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The functions, powers and limitations of the Governor-General in French Colonial West Africa

There were nine territories in all in French West Africa. They were all put together as a political unit called a federation. A Governor-General, appointed by the Minister of Colonies, was placed at the head of this political unit. Unlike the Minister of Colonies, he resided in the colonies proper. The federal capital was Dakar and the Governor-General was headquartered there.

The link between Paris and West Africa
Any information, law, decree or instruction that needed to be passed down to the federation could only be passed through the Governor-General. Similarly, any information that had to get to the government in France, passed through the Governor-General. In other words, the Governor-General was the official link between Paris and West Africa.

Preparation of budget
The federal budget was prepared by the Governor-General or he himself ensured that it was prepared. He also approved all the budgets that were prepared by the various territories otherwise those budgets could not be implemented.

Defense and security
It was the responsibility of the Governor-General to ensure that the federation was safe from any external aggression and internal insurrection. As the Commander-in-Chief of the Federal army, he could move the federal troops to any part of the federation if he felt it was in the interest of the French government.

Social and economic development
The social and economic development of the entire federation was the duty of the Governor-General. To be able to accomplish this function, he was further empowered to source funding for development activities. All the mineral resources in the federation were under his control. His sanction was crucial in any decision to exploit any mineral deposits in the federation.

Delegated Powers
The Governor-General could delegate some of his powers to a subordinate authority. So, for example, the Governor-General could delegate his power to expel foreigners from the federation to the Lieutenant-Governors.

Prerogative of mercy
As the representative of the French government in the colonies, the Governor-General had the power of prerogative of mercy. In other words, the Governor-General had the power to give pardon to convicted criminals on compassionate grounds or where, in his opinion, it was necessary.

Subject to instructions from Paris
The Governor-General served directly under the Minister of Colonies, so he was subject to his control. He did not have the power to take decisions on crucial issues without the approval of the Minister of Colonies. Also, policy directives emanated from the French government and laws were passed from the French parliament. The Governor-General could not act outside these laws.

Could be fired
The position of the Governor-General was not guaranteed when there was a change of government. It was possible that he could be fired from his position.

Poor communication network
Communication was not developed in those days as it is today, so the Governor-General was not able to effectively communicate with the Lieutenant-Generals in the various territories. Another aspect of poor communication was the absence of effective road network. The limitation of the Governor-General was that he could not travel around effectively to supervise his subordinates. Neither could he communicate with them in real time, so he could not ensure that his directives were carried out to the letter.

Local revolts
A possible local resistance against the French Government could serve as a limiting factor to the Governor-General’s exercise of his powers. Though often these local resistances were brutally crushed by the French, it at times served as moral and practical checks on the authority and power of the Governor-General.

Control by French African citizens
There were some French Africans in the French Parliament in Paris, there were also some educated French Africans living in the Dakar especially and the four communes in general, who made it their job to criticize the work of the Governor-General if they felt he was wrong. This category of Africans also served as a limitation to the authority of the Governor-General.

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