Until the European partition of West Africa, the growth and ultimate failure of Euro-African trade had limited impact on West African economies, let alone West African social life. Even during the 20-year period of partition and conquest, the colonial powers were so preoccupied with their conquering stratagems—and with one another's territorial appetites—that even the maneuvers of European armies had little impact on the everyday routines of most West Africans. In most regions social and economic life remained virtually unchanged. Such stasis was short lived, however, for the sudden imposition of British and French colonial rule provoked widespread social and economic change in many regions of West Africa.

The establishment of colonial administration over larger territorial units after the partition itself proved to be the catalyst of fundamental economic change. Colonial administrations needed officials, great and small, black and white, to administer the domains; these had to be paid in cash, housed, transported about the country. Cash revenues were, therefore, needed and a military force had to be there to insist in the last resort on the taxes being paid ... A large and ever-expanding work force, salaried or wage-earning, therefore arose from the very fact of colonial administration.1

In this chapter, then, we shall explore the policies of British and French colonial administrations and attempt to describe the impact of these on the sociocultural life of West Africans.