French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, AOF) was a federation of eight French colonial territories in Africa: Mauritania, Senegambia and Niger, French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea (now Guinea), Côte d'Ivoire, Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and Dahomey (now Benin).
Originally created in 1895 as a union of Senegal, French Sudan, French Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire only, the federation was placed on a permanent footing in 1904 with a governor-general based first in Saint-Louis, then (from 1902) in Dakar (both in Senegal, the oldest French settlement). The AOF subsequently expanded to neighbouring French-ruled territories: Dahomey was added in 1904, after having been put under colonial tutelage in 1892; Mauritania in 1920, and when the territory of Upper Volta was divided from French Soudan by colonial decree in 1921, it automatically also entered the AOF. Between 1934 and 1937, the League of Nations Mandate territory of French Togoland was subsumbed into Dahomey, and between its seizure from Germany in World War I and independence it was administered through the AOF. In 1904, both Mauritania and Niger were classed "Military Territories": ruled by the AOF in conjunction with officers of the French Colonial Forces.
Throughout the history of the AOF, individual colonies and military territories were reorganised numerous times, as was the Government General in Dakar. In theory the Governors General of the AOF reported directly to the Minister of Colonies in Paris, while individual colonies and territories reported only to Dakar.
The federation ceased to exist after the September 1958 referendum on the future French Community, in which the constituent territories voted to became autonomous republics except for Guinea, which voted overwhelmingly for independence. Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Upper Volta and Dahomey subsequently formed the short-lived Sahel-Benin Union, later the Conseil de l'Entente. Governors General
With an area of some (mostly the desert or semi-desert interior of Mauritania, Sudan and Niger) extending from Africa's westernmost point to the depths of the Sahara, the federation contained more than ten million inhabitants at its creation, and some 25 million at its dissolution.