, Bos ibericus. The faunal assemblage from Capeletti in the Maghreb indicates that cattle domestication followed domestication of the goat, while an increase in the percentage of bovines suggests an increasing reliance on cattle from 6500 to 4500 B.C. Using a chronology based on radiocarbon dates from sites reporting domesticated Bos, the expansion of the cattle complex into the southern Saharan and Sahel zones of West Africa appears to have been a direct result of the desiccation of the Saharan region, and consequent migration of pastoralists in search of new water sources (21).
            The longhorn cattle dispersed with these pastoralists south through present-day Sudan, west along the northern coastal region, southwest into West Africa and also centrally through the Sahara region. Cave art from the Tassili and Tibesti highlands indicate that at this time cattle were present in regions of the Sahara with practically no rainfall today. The cattle which entered West Africa evolved an inherited tolerance or resistance to trypanosomiasis and were able to thrive in the southern forested regions. These longhorn cattle eventually gave rise to the modern N¡¯Dama breed. Furthermore, during 1700 to 1600 B.C., shorthorn cattle which became the predominant type in North Africa eventually dispersed throughout West Africa. In West Africa, they also developed a tolerance to trypanosomiasis and were capable of inhabiting forested regions with a high tsetse challenge (22).

III.3.3 Natural Barrier between North and West Africa
            The desiccated Sahara became a geographical barrier and began to exert constraining influence on human movement. The Sahara, combined with the Sudd swamps of the upper Nile, cut the rest of Africa off from the important developments that took place in Egypt, the Middle East and the Indus Valley. (23). These developments include the discovery of metallurgy like copper, tin, and bronze. Thus, this is the reason why there was no Copper or Bronze Age in Africa (24).
            Until 1000 B.C., although from time to time there were a few contacts with the outside world, the people of West Africa and the Sahara did not take important part in the developing networks of world trade, but rather only acceptation of a few innovations such as weaponary, wood and leather working from the worlds of the Mediterranean and the Nile Valley (25).

IV. Overcoming Brutal Environment : The Trans-Saharan Trade

IV.1 Introduction of the Camel
            Human movement in and across the Sahara was still possible, although it became much more difficult than it was before the desiccation of the Sahara. The Trans-Saharan trade between North and Sub-Saharan Africa began as early as 1000 B.C. Around this period, people crossed the Sahara by using oxen or horses carrying chariots or carts filled with loads (26). Also, since people possessed no better weapons than stones and above all, it was rare for them to engage in the long-distance raids to capture booty to take back into the desert (27).Therefore, although trade across the Sahara may dates back to many thousands of years ago, the Trans-Saharan trade would not had given so large impact on the lives of Africans (28).
            The Trans-Saharan trade, however, was developed by the Carthaginians from about the fifth century B.C., and was further stimulated by the Romans three centuries later, following their expansion into North Africa and the subsequent introduction of the camel. The camel soon became more important in the Sahara than any other transportation that existed before 1000 B.C. like the chariots or horses (29). A very robust animal, the camel could carry a load of 125 to 150 kilograms, over long distances by daily stages of 25 to 30 kilometers. If necessary, it could even go as far as 150 kilometers in a day. The camel was able to go without water for several days since it drinks considerable amount of water once it has reached a water point. Also it could survive on the poor vegetation the Sahara provides. Thus, the caravans of camels made the desert crossing to become much easier and eventually increased the freight loads that trading caravans could bring (30).
            The introduction of camel stimulated great development of the Trans-Saharan trade of West Africa. By seventh century, as Muslim Arab invaded North Africa, organized and lasting commercial relationships based on profitable exchange were established by the means of camel transportation often used by the Berbers in the Sahara. This eventually brought about an economic revolution in West Africa, which is the beginning of large-scale export of gold (31).

IV.2 Economic Change through Gold Trade

IV.2.1 Gold Extraction in West Africa
            Rich gold deposits were located widely across the forest belt in the Upper Senegal, Upper Niger and Upper Volta. This gold-producing areas were known to Arabic and later to European writers as "Wangara". After the procedure of extraction and manufacturing, gold was exported northwards (32). The gold trade linked the forest belt in West Africa with the Mediterranean, and beyond it to Europe and Asia. Until the Europeans recognized the mineral wealth of the American continent, they depended on Africa for its gold supply. As African gold grew immense during the Middle Age, the extraction of gold became a large industry in West Africa. Professor Raymond Mauny estimated that, once fully organized, an average of nine tons of gold was exported from West Africa annually (33).

