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10-08-2015, 16:09

THE GROWING EUROPEAN PRESENCE IN WEST AFRICA

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the slave trade was in a state of decline. One reason was the growing sense of outrage among humanitarians in several European countries over the purchase, sale, and exploitation of human beings. Traffic in slaves by Dutch merchants effectively came to an end in 1795 and by Danes in 1803. A few years later, the slave trade was declared illegal in both Great Britain and the United States. The British began to apply pressure on other nations to follow suit, and most did so after the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, leaving only Portugal and Spain as practitioners of the trade south of the equator. Meanwhile, the demand for slaves began to decline in the Western Hemisphere, and by the 1880s, slavery had been abolished in all major countries of the world. The decline of the slave trade in the Atlantic during the first half of the nineteenth century, however, did not lead to an overall reduction in the European presence in West Africa. To the contrary, European interest in what was sometimes called “legitimate trade” in natural resources increased. Exports of peanuts, timber, hides, and palm oil increased substantially during the first decades of the century, and imports of textile goods and other manufactured products also rose. Stimulated by growing commercial interests in the area, European governments began to push for a more permanent presence along the coast. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, the British established settlements along the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) and in Sierra Leone, where they attempted to set up agricultural plantations for freed slaves who had returned from the Western Hemisphere or had been liberated by British ships while en route to the Americas. A similar haven for ex-slaves was developed with the assistance of the United States in Liberia. The French occupied the area around the Senegal River near Cape Verde, where they attempted to develop peanut plantations. The growing European presence in West Africa led to tensions with African governments in the area. British efforts to increase trade with Ashanti, in the area of the present-day state of Ghana, led to conflict in the 1820s, but British influence in the area intensified in later decades. Most African states, especially those with a fairly high degree of political integration, were able to maintain their independence from this creeping European encroachment, called “informal empire” by some historians, but eventually, the British stepped in and annexed the region as the first British colony of the Gold Coast in 1874. At about the same time, the British extended an informal protectorate over warring tribal groups in the Niger delta.

 

 

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