African swine fever (ASF) is a contagious, highly fatal, haemorrhagic viral disease that only affects members of the Suidae family. Currently, no vaccine or treatment exists, so the disease has potentially devastating consequences for the pig industries, availability of affordable protein livelihoods and trade. This study aimed to consolidate historical information generated by working towards the control and eradication of ASF in previously unaffected countries in West Africa during 1996–2002. This descriptive analysis entailed the evaluation and review of archived records and reports of outbreaks, data from veterinary services, veterinary consultants and peer‐reviewed publications. Specifically, the analysis focused on establishing the sequence of events in the spread of the disease throughout the region, as well as the possible sources and pathways (mostly human‐driven, i.e., movement of pigs and swill feeding). The socio‐economic aspects of the epidemic were also assessed. Finally, the prevention and control measures applied were described and evaluated. Major challenges for control that were identified involved lack of capacity to respond to an outbreak of animal disease and the nature of the pig sector in the affected countries. Most of the pigs were produced in low biosecurity subsistence husbandry systems. Actions taken by producers to limit economic losses due to the epidemic (e.g., illegal selling of pigs and infected pork, hiding of outbreaks) increased the risk of spread and frustrated control efforts. The disease has persisted in an endemic state ever since and has negatively affected pig production and marketing in most of these countries. The analysis of this information will allow a better understanding of the disease dynamics in a region infected for the first time, and learning how the prevention and control interventions that were implemented worked or failed. This will help the development of better tailored, sustainable and locally sound interventions. The authors provide a set of recommendations for ASF prevention and control.