IV.2.2 Trade Routes of Gold
            The gold export from the forest belt went in two stages. The first was from the gold-producing regions, through the forest into the open savannah country where the gold was bartered with traders from the Mediterranean shores. The second was across the Sahara desert where the traders from the north carried gold in camel to the cities of North Africa. There, gold was either minted into coinage or re-exported beyond Africa. Sijilmasa which is nowadays south-eastern Morocco, was the chief terminus for the gold trade (34).

IV.2.3 Rise of Empires
            The flourishment of gold trade had brought one of the most important historical events in the history of West Africa, the advent of the first empire. Ghana, a kingdom located in present-day Senegal and Mali, rose to prominence during the ninth century (35). The Ghana Empire rose because the kings were able to establish themselves at the intersection of the two stages of gold trade explained above. Once they extended power over the savannah region in west of the middle Niger, they could force the gold exporters from the south and the gold importers from the north to meet at their city and do business there. Therefore, both stages of gold trade were channeled through the empire of Ghana where all the traders had to congregate to meet their customers. From this procedure the Ghana Empire drew immense wealth (36). Accounts of Arab travelers such as Al-Bakri, provide insights into the size and splendor of this kingdom. Al-Bakri noted, for example, that Ghana could field an army of 200,000 warriors (37).
            Despite such economic development of the empire, Ghana experienced a steady decline during the twelfth century, following the opening of new, rich gold fields at Bure, beyond Ghana's borders, and the resultant shifting of trade routes (38). In 1076, Ghana Empire, in consequence of a raid by Almoravid leader Abu Bakr, lost its stance as a trading center and finally collapsed in 1240. After then, the economic balance shifted east to the bend of the middle Niger. Jenne, Timbuktu and Gao became central places for the Trans-Saharan trade. The subsequent kings of the empire of Mali and then of Songhay replaced the kings of Ghana as its beneficiaries of the Trans-Saharan trade (39).

IV.3 Cultural Change : The Spread of Islam in West Africa

IV.3.1 The Spread of Islam in North Africa and the Western Sahara
            Following the introduction of camels as transportation and overcome of the Sahara as a geological barrier, another indirect result of this use of camel besides the rise of empires was the spread of Islam in the late seventh century and many of the pagans in the Sahara and West Africa converting to Islam (40). Islam is one of the great religions of the world which began when the Prophet Muhammad and three companions proclaimed the new faith in 622 A.D., the Year 1 of Islam (41).
            From the seventh to the eighth century, there was an expansionist movement of the Arab people out of the Arabian peninsula into the lands of Syria, Iraq, Persia and Central Asia and also along the North African coast. The dissemination of Islam in the African continent began initially in North Africa and the western Sahara. In 632 A.D., the Muslim armies successfully gained control in Africa. While the coast lands of North Africa that were largely Christian were easily conquered, the pegan Berber tribes were more resistant and tended to withdraw farther into the Sahara to avoid the Arab armies. However under the Arab's subsequent control over them, the Berbers converted from their pagan religion to Islam. After then, it was the Berber tribes, particularly those of the Sanhaja confederation, who formed the chief link between Islamic North Africa and the savannah lands of West Africa. One tribe of this federation, the Lamtuna, moved into central Mauritania in the late eighth century and gained control of Awdaghast which was the terminus of camel route from Sijilmasa (42). During the eighth and ninth centuries, the Muslim state based on Tahert in the Sahara had trade with Awdaghast, and by the tenth century, Islam began to spread out further in West Africa from this region (43). In the second half of the tenth century an Arab geographer, Ibn Hawqal, reported the presence of Arab merchants who were engaged in large-scale commercial activities. Arab traders also established themselves in other town of the savanna belt and by the late ninth century they were in Kkia, Gao, and ancient Ghana (44).

