How Britain and France Underdeveloped West African Nations

The colonization of West African countries that lasted for over five decades has enduring legacies in West Africa; some of these legacies are negative and direct opposition to the course of West African development. In other words, the colonization retarded the development of West Africa in all ramifications- politically, economically, socio-culturally, and religiously. It is also a very basis that contributed to the underdevelopment of African nations in general and West Africa particularly.

 After the petitions of and scramble for African territories in the late 19th century, European powers, especially the British and the French, sought for the total occupations of West Africa:  the French occupied Dahomey (Benin Republic),  Ivory Coast, Senegal, Guinea,  Upper Volta  (Burkina Faso) and Mauritania,  while Britain occupied Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, and Sierra Leone. With series of unfortunate happenings during the colonial era, the resultant impacts on West African development were negative. France and Britain became the most notorious colonizers of this era, and their activities retarded and shattered West Africa drastically.

The colonial systems of administration adopted by the British and the French were against the development of the indigenous people because they rather maintained the status quo. The British indirect rule and the French policy of assimilation (direct rule) both belittled the value of the people’s culture. The cultural value of the people was blatantly reduced to a minimal level, especially in the French West African colonies. The policy of assimilation preached the enforcement of the French culture in West Africa1. Also, the indirect rule of the British system, though recognized and used the existing political institution, but had little reverence for traditional customs and norms. The indigenous rulers became appendages to the British government.

The advent of the European colonizers did not only stop the development of West Africa but also introduced unfitting systems dominated by Western ideologies. If it is true that a society cannot develop with a strange subculture, West African nations entirely suffered setbacks because of the intrusion of the colonization that ravaged their heritage in all areas and left them indecisive, impoverished, and underdeveloped.

Also, the abolition of the prevailing economic system (trade by barter system) contributed to the underdevelopment of West African nations. The trade by barter system that had gained significant positions prior to the colonial rule was abolished and another system (monetary economy) was introduced. It is ironic to say that the introduction of the monetary economy, after the abolition of the trade by barter system, developed West Africa. Processes involved in the development of society are dynamic and nations use peculiar patterns befitting respective nations. Trade by barter system would have been the best means of exchange practice in the contemporary era, with the failing nature of the modern currency. Unfortunately, it was stopped by the Europeans during the colonial era. This underdeveloped Africa and made it subservient to foreign economies in international trade relations.

Furthermore, Africans were subjected to forced labor under colonial rules. The indigenant policy enacted under the French administration gave the right to arbitrarily arrest Africans in French West African countries and jailed them without trial for over two years2. Theoretically, Britain sensed the priority of freedom. Britain gave room for the association of her subjects. The traditional institution under the traditional rulers was used to rule the subjects. Therefore the subjects were ruled indirectly. The subjects were persuaded, also forced to produce raw materials for European industries. It made West Africa a raw-material-producing region and consumer of European finished products.

Throughout the colonial rules in both the British and the French West African colonies, industries were not built. Even the introduced education was just to enlighten Africans in terms of reading and writing, so as to help in the colonial administration. It was a mere reading and writing education with zero technical application. Sadly, the Western education in the pretext of civilization and modernization exited the indigenous traditional customs and norms. The respect for the kingship institution particularly lost ground, and sadly, there was widespread immorality- in manners of dressing, behaving, talking, reverence for elderly ones, and worshiping and others became commonplace.

Moreover, these two powers introduced foreign religion to West Africa. Notably, Africans already had contact with Islam prior to the 14th century but the influence of European Christianity grew after the colonial rule. And unlike before, the room was not given to peacefully coexist with the traditional religious practices. It was aggressive evangelism; a teacher was a pastor,3 under the claim to spreading education these people executed the course of propagating Christianity and truncated the practices at hand prior to their advent.

In addition, the introduced Lingua Francas in both the French and the British West African territories was a factor that continuously underdevelops Africa. All the developed nations in the world developed with their local languages or particular dialect that is unique to them. For an instance, the United States of America emphasized its dialect in its course of national development like other countries like China, India, and the United Arab Emirates among others in that line. 

 Why are Britain and France concerned? Several innovations by them during the colonial era brought downtown to West African nations generally: it reinforced corruption, started imposition in West African politics, initiated mistrust, and originated militarism in West African politics. As it was in Senegal, it was in Ghana and Nigeria, both the French and the British officials during the colonial era imposed rulers on the subjects. As in the case of the French West African colonies, the French officials dominated the affairs of the people, firstly during the policy of assimilation and secondly during the policy of association (with lessened price). The situations in the colonial era birthed several odd happenings after independence, and forever have enduring negative impacts on West African development

Citation: Faforiji Tadese. How Britain and France Underdeveloped Western African Nations. (July 26, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved from


1. Dibie C. Chris. Ways Colonial Ruler Contributed to the Decline of the Powers to the Traditional Rulers in West Afrcia. Colonial Administration. Tonad Publishers ltd.  ISBN 978-978-52654-5-3

2. Faforiji Tadese. British Indirect Rule in Nigeria: Nature and Features. (April 18, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved at

3. Faforiji Tadese. How Britain and France Underdeveloped West Africa. (June 27, 2021). Tadexprof. Retrieved at

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Tadese Faforiji

I am Tadese Faforiji, a history student of the prestigious Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State- 21st-century University, properly called. I am a blogger and an avid writer.

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