West Africa is on the western region of Africa. It includes such countries as Benin, Ghana, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon, The Gambia, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Sierra Leone. West Africa is on what is referred to as the Bulge of Africa. In this wide region, there are a variety of peoples and tribe. West Africa has been known to be the most varied region in Africa considering the size of the countries it comprises, the languages inherited from their colonial masters, and the levels of economic development.
However, nine of the countries in this region are Francophone, five Anglophone, while two are Lusophone. There is no other sub-region in Africa like West Africa. It is a region that is made up of so many countries with mixed and different colonial experiences. During the colonial era, France and Great Britain were dominant colonial powers in this sub-region. This factor then led to thePost-independence West Africa becoming a victim of the vagary of the colonial powers' attitude to independence.
The West African states can be said to have reached the peak of there maturity. There are quite a number of success stories of the contemporary West African states. Despite their past experiences, the contemporary West African states have had some of the best democracies in the African continent as well as vibrant democracies. Most of the countries have valuable mineral resources apart from diverse cultures. Despite the cultures of contemporary West Africa being widely varied, there are a number of similarities in the culture, music, dress, and cuisine. They are unique to that region.
There are two predominant religions in the region. Islam is predominant in the West African interiors and to the far west coast of Africa. Christianity, on the other hand, is predominant in the coast of Ghana, Nigeria and Cote d’ Ivoire. However, there are still elements of African traditional practices and indigenous religions practiced throughout the region. These religions are the cultural link to the peoples of West Africa as a whole.
However, before their recent success, West African States have had their share of downfalls. For example, Ghana and Burkina Faso have had experiences of military coups. More over, many West African states have had failures in developing their economies despite having numerous natural resources, for example, Nigeria and Chad. Dangerous diseases like AIDS have been a growing problem for the region; Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia being the worst hit. In addition famine has hit parts of northern Mali and Niger.
West Africa has had a rash of military interventions just before the 80s. There have been various causes of these military rules and the consequences on the political field. The last decade has seen new political dispensation taking place in the continent. There have been movements toward democratic processes, and pluralist politics. The military was disengaged from politics and democratization was embraced.
In addition, most of the West African governments have been illiberal and corrupt over time. Several countries have been characterized by ethnic violence, political coups and being led by oppressive dictators. After colonialism came to an end, the West African region has had some of the most brutal wars ever (Morgan pg 40). For example, there have been civil wars in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. It is only recently that the situations have improved for the better. Despite all the challenges, the contemporary West Africa is doing well compared to other sub-regions in Africa or the third world.
In their ambition of promoting the West African economy, the states have formed an organization known as the ECOWAS, which stands for the Economic Community of West African States. Three nations, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have sought to develop themselves through the Liptako-Gourma Authority, and the West African Monetary Union (UEMOA).
The Economic Community of West African States, otherwise known as the ECOWAS, is the regional body of fifteen nations of West Africa. This organization was formed in 1975. Its main objective in the West African region was to attain economic integration and shared development for the purpose of forming an economic zone in West Africa which is unified. In addition, it deals also with socio-political interactions as well as mutual development in the related fields. Meaning it can intervene with disciplinary measures against any of the members bound by it.
Initially, ECOWAS had fifteen members registered to it that is in 1976. Cape Verde joined the organization the following year and raised the number to sixteen. However, Mauritania dismembered itself from the organization in the year 2002. The list of current members include; Togo, Sierra Leone, Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Nigeria, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast, Niger, Mali, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and lastly, Guinea.
There is no doubt that in the West Africa region, France still has its shadow looming large in the region. This situation has been brought about by the special relationship that France had with its former colonies, contrary to how Britain dealt with its colonies. There have been agreements signed between France and the West African states in matters concerning defense and development. However, the language barrier created as a result of the pattern of colonialism has discouraged meaningful relations between the Anglophone countries and the Francophone countries in West Africa. The Francophone countries speak French while the Anglophone countries use English as their medium of communication.
This situation was further increased by the division along ideological lines with Ghana, an Anglophone and Cote d'Ivoire one of the francophone states (Morgan pg 40). In helping resolve these types of conflicts, the states involved tried to come up with an organization that could unify them instead of widening their differences. ECOWAS was the first major step in to bring all the West African countries to co-operate together.
However, there are certain drawbacks to the security issue in West Africa. Global security means that each state conceives its security and stability as well as linking with those of its neighbors. This is very important in Africa as a whole since it is a continent which still lags behind in state formation and democracies. The resolution of these conflicts is a very fundamental step in the creation of peace, security and stability. This will in turn help in the progress for sustainable development. Africa has had a problem of getting an effective conflict resolution mechanism. The ECOWAS intervention in the Liberia conflict is one such attempt at resolving conflict by the West African block.
But, for West Africa, the problem does not lie with a lack of mechanism but in creation of an effective body out of a multiplicity. So the governments involved should strive in creating a major body which will deal with the security issue effectively. Perhaps they can borrow fro the NATO.
Many diverse cultures have been living in West Africa for thousands of years. These communities are very unique in their cultures and use the resources available in their environment in their daily lives. The most common means of travel is the use of boats. The availability of several navigable rivers has made it easier. Some of these rivers that can be navigated include; the Niger, the Volta and the Senegal.