IV.3.2 The Islamization of West African States
            During the eleventh century, the rulers and many of the people of West Africa, including the Ghana Empire, converted to Islam (45). The presence of a Muslim community in ancient Ghana was reported by the geographer Al-Bakri. He wrote in his book "Book of Roads and Kingdoms", that Ghana consisted of two towns, and one of them was inhabited by Muslims and had two mosques. It can be said that his town was the foreigners' quarter inhabited by Arab merchants from North Africa. Furthermore, the royal capital where the king of Ghana lived also shown to had mosque and Muslims who worked as the kind's interpreters and ministers. The interpreters may have been foreigners but the ministers are more likely to had been local men. These ministers were important since they were literate in Arabic and therefore record decisions and events, and also engage in correspondence on behalf of the kind with more distant rulers (46). Furthermore, they were capable of establishing international relations since they belonged to the umma, the larger body politic of the Islamic world (47).
            The Mali Empire, which came into power by incorporating the former Ghana territory and the Susu lands, also had numerous Muslim kings. During eleventh century a ruler converted to Islam after the Muslim prayers brought end to the prolonged drought. Mansa Uli, who was the ruler of Mali Empire in thirteenth century, made the pilgrimage to Mecca (48), and another emperor Mansa Musa is also known to had traveled as a pilgrim through Cairo to Mecca in 1324 A.D., accompanied by 500 porters (49). Though the rulers of Mali Empire continued to be Muslims, still many indigenous features in the Mali ceremonies were maintained and existence of some un-Islamic practices were tolerated because the initial spread of Islam was economically motivated through trans-saharan trade, rather than due to religious factors.

V. Disaster due to Geographical Location and to Natural Resources

V.1 Geographical Proximity to America and its Impact

V.1.1 The "Discovery" of America
            As the Trans-Saharan trade ended West Africa's isolation which had been caused by the transition of the Sahara to desert, the development of overseas trade from the fifteenth century onward involved Africa in the creation of a new trading relationship with the Europe and New World (50). Since the late fifteenth century, the focus of international trade moved from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic (51). Until the fifteenth century, the tidal currents had made ocean travel particularly difficult and risky for boats that were then available, and thus there had been very little, if any, naval contact between the people living in Old World and New World. But new European developments in sea-faring technologies enabled ships to be better equipped to deal with the problem of tidal currents, and therefore the Europeans could begin traversing the Atlantic Ocean (52).
            Christopher Columbus, in 1494, landed in America during his search for India under the sponsorship of Castile (Spain). Then between 1492 and 1503, Columbus completed four round-trip voyages between Spain and America. These voyages marked the beginning of the European exploration and colonization of the American continent (53). After his intial trip, explorers and merchants flooded into America. In 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral from Portugal landed in Brazil. Then Spain and Portugal claimed for the American continent they "discovered" and employed economic activities such as ranching, mining, and agriculture. Furthermore, Spain carried on trade with its colonies throughout the sixteenth century. The discovery of vast silver mines in the 1540s enriched the colonial inhabitants and increased the volume of trade across the Atlantic. Other European countries also began to seek opportunities to run colonial administration and expand trading systems in the America as well. By 1609, the English possessed Bermuda and by 1623 they also gained control of St. Kitts. Guadeloupe and Martinique was colonized by French in 1625. The Dutch, Swedes, and Danes also joined the European expansion into America (54).

V.1.2 The Beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade
            At the beginning of the colonization process, small farmers from Europe flooded into the America after seeing the success of sugar and tobacco harvest in the America. Soon after then large plantations were formed, and therefore colonial administrations needed more labor force to manage them properly (55). The demand for sugar workers in sixteenth century in Brazil, the seventeenth century in Caribbean, and nineteenth century in Cuba brought immense increase in the both demand and supply of African slaves. Similarly, the demand for mine workers in eighteenth century in Minas Gerais and New Granada brought such increase (56). At first they sent over Amerindian labor or exploited Indian labor (57). They searched for more Indians to exploit, but most of the Indians died of disease carried by the Europeans. To replace the reducing labor force, the Portuguese began to import slaves from their African ports. Thus, the African slave trade began.
            The increase in the profitability of these industries increased slave import for the European countries that were occupying America. Furthermore as the African continent is located east of American continent, it was very handy for Western Africa to be the area from where the bulk of slaves were procured. Consequently, the population of African Americans grew steadily from seventeenth to eighteenth centuries (58).
            Other factors that may have pushed the import of African slaves across the Atlantic are war and famine. For example, the savanna area of marginal rainfall such as Angola and the grasslands extending from Senegambia east to Cameroon, underwent periodic drought and famine, and during this period, desperate families sold both children and adults to America as slaves (59).

