West Africa


Identify the physical features of the countries of West Africa.
Relate West Africa's natural resources to its economic development.
Describe the impact of historical influences on West Africa's cultures.

     Chapter Overview

Chapter 18: West Africa

Nigeria is a large country with a coastline on the Gulf of Guinea. It takes its name from the Niger River. Its climate moves from tropical rainforest to savanna and then steppe as you travel from south to north. Although it is one of the world's major oil producing countries, most of its people work and live on small subsistence farms. With more than 300 ethnic groups, there have been long periods of ethnic conflict. The government is working to build greater national unity.

Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad are located in the Sahel. From the A.D. 500s to 1500s three great African empires arose in this region. Today the people of the Sahel face a continuing struggle to keep grasslands from turning into desert. Most of these people are subsistence farmers or livestock herders.

West Africa also includes eleven countries that stretch along the Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Guinea. These countries have a good climate for agriculture and most people are farmers.

     Quick Notes


Nigeria's major landforms are coastal lowlands, savanna highlands, and partly dry grasslands.
Most Nigerians farm the land, but oil is Nigeria's major export.
Many different ethnic groups live in Nigeria.
Nigeria is the most highly populated African country.

The Sahel Countries

The Sahel countries are Mauritania, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso.
The Sahel lies between the Sahara in the north and fertile, humid lands in the south.
Most people in the Sahel countries are herders or farmers.
Desertification has destroyed much of the Sahel's most productive land.

Coastal Countries

The 11 countries that make up coastal West Africa are Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cote d'lvoire, Togo, and Benin.
Because of the wet climate, farming is the major economic activity in coastal West Africa.
Most people in the coastal countries of West Africa live in the coastal lowlands.
People freed from slavery helped establish the countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

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