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West Africa to the 1870s

- Jihads and Nes States in 19th-Century West Africa -

- Abolition of the Slave Trade -

- Coastal and Forest Regions -

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From the 17th to the 19th century in sub-Saharan West Africa—from the Senegal River estuary in the west to Cameroon in the east and as far south as Angola—political and economic life was dominated by the demands of the European-controlled Atlantic slave trade. By the late 18th century the scale of this trade had reached unprecedented heights, with up to 100,000 captives exported every year. The wars that generated this traffic in captives dominated life in the interior. States with standing armies became more centralized and more powerful, dominating smaller, village-based communities. For the most part, European presence was confined to coastal fortresses, which were fortified against European rivals rather than local Africans. Coastal African rulers tolerated the European presence because the European fortresses provided useful trading links that strengthened their positions against their own African rivals.

Two important developments occurred in 18th-century West Africa that presaged large-scale change in the 19th century. First, by the mid-18th century a rise in Islamic reformist zeal led to several jihads and the establishment of new Islamic states in Fouta Djallon (in what is now Guinea) and Fouta Toro (in Senegal). Second, in the 1780s and 1790s Britain helped freed slaves from Britain and North America establish settlements in the British territory of Sierra Leone. The Islamic states of Fouta Djallon and Fouta Toro served as inspirations for larger 19th-century West African jihads, while the colony of Sierra Leone was symbolic of the emerging abolitionist movement that would eventually bring an end to the Atlantic slave trade.

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