The Journal of African History

Research Article

The Trade in Gum Arabic: Prelude to French Conquest in Senegal

James L. A. Webb JR.a1

a1 Johns Hopkins University

From the late seventeenth century until the 1870s gum arabic from the southwestern corner of the Sahara was the most important trade good exported to Europe from Mauritania and Senegal. This article discusses the dynamics of the gum trading system based in Saint Louis du Senegal, and details the commercial crisis in which the French colony was mired in the late 1830s and 1840s. Pressure from French capital and from Faidherbe's military forces secured the dominance of the import-export houses, as African river traders and desert gum merchants lost the advantages of their market positions. By the 1870s the importance of the gum trade had been eclipsed by the rapid expansion of peanut cultivation.