V.1.3 The Atlantic Slave Trade
            When the African slaves arrived in the Americas, they were exposed to further stages that resulted in high mortality. Slaves brought by the Dutch to Curaçao and by the English to Jamaica were transshipped to Cartagena, Portobelo and on to various Spanish colonies. From Cartagena, some slaves were settled in Colombia. Many slaves went to Portobelo in Panama, walked overland, and then went to Lima. Most remained there but some went into the highlands. Slaves landed in the Rio de La Plata went overland for 900 kilometers to Tucuman and then on another 600 kilometers to the silver mines at Potosi. In Brazil, with the gold rush in Minas Gerais at the beginning of eighteenth century, slaves were sent overland to the mining areas, 300 kilometers from Rio and a much longer distance overland from Bahia. Slaves entering the Chesapeake and South Carolina came after stopping in Barbados. Some slaves, however, were liberated either by emancipation, self-purchase, or escape (60).
            Slaves were occupied in mining, plantation work, artisanal work, transport, and domestic service. In Spanish America, slaves worked mostly in mining and artisanal work until the late eighteenth century, when sugar and tobacco plantation work began to dominate Cuba. In Brazil, sugar plantation work dominated the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while mining work expanded in the eighteenth century. The English and French Caribbean concentrated on sugar production, while still coffee and livestock occupied many slaves. Tobacco production occupied large number of slaves in Bahia and North America. Cotton production expanded from the 1760s in Maranhao and then further into other parts of the South America (61).

V.1.4 Impact on West Africa
            The slave trade was predominantly detrimental to West African societies (62). Although a few large empires such as Dahomey, Asante, and Benin expanded and prospered with the slave trade by selling slaves, the subsequent abolition of slave trade eventually led to the fast downfall of all of these states (63).
            Furthermore, the Atlantic slave trade seriously affected the demographic growth of many African societies directly (64). For many societies on the West coast of Africa, populations either declined, remained constant, or had very little growth. It has been estimated that in 1600, the population of Africa was about 50 million which was thirty percent of the combined population of the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (65). By 1900, the population of Africa had grown to 70 million, but made up only ten percent of the total combined population (66). A majority of 3 million slaves were sold into Spanish America and 5 millions were sold into Brazil over a period of three centuries from the west coast of Africa between the Ivory Coast and South Africa. (67).
            Also, the forced migration of many young men in villages caused a shift in marriage patterns because the number of marriageable men declined. Therefore, the villages usually suffered a disproportion between men and women. For the Upper Guinea Coast, for example, slave exports were immense during the latter half of the eighteenth century to reduce the regional population and halt growth into the first decade of the nineteenth century. During this period, the ratio of men to women dropped to below 80 men to 100 hundred women (68). The continual interaction between villages by the migrations of slaves across Africa brought about the spread of diseases, further disrupting the growth of populations. Moreover, inter-tribal warfare and the capturing of slaves often heightened the effects of disease and famine. The effects of famine were also magnified because less people were available to produce food, which also consequently bring decline in the population even more (69).

V.2 Colonial Exploitation of Natural Resources

V.2.1 The Colonization of West Africa
            Following the collapse of the profitability of the slave trade with its abolition and suppression, and at the same time the expansion of Industrial Revolution in Europe, the European colonization of Africa developed in the nineteenth century (70). Therefore, the primary motivation for European intrusion of Africa was economic (71). As European countries experienced the expansion of the Industrial Revolution, they needed human resources, capital resources, and natural resources for proper industrial production. There was no shortage of labor in Europe and two centuries of trade with Asia, the America and Africa including the Atlantic slave trade had brought great profits. These profits provided the capital necessary to finance the Industrial Revolution. However, most of Europe suffered shortage of natural resources. Consequently, European industries were dependent on raw material from Asia, America, and Africa. As industrialization grew and spread throughout Europe, competition for raw materials increased. Consequently, some European industrialists encouraged their government to colonize African countries as a method of guaranteeing sources of raw materials (72). By the early twentieth century, Africa except Ethiopia and Liberia had been colonized by European powers (73).

