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The functions and powers of the Minister of the colonies in French Colonial West Africa



THE MINISTER OF COLONIES
The Minister of Colonies was appointed by the French President. He was a Cabinet Minister responsible for the French Overseas Territories. He alone, of all the colonial officials was resident in Paris and his main responsibility was to administer the overseas territories on behalf of the French government.

FUNCTIONS & POWERS
Appointment of overseas top officials
One of the functions of the Colonial Minister was to appoint officials of the overseas territories. Where they performed their assigned duties well, he could promote them. He could also transfer them from one territory to another or recall them to Paris. 

Issuance of decrees
One of the features of French colonial rule was its highly centralized structure. Therefore, every programme, policy, and directive was issued from France. The Minister of Colonies issued decrees in France to be implemented in the colonies.

Received reports
The Governor-General was required to write a report on the territories in the previous year. This report was expected to be submitted to the Minister of Colonies. One of the functions of the Minister of Colonies was to receive annual reports from the Governor-General.

Approval of major projects
Development projects were undertaken in the overseas territories. However, before such projects were undertaken, the Minister of Colonies needed to approve them. For example, if a major rail or road project was to be implemented, the Minister of Colonies must have sanctioned it.

Confer citizenship
The Africans who were born in the four communes of Dakar, Goree, Rufisque and St. Louis were automatic French citizens. However, those who were born outside the four communes could only become French citizens if they met certain laid down requirements. After such Africans had qualified, it was the function of the Minister of Colonies to confer French citizenship on them.

Direct supervision of territories
Sometimes, the Minister of Colonies could resort to direct supervision of the overseas territories. This he did by touring any of the several overseas territories to see for himself exactly what was going on there.

LIMITATIONS OF THE MINISTER
Limitation of the French President
The Minister of Colonies was appointed by the French President and therefore he was ultimately answerable to him. He was mindful not to deviate from the aspirations of the president of the republic, otherwise, he could be dismissed from office, asked to resign his position or reshuffled out of office.

Accountable to the French Parliament
The overseas territories were governed by laws emanating from the French Parliament. The Minister of Colonies was therefore required to act in accordance with the provisions of the laws of parliament. It was rare for a Minister of Colonies to be seen to be violating the very laws that he was supposed to implement.

Limitations of colleagues in Cabinet
In the course of his duties, the Minister of Colonies may want to introduce new policies or modernize existing ones. His proposals needed to be tabled at cabinet meetings and his colleagues in the cabinet could criticize aspects of his proposals and he was obliged to make changes to it before it could be accepted  as a policy document. 

Powerful economic interests
There were individuals and companies with vested interests in the overseas territories and how it impacted their businesses in the metropolis. Such interests obviously were determined to protect their investments. For that reason, any policy that might jeopardize their interests were criticized. Business lobby groups in France could therefore serve as a limitation to the powers of the Minister of the Colonies.

Restrictions from Governor-General 
The Governor-General who was resident in West Africa was expected to know about specific situations on the ground. He could therefore make suggestions or appeals to the Minister of Colonies that could influence policy directions or the mode of implementations of specific directives in the colonies. The appeals of the Governor-General to the Minister of Colonies could serve as a limitation to the powers of the Minister.

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