The rivers have other variety of uses; they also provide fish for food for the neighboring communities. The rivers also spread silt when they flood, which makes the land good for agriculture. However, the rivers have a disadvantage; they do breed mosquitoes that carry deadly diseases like yellow fever and malaria.
The contemporary West African Art is a very sophisticated one. It includes exotic concoctions of traditional customs together with modern influences. Each different society in West Africa contributes to their own unique styles of art which create interesting patterns. One thing that stands out in the West African region is the unique association of art with witchcraft. Most of the artifacts being crafted are in the long run meant for magical practices or symbolizing a powerful belief in witchcraft. In most of the West African communities, art work was created in decoration of shrines, control of supernatural forces, for divine interventions, and in celebration of abundant harvests as well as other events within a particular tribe.
West African Art has over time included metalworking and ceramics. The creation of tools from metal has been a major contribution to the agriculture of many communities. Tools for farming and tilling of land have been created by craftsmen. Ceramics has over time involved the production of cooking as well as storage vessels. The tools that are made from iron have made wood carving and sculpture simpler. These artifacts have always depicted ancient powerful kingdoms and artistic traditions of different tribes in the region.
In terms of food, a typical meal in the contemporary West Africa is usually heavy with starch, spices, meat, and different flavors. Also, across the West African region, a wide array of staples is usually included in meals. Examples of the heavy meals include the fufu, Foutou, Banku, Gari, Kenkey, and Counscous, and Tô, which are usually served in addition to soup and stew. The Fufu comprises of starchy root vegetables, for example, yams, cocoyams and cassava. On the other hand, cereals usually include millet, plantains and sorghum.
The Banku and Kenkey are made from maize dough staples, while the Gari is made from dried grated cassavas. Rice-dishes also make a meal in the region; examples of the dishes include Benachin, and Jollof rice. It is important to note that, this collection of local cuisine and recipes of West Africa have continued to be included in the local customs and traditions.
There are several cooking methods: baking, roasting, frying, spicing, mashing, and boiling. However, the cooking techniques of West Africa are changing over time. In the past they had less meat in their diet and also used native oils. Vegetables used to include the Baobob leaf and numerous local greens. But today’s diet is heavy with meat, salt, and fats. Many of the West African dishes combine fish and meat, as well as dried and fermented fish.
On the other hand, flaked and dried fish is commonly fried in oil, or cooked in sauce made up with hot peppers, tomatoes and onions various spicy ingredients and water in preparation for a highly flavored stew. It is very evident that the peoples of West Africa have a very rich diet which is full of different types of food.
As far as beverages are concerned, water has a very strong ritual importance in many of the West African nations. Water is the first thing an African would offer his/her guest. Also common in this category is the palm wine, which is made from the fermented sap of various palm trees. It is usually sold in sweet or sour varieties. Final in the list is the millet beer.
West Africa’s heritage in the music scene includes a range of popular music styles, especially from the countries of Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, Cote d’ Ivoire and Sierra Leone. Wandering musicians and praise singers, also known as the Griots are found throughout the region. These types of musicians are very unique only to the West African region.
West Africa has been known to produce a great diversity of harps. The harps are consistent and uniform in certain aspects such as the sounds that they make. Some include; the three- or four-stringed bolon, the six-stringed donso ngoni, the seven-stringed simbi, and the twenty-one-stringed kora. All these harps feature majorly on both traditional and modern music in Africa as well as the abroad platform like in Europe.
Focusing on the sound, the donso ngoni has a pentatonic sound that is reminiscent of the tone of African American blues. It is used in modern electric ensembles in Mali which makes fascinating popular music in Africa. Guitarists from Mande are still practicing their traditional music but continue to improve their African instruments by modernizing them.
Traditional musicians from the Western African region are Africanizing and integrating the guitar into their African music culture. To add on the list of instruments, the jembe (Djembe) is another type of a percussive instrument found in West Africa. Recently, there has been a lot of international interest in the jembe. There have been international tours of national ballet troupes from Mali, Guinea, and Senegal. Musicians playing the instrument have done numerous shows abroad. The Djembe is a drum very popular among numerous West African ethnic groups. It originated from the people of Mandinka. More over, the Mandinka have also the Kora added to their collection. It is a 21-stringed harp-lute used by different ethnic groups.
The talking drum, as it is well known, is also an instrument that is unique to the West African region. However, apart from the traditional styles of music, the region has also modern musical genres like the Afro-beat, Fuji, Mbalax and Highlife. In summary, the West African culture is symbolized uniquely by the Kora, the Djembe as well as the distinct Sudano-Sahelian style of architecture used in many mosques.
In the way of dressing of the contemporary West Africans, the flowing Boubou (Agbada and Babariga) is the typical formal attire worn in this region. It originates from the clothing of different West African empires in the 12th century. This type of clothing has gone to the extent of influencing other cultures in the Africa region.
In sports, football is the main pastime activity that is enjoyed by many West Africans. Some West African nations have even sent their national teams to the world cup, for example; Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana. Recent athletic championships and the Olympics have also witnessed a number of sportsmen and sports women from West Africa participating in other discipline such as the short races.
In conclusion, the contemporary West Africa is a region that is very interesting when compared to other blocks in the continent. They have had numerous achievements in their economies, as well as utilizing their resources in the improvement of the lives of the people living there. In addition they have stuck to their unique culture apart from incorporating other cultures. For one to see the real identity of West Africa, they can always look at international events or soccer and see the vibrant distinction of their culture from the rest.