Kola nuts grow in forest regions in West Africa. During the nineteenth century, kola nuts became one of the prized trading items in the Ashanti Empire located in present-day Ghana. Traders from the savanna region traveled in caravans to the edge of the Ashanti forest to purchase kola nuts from suppliers. A significant trade developed between the Asante Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate in present-day Northern Nigeria. Residents in the Caliphate consumed kola nuts, a mild stimulant, and presented them as gifts on special occassions.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the British claimed sovereignty over the former Ashanti Empire and Sokoto Caliphate. The Ashanti Empire became the Ashanti Protectorate in the Gold Coast Colony, while the Sokoto Caliphate became the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. As part of colonial economic policies, the British tried to reorient the kola trade to the coast where British ships would transport the commodity between the colonies. Some traders opted for the sea route, while others maintained the overland caravan trade.
The below scatterplot contains a point for every recorded export of kola nuts in the African Commodity Trade Database (ACTD):
Frankema, Ewout, Jeffrey Williamson and Pieter Woltjer. “An Economic Rationale for the West African Scramble? The Commercial Transition and the Commodity Price Boom of 1835-1885.” The Journal of Economic History 78, no. 1 (2018): 231-267.
Hovering over one of the points will show the place of export, type of commodity, year, and quantity exported. You can also zoom into and drag the visualization with your mouse.
The scatterplot features two exporters of kola nuts during the colonial period, Ghana and Sierra Leone. The below sections compare the export trends for both colonies.
The below bar graph shows the annual export of kola from 1888 until 1947. Hovering over one of the bars will show the precise quantity of exports along with the year.
Kola nut exports increased exponentially during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The quantity of exports peaked in 1920 with 627 metric tons. After leveling off at about 200 metric tons in the 1920s, exports decreased significantly in the 1930s to less than 50 metric tons per year.
The quantity of kola nut exports from Sierra Leone resemble the general pattern to those from Ghana. However, Sierra Leone exported fewer kola nuts per year. The below bar graph shows the annual export of kola from 1908 until 1947. Hovering over one of the bars will show the precise quantity of exports along with the year.
Like in Ghana, kola nut exports increased during the first two decades of the twentieth century. The quantity of exports peaked in 1921 at 464 metric tons. Exports then decreased in the 1920s and remained below 50 metric tons in the 1930s.