West Africa is an area with a great span of geography, bioregions, and cultures. The continent of Africa is principally oriented on a north-south axis, with a bulge to the west, and it is this bulge which may be considered West Africa. However, the term is usually restricted to the sub-Saharan areas of this western bulge.
The coast of this area of Africa is on the south Atlantic Ocean, much of it trending east-west. Portions of this coast were once known as the Grain Coast, the Gold Coast, and the Ivory Coast. The slave trade was conducted in this area; most African Americans are descended from slaves transported from West Africa.
Nations in this area (with the former colonial powers that controlled them), bordering the Atlantic, from northwest to southeast are:
- Senegal (France)
- The Gambia; along the Gambia River, enclosed in Senegal (United Kingdom)
- Guinea-Bissau (Portugal)
- Guinea (France)
- Sierra Leone (United Kingdom)
- Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) (France)
- Ghana (United Kingdom)
- Togo (Germany, France)
- Benin, formerly Dahomey (France)
- Nigeria (United Kingdom)
- Cameroon, also spelled Cameroun (France, United Kingdom)
Historically, the area was home to several major African empires, including:
- the Mali Empire
- the Songhai Empire
- the Ghana Empire.