BOX 5-1
West Africa Legacy Data Examples

  • In 1975 the Institut Nigerien de Recherches en Science Humaines published “les Cadres Géographiques à Travers les Langues du Niger— Contribution à la Pedagogie de l’Étude du Millieu.” It discusses the views and habits of all the major ethnic groups in Niger and their treatment of factors including space, distance, soil, and rain. The publication demonstrates that each of the main population groups in Niger know and understand landforms, land use and mapping, and that each produces maps of their “terroires” and the common lands surrounding their villages.

  • Studies and reports from the colonial period (mid-eighteenth to twentieth century) can be found in such places as the Musée de Tervuren in Belgium, the Musee de l’Homme and the Institut Géographique National (IGN, 2002) in Paris, and the British Museum in London (British Museum, 2002). For example, the IGN has pre-World War I topographic maps of Senegal coastal areas that also depict vegetation and faunal assemblages and historical land-use and land-cover information.

  • An archive of historical geographic data is held in trust by a number of nomadic families and clans of Mauritania, including notebooks, parchments, and notes dating to before the tenth century (Ahmed Saleck ben Mohamed Lemine ibn Bouh, 2001). Most of the documents are in the libraries of these families. These documents, which were often updated daily, describe such aspects as weather; availability and location of water; size, type, and location of dunes and other landforms; soils types; towns and villages; and the herding routes taken by the family. Such documents yield valuable information on the resource base, climate change, and the evolution of landscape.

  • Most of Africa was mapped by colonial governments beginning in the eighteenth century. During the twentieth century the Belgians, Portuguese, French, and English mapped the continent at various scales. For example, between approximately 1955 and 1965 the IGN mapped French West Africa at a scale of 1:200,000 using aerial photographs. In some cases these maps have been updated as recently as 2001 (e.g., Institut Géographique du Niger/Projet Gestion Resources Naturelles). Britain mapped her colonies at a scale of 1:250,000 using similar techniques. Additionally, there are detailed maps at 1:50,000 (or even 1:10,000) for nearly all of the major cities and most of the river valleys in West Africa (e.g., the Senegal, the Gambia, and parts of the Niger rivers).

guistic context, was described by European3 and African4 authors in a more formal, scientific manner to support European competition for economic hegemony. Often forgotten or lost in African countries, these monographs and reports reside in Europe and elsewhere.5

During the post-colonial period from about 1960 remote-sensing techniques including aerial photography were used to produce maps at 1:200,000-scale for the Francophone and Lusophone countries and 1:250,000 for Anglophone countries.6 Unfortunately, legacy data were lost during this period, and work conducted in Africa did build incompletely on the legacy of previous studies and the knowledge of African societies.

Traditionally, African populations, who know a great deal about their environments, have improved their lifestyles, managed their land, and coped with adversity such as drought. Bridges between local knowledge and modern technology are built through the use of legacy data. For example, modern geographic information technologies are of little use in development unless local participants use them to support local activities. If farmers, herders, scientists, and other decision-makers see how the latest technology can benefit their culture, their willingness to learn about and accept such technology can likely be increased through integration of legacy data.


Theodore Monod, who worked in most of West Africa; G. H. Gouldsbury, who described the Great Plateau of northern Rhodesia; J. T. Last, who described the iron workings of the Wa-Itumba in east-central Africa in 1883; C. P. Lucas, who described the historical geography of the British Empire; and Major F. G. Guggisberg who produced 70 maps of the Gold Coast at a scale of 1:125,000 in 1909.


For example, Sekou Toure in Guinea, Leopold Senghor in Senegal, Sir Offori Atta in Ghana, Ibn Fartua in Nigeria.


For example, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., has many African holdings. The U.S. Geological Survey Cartographic Library holds the following types of maps: topography, soils, hydrology, geology, ethnicity, minerals, and land use. Additionally, the International African Institute in London and its French counterpart, Institut International Africain, in Paris, have published many African monographs (e.g., the Ethnographic Survey of Africa and the Monographies Ethnologiques Africaines).


The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency prepared a series of African maps at a scale of 1:250,000 that were declassified in the mid-1960s. They were removed from circulation in the mid-1980s when terrorism became a problem. In the 1960s and 1970s image maps and orthophotos of former Portuguese colonies were produced by the Portuguese Army Map Service. Angola and Mozambique were mapped at 1:200,000, Cape Verde Archipelago at 1:25,000, and the Republic of Guinea Bissau at 1:50,000 (ASPRS, 2002).

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