The term West Africa generally refers to the part of the Africa that is bordered to the north by the Sahara Desert, to the west and the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east by the line running from Mount Camaroon to Lake Chad. In area, it covers approximately one fifth of the African continent. The northern areas of West Africa belong to the semi-arid region of the Sahel. Further south, moist savannas build the transition to the low-lying tropical plateau of the coastal regions.

Following the discovery of West Africa by European explorers in the middle of the 15th century, it rapidly became the centre of the African slave trade across the Atlantic. Among the effects of the slave trade, which lasted several hundred years, was the creation of appreciable West African population groups in the Americas and the decimation of the local economy and population in West Africa itself.

The slave trade ended with the gradual abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the region remained under British and French colonial control until the second half of the 20th century. The first sub-Saharan colony to achieve independence was Ghana, in 1957, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. The last countries of West Africa to become fully independent were the former Portuguese colonies of Guinea-Bissau (1974) and Cape Verde (1975).

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was founded in 1975 in order to promote economic cooperation between the newly independent countries of the region. A non-aggression protocol was signed by the member states in 1990. The ECOWAS currently counts 15 members. The total population of West Africa is now estimated at over 250 million inhabitants – as compared to some 90 million in 1970.

The demographic explosion in West Africa has created serious challenges to sustainable development in the region. Heavy intra-regional migration from rural areas to urban centres and from less to more developed countries has placed tremendous pressures on natural resources and on transport and sanitary infrastructures. These problems have been exacerbated by climatic difficulties, irregular food supply and political tensions.

Regional coordination of NCCR North-South research in West Africa is based at the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d'Ivoire (CSRS) in Abidjan. Regional research emphases include: health, sanitation and disease prevention among vulnerable populations, adapting to climate change, and the role of institutions in managing conflicts and in mediating access to natural resources and sources of livelihood.

Regional Coordination

West Africa Regional Office
Prof. Bassirou Bonfoh (Regional Coordinator)
Swiss Centre for Scientific Research in Cote d'Ivoire
01 BP 1303 Abidjan 01
Phone: +225 23 47 27 90, Fax : +225 23 45 12 11

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