V.2.2 European Exploitation of West Africa
            Due to the great geographic diversity of Africa in terms of natural resources, climate, vegetation, topography, and precipitation, there was no uniform model that the European powers used to raise revenue throughout Africa. Thus, economic activity in Africa was diverse. One the most popular economic activity in West Africa was the mineral exploitation. Africa is a continent rich in mineral resources. In colonies where there were large deposits of minerals, colonial governments encouraged brutal exploitation of minerals. In these colonies, colonial governments initiated policies that forced African farmers to leave their homes to become mine workers. The colonial governments also actively encouraged farmers to grow special cash crops that would be exported to raise revenues. Cash crops included food crops such as groundnuts and peanuts produced in Senegal and Nigeria, cocoa in Ghana, Togo and Cote d'Ivoire, and non-food crops such as cotton in Mali, and Niger (74).

VI. Ongoing Desertification in West Africa

VI.1 Overview of Present Day Climate Change
            Since the early 1970s, a series of serious droughts affected various parts of the African continent. They brought about significant environmental effects, as well as effects on human societies and economies. The effects on ecosystems include lower river discharges and lower lake levels, as well as stress on flora and fauna. Deserification has occurred on a large scale in marginal semiarid environments. What has been particularly significant in these recent drought and associated damage to ecosystems is the degree to which population growth, the utilization of marginal arid lands, and inappropriate development strategies have made these effects so large (75).

VI.2 Disappearing Forests in West Africa

VI.2.1 Current Status and Prospect
            About 3.8 million hectares of African forests are being cleared each year for a variety of purposes. The rain forests remaining in West Africa today are much less than 30 years ago. In Guinea, Liberia and the Ivory Coast, there are almost no forests that is left untouched. In Ghana, the situation is worse since virtually all the rain forests have been cut down. Guinea-Bissau is losing 20,000 to 35,000 hectares of forest annually. In Senegal 50,000 hectares of woodened savanna, and in Nigeria 250,000 hectares, and in Liberia 80,000 hectares of forests are being exploited and depleted each year. It is estimated by Botanist Peter Raven that most of the world's moderate and smaller rain forests in Africa would be destroyed within forty years if the extrapolation in present day rate is continued (76).

VI.2.2 Causes
            One reason for the forest clearing is to plant cash crops. The economies of many West African countries are depending on cash crop exports. Products such as gum, rubber, cola nuts, and oil provide steady income revenue for the West African countries. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimated that agriculture by over 250 million African peasants is heavily responsible for deforestification (77).
            Exploitation of forests for timber production is another critical factor of deforestification in West Africa. World's wood consumption increased enormously between 1950 and 1980. With economic growth and growing environmental protection, industrialized European countries' demand for tropical hardwood became concentrated on West Africa. By first half of the 1980s, an annual forest loss of 7,200 square kilometers was recorded along the Gulf of Guinea. By 1985, 72 percent of West rain forests had been transformed into hollow land and still additional 9 percent had opened up by timber exploitation (78).
            The contribution of fuel wood consumption to tree stock decline in Africa is also believed to be significant. Fuel wood induced deforestification occurred as a result of overpopulation and demand for wood as an energy source. Fuel wood provides 75 percent of the energy used in sub-sahara Africa. With such high demand, the consumption of wood as a fuel outnumber the regeneration of forest cover by far (79).

VI.2.3 Efforts to Stop Further Deforestification
            FAO predicted that if the present trends of deforestification are continued, the tropical rain forests of the Ivory Coast and Nigeria will disappear by 2020. Thus, African Timber Organization(ATO) countries amended their forest laws and tried to obtain a practical and consistent regulation for the protection of their rain forests, including trade of wood (80).

VI.3 Population Growth and its Impact on the West African Environment
            Over the past six decades, population growth in West Africa has more than quadrupled. According to UN data, West Africa¡¯s population increased from 70 to 318 million between 1950 and 2010 and is projected to further double between 2011 and 2050 to reach 650 million. Population growth exerts enormous pressure on the forest, threatening forest extinction. The reason why is that the rain forests are destroyed for the economic benefits of logging and the need for arable land due to increase in population. The demand for fuel wood and forest product increased significantly following the rapid population growth in West Africa.
            The West African governments are putting efforts to reduce its rate of population growth, and one notable example is Ghana, which became the first country in West Africa to define an official population policy. This policy intended to lower population growth. This proposal resulted in the establishment of nationwide family planning program in 1970. Moreover, many leaders of Nigeria expressed their concern about population growth and the need for family planning even before Ghana government. State and local governments in Nigeria provided support for family planning. Through their cooperation with the private Family Planning Council of Nigeria, these governments operated family planning clinics in government facilities (81).

