The Colonial Names of African States

Modern African Nations Compared with Their Colonial Names

Map of Africa, 1911. World Atlas from Minnesota State,County Survey Atlas, via Getty Images

After decolonization, state boundaries in Africa remained remarkably stable, but the colonial names of African states often changed. Explore a list of current African countries according to their former colonial names, with explanations of border changes and amalgamations of territories.

Why Were Boundaries Stable Following Decolonization?

In 1963, during the era of independence, the Organization of African Union agreed to a policy of inviolable borders, which dictated that colonial-era boundaries were to be upheld, with one caveat.

Due to the French policy of governing their colonies as large federated territories, several countries were created out of each of France's former colonies, using the old territorial boundaries for the new country boundaries. There were Pan-Africanist efforts to create federated states, like the Federation of Mali, but these all failed.​

The Colonial Names of Present-Day African States

Africa, 1914

Africa, 2015

Independent States

 

Abyssinia

Ethiopia

Liberia

Liberia

British Colonies

 

Anglo-Egyptian Sudan

Sudan, The Republic of the South Sudan

Basutoland

Lesotho

Bechuanaland

Botswana

British East Africa

Kenya, Uganda

British Somaliland

Somalia*

The Gambia

The Gambia

Gold Coast

Ghana

Nigeria

Nigeria

Northern Rhodesia

Zambia

Nyasaland

Malawi

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone

South Africa

South Africa

Southern Rhodesia

Zimbabwe

Swaziland

Swaziland

French Colonies

 

Algeria

Algeria

French Equatorial Africa

Chad, Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic

French West Africa

Benin, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso

French Somaliland

Djibouti

Madagascar

Madagascar

Morocco

Morocco (see note)

Tunisia

Tunisia

German Colonies

 

Kamerun

Cameroon

German East Africa

Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi

South West Africa

Namibia

Togoland

Togo

Belgian Colonies

 

Belgian Congo

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Portuguese Colonies

 

Angola

Angola

Portuguese East Africa

Mozambique

Portuguese Guinea

Guinea-Bissau

Italian Colonies

 

Eritrea

Eritrea

Libya

Libya

Somalia

Somalia (see note)

Spanish Colonies

 

Rio de Oro

Western Sahara (disputed territory claimed by Morocco)

Spanish Morocco

Morocco (see note)

Spanish Guinea

Equatorial Guinea

 

German Colonies

After World War I, all of Germany's African colonies were taken away and made mandate territories by the League of Nations. This meant they were supposed to be "prepared" for independence by Allied powers, namely Britain, France, Belgium, and South Africa.

German East Africa was divided between Britain and Belgium, with Belgium taking control over Rwanda and Burundi and Britain taking control of what was then called Tanganyika.

After independence, Tanganyika united with Zanzibar and become Tanzania.

German Kamerun was also larger than Cameroon is today, extending into what is today Nigeria, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Following World War I, most of German Kamerun went to France, but Britain also controlled the portion adjacent to Nigeria. At independence, the northern British Cameroons elected to join Nigeria, and the southern British Cameroons joined Cameroon.

German South West Africa was controlled by South Africa until 1990.

Somalia

The country of Somalia is comprised of what were formerly Italian Somaliland and British Somaliland.

Morroco

Morocco's borders are still disputed. The country is made up primarily of two separate colonies, French Morocco and Spanish Morocco. Spanish Morocco lay on the northern coast, near the Straight of Gibralter, but Spain also had two separate territories (Rio de Oro and Saguia el-Hamra) just south of French Morocco. Spain merged these two colonies into Spanish Sahara in the 1920s, and in 1957 ceded much of what had been Saguia el-Hamra to Morocco. Morocco continued to claim the southern portion as well and in 1975 seized control of the territory. The United Nations recognizes the southern portion, often called Western Sahara, as a non-self-governing territory.

The African Union recognizes it as the sovereign state Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but the SADR only controls a portion of the territory known as Western Sahara.

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Thompsell, Angela. "The Colonial Names of African States." ThoughtCo, Aug. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/colonial-names-of-african-states-43755. Thompsell, Angela. (2017, August 21). The Colonial Names of African States. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/colonial-names-of-african-states-43755 Thompsell, Angela. "The Colonial Names of African States." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/colonial-names-of-african-states-43755 (accessed December 13, 2017).