The Twentieth Century brought with it vast changes for the peoples of West Africa. The yoke of colonialism bound them together into a new political, economic, and social order. It was as if hundreds of years of history had suddenly ended, and begun again anew. In the wake of the Berlin West Africa Conference, in 1885, the great powers of Europe - Britain, France, Germany, and even Portugal and Belgium - had carved up West Africa among themselves. European overlords either completely replaced, or else adopted a "supervisory" position over the native African authorities. Proud kingdoms, like those of the Asante, Benin, and Dahomey, found themselves forced to adapt or disappear, as West Africans struggled to make sense of a world that had been turned completely upside down and inside out. For "inside out," could easily describe the reversal of economic roles that came along with European conquest. Formerly, European traders had stayed close to the coast, allowing the African rulers and merchants to supply Europe and her New World colonies with slaves and other "merchandise." The British had finally succeeded in ending the slave trade some years before, and many of the coastal kingdoms of West Africa had languished as a result. Some had been almost wholly dependent upon the trade in human beings - now there would have to be new sources of revenue. For the most part, these new sources of income would be developed by Europeans who would exploit West Africa's people and resources for the benefit of their home countries. However, the Africans would also learn from their new masters. Some of them would obtain a Western education, or work to introduce the ideas of the modern industrial world to Africa. European science, technology, education, political, economic, cultural, and religious ideas would all have a profound impact on West Africa.
The pre-colonial relationship between Europeans and West Africans was one of mutual trade.