VI.4 Pollution due to Waste Dumping
            As the safety laws in Europe and the United States push toxic disposal costs up to 2500 dollars a ton, the waste brokers are searching for other means that would reduce the cost. One of the methods they figured out that can lower the disposal costs down to 3 dollars a tone was to buy cheap sites from developing countries and dispose the wastes there. Almost every country on West Africa's coast received this kind of offers from European or American companies. Some West African countries that rank among the poorest in the world accepted such offers. Officials in Guinea-Bissau signed a five-year contract to bury 15 million tons of toxic waste from European tanneries and pharmaceutical companies. In return, Guinea-Bissau receive a yearly payment of 120 million dollars.
            Furor erupted over as the government of Guinea-Bissau accepted the offers to dump foreign waste in their land. This contract of waste dumping was called by the African newspapers as "toxic terrorism" which fiercely criticized these two governments for their action. On the contrary to the governments that allowed waste dumping, the government of Niger rejected offers from a Dutch company to store chemical waste. Niger government officials even warned that people caught importing toxic waste will face harsh punishment. Furthermore, Cote d'Ivoire adopted a law that provides for prison terms up to 20 years and fines up to 1.6 million dollars for individuals who import toxic or nuclear waste into Cote d'Ivoire (82).

VI.5 Green House Effect and Global Warming
            Many climatologists also believe that these recent trends in Africa's climate are part of a global pattern of climate change and that the rate of change can be accelerate in the very near future. These changes are linked to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, and other "greenhouse" gases in the atmosphere. It is predicted that the concentration of these gases by the year 2050 will be twice what it was before the industrial revolution. The major sources of these gases include pollution by automobiles and industry and the cutting of forests. Unlike earlier periods of climatic change, the present phase of global warming is very much the creation of human beings (83).

VII. Conclusion
            This paper exhibited events that are significant in both environmental and historical perspective throughout the history of West Africa in chronological orders. First, the abrupt desiccation of the Sahara pushed the inhabitants to migrate southwards and then hindered the way of human movement and interaction between North and West Africa.
            However, the Sahara as a geographical barrier was able to be overcame by the introduction of the usage of camels as means of transportation. The trade across the Sahara became so immense and influential that it eventually brought the rise of the first empire in West Africa, empire of Ghana, and also the spread of Islam. Despite such flourishment of the West african civilization, the geographical location of Africa which is the right side of the America continent brought Europeans' attention searching for slaves, and resulted in devastation of the West African population and society due to the initialed Atlantic slave trade. The abundant natural resources of West Africa lured European countries which were searching for raw materials needed for their industrialized production, to employ colonization in West Africa.
            In present day, abuse of the natural environment of West Africa is causing continuous droughts and disappearing of forest, while the contemporary West African governments and many international organizations are trying hard to protect the environment from further damages.

(1)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(2)      Stock 1995, page 21
(3)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(4)      Stock 1995, page 33
(5)      ibid.
(6)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(7)      Stock 1995, page 33
(8)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(9)      Stock 1995, page 33

