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The features of Forced Labour in French Colonial West Africa

Forced labour refers to a system adopted by the French colonial authorities whereby able-bodied men of a certain age were required to offer a number of hours of free labour a month on construction works and on plantations. This free labour was offered only by subjects, citizens were exempted.

Redemption of forced labour
Though the system required that subjects performed forced labour, a provision was made for them to redeem the free forced labour by paying a required amount of money. If a subject, for example, paid 3 Francs, he was exempted from forced labour for that day.

Provision of tools for work
Under normal circumstances, the French were required to provide tools to be used in performing free labour tasks but in some cases, such tools were not performed. This mostly compelled to work with their bare hands.  

Provision of food
Some of the subjects had to walk several kilometers before they get to their destination of work. Therefore, the French authorities provided food for them. However, food was available to only those who walked from within a certain radius.

It was the French officials who were tasked with the responsibility of ensuring compliance with forced labour. Any subject who refused to engage in forced labour and also failed to redeem it was fined. The main official who ensured compliance was the Commandant du Cercle.

Working on the chief’s farm
Apart from the engagement of subjects in constructional work and work on plantations, they were also required to work on the chief’s farm.

Growing cash crops
In their quest to increase the production of certain crops, the French forced the subjects into the cultivation cash crops such as cotton and palm. These crops were harvested and exported to metropolitan France to supply raw materials for factories.

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