(10)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(11)      Stock 1995, page 60
(12)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 23
(13)      Claussen 2003, pages 99-100
(14)      Article: Sahara's Abrupt Desertification Started By Changes In Earth's Orbit, Accelerated By Atmospheric And Vegetation Feedbacks from Science Daily 1999
(15)      Claussen 2003, pages 99-100
(16)      Stock 1995, page 33
(17)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(18)      Fage and Oliver 2008, pages 291-293
(19)      Claussen 2003, pages 99-100
(20)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(21)      MacHugh, 1996, page 2-3
(22)      ibid.
(23)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(24)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 23
(25)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 295
(26)      Brunchey 1973, page 79
(27)      Fage and Oliver 2008, page 291
(28)      ibid.
(29)      ibid.
(30)      ibid.
(31)      ibid.
(32)      Davidson 1965, pages 194-195
(33)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(34)      ibid.
(35)      Stock 1995, page 63
(36)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(37)      Stock 1995, page 63
(38)      Stock 1995, page 63
(39)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(40)      Conton 1961, page 26-27
(41)      Davidson 1965, pages 136-137
(42)      In Roman times, "Mauritania" applied to modern Morocco. Today "Central Mauritania" applies to southern Morocco, which is a country located much further south.
(43)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(44)      ibid.
(45)      Stock 1995, page 63
(46)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(47)      Davidson 1965, pages 136-137
(48)      Ajayi and Espie 1965, page 113
(49)      Stock 1995, page 63
(50)      New World is one of the names used for the Americas and sometimes the Oceania. This term originated in the early 16th century, shortly after the America was "discovered" by European explorers who until then had thought of the world as consisting of Europe, Asia, and Africa only which are referred to as the Old World.
(51)      Davidson 1965, pages 194-195
(52)      Article: Atlantic Slave Trade from Wikipedia
(53)      Article : Christopher Columbus from Wikipedia
(54)      Ball 2000, pages 28-32
(55)      Indentured servitude refers to the historical practice of contracting to work for a fixed period of time, typically three to seven years, in exchange for transportation, food, clothing, lodging and other necessities during the term of indenture. This was provided for poor young people from the overcrowded labor markets such as Europe who wanted to come to labor-short areas like the America, but had no money to pay for it.
(56)      Ball 2000, pages 28-32
(57)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(58)      Ball 2000, pages 28-32
(59)      ibid.
(60)      ibid.
(61)      ibid.
(62)      Maize arrived in Africa from the Old World after 1500 as part of the massive global ecological and demographic transformation that historian Alfred Crosby called the "Columbian Exchange." The Atlantic slave trade wrenched captive labor from Africa to the pre-industrial economies of scale in the New World, but it also provided the former continent with new cultigens that reinvented Africa¡¯s food supply. The introduction of these American crops, such as cassava, beans, potatoes, and maize, helped suffering regions to recover from population losses.
(63)      Stock 1995, pages 68-70
(64)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(65)      Stock 1995, pages 68-70
(66)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(67)      Burns 1994, page 22
(68)      Article : West Africa from Wikipedia
(69)      Stock 1995, pages 68-70
(70)      Economic Reasons for Colonialism from The African Studies Center and Matrix digital humanities center at Michigan State University
(71)      Iweriebor 2011
(72)      Economic Reasons for Colonialism from The African Studies Center and Matrix digital humanities center at Michigan State University
(73)      Iweriebor 2011
(74)      ibid.
(75)      Stock 1995, page 35
(76)      Article: Desertification of Sahel, Texas A&M University
(77)      ibid.
(78)      ibid.
(79)      ibid.
(80)      ibid.
(81)      Article: Policies Affecting Population in West Africa from Population Council
(82)      Burns 1994, page 22
(83)      Stock 1995, page 35

Bibliography Websites listed below were visited in April to June 2012

1.      Ajayi, J. F. Ade and Espie, Ian. A Thousand Years of West African History. London and Edinburgh, Thomas Nelson Ltd, 1965
2.      Brunchey, W. Stuart. An Economic History of West Africa. London, Longman 1973
3.      Stock, Robert. Africa South of the Sahara. New York, The Guildford Press, 1995
4.      Burns, E. Bradford. Latin America, a concise interpretive history. New Jersey, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1994
5.      Davidson, Basil. A History of West Africa 1000~1800. Nigeria, Longman Group Limited, 1965
6.      Conton, W. F.. West Africa in History. London, George Allen & Unwin, 1961
7.      Martin Claussen, Climate Change in Northern Africa : The Past is not the Future, 2003,
8.      Article: Sahara's abrupt Desertification Started by Changes bn Earth's Orbit, Accelerated by Atmospheric and Vegetation Feedbacks, 1999, from Science Daily,
9.      J. D. Fage and Roland Oliver, The Cambridge History of Africa Volume 2, 2008,
10.      Article: Atlantic Slave Trade from Wikipedia,
11.      Davidson R. Gwatkin, Studies in Family Planning Vol. 3, 1972,
12.      The African Studies Center and Matrix digital humanities center at Michigan State University,
13.      Article: West Africa from Wikipedia,
14.      Article: New World from Wikipedia,
15.      James McCann, Maize and Grace: History, Corn, and Africa¡¯s New Landscapes 1500-1999, 2001,
16.      Article: Christopher Columbus from Wikipedia,
17.      Texas A&M University, Desertification in Sahel, 2008,
18.      Jeremy Ball, The Atlantic Slave Trade a unit of study for grades 7-12, 2000,
19.      Ehiedu E. G. Iweriebor, The Colonization of Africa, New York Public Library 2011,
20.      Article : Indentured Servant from Wikipedia,

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