Posted by / Tuesday 6 September 2016 / No comments

The functions of chiefs in French Colonial West Africa

The chiefs in French colonial administration were categorized into three, the Chef de Province, Chef de Canton, and Chef de Village. 

Chef de Province
The Chefs de Province were used to replace the powerful traditional chief that existed before the French colonialist stepped in.

Chefs de Canton
The Chef de Canton was another level of chiefs who were placed in charge of each Canton into which the Cercles were divided.

Chefs de Village
There were village chiefs appointed to be in charge of the various villages into which each Canton was divided.

Collection of taxes
One of the major functions of the chiefs was the collection taxes from the natives on behalf of the French colonialists. These taxes were expected to be handed over to the French authorities.

Recruit natives for forced labour
It was the responsibility of the chiefs to recruit natives for forced labour. The forced labour was employed by the French colonialists in carrying out construction work in the territories. Every subject under French rule was required to partake in the forced labour and they were recruited by the chiefs.

Maintenance of public roads
After roads were constructed with forced labour, they need to be maintained so that they can last as long as possible. The chiefs were in charge of the maintenance of any public road in their area of jurisdiction.

Conduct of census
The Chiefs were tasked with the duty of conducting a census in their chiefdom. As was usual of censuses in those days, one of the purposes of the census was to determine the number of taxable people in each jurisdiction of the chiefs.

Cultivation of crops
The French colonial authorities in West Africa insisted that certain crops, such as maize, should be cultivated for them. It was also the duty of the chiefs to ensure that when the crops were harvested, the surplus was kept in an excellent condition against periods of scarcity.

Lack of local initiative
Every policy that was implemented by the chiefs in French colonial Africa emanated from the headquarters in Paris, through the laid down chain of command. The chiefs did not have the power to alter the policy suit the real situations on the grounds. Therefore, the chiefs did not have the leeway to display any initiatives of their own.

Sidelining of chief
It is noteworthy that the French appointed as chiefs, those who were not in the line of succession to be chiefs. The people felt more comfortable in dealing with the proper heir to the chieftaincy so in the end, they sidelined the chief appointed by the French.

No power of legislation
The chiefs did not have any power to legislate. The main source of legislation in French West Africa was the Minister of Colonies who issued decrees. Every decree was therefore handed down through the laid down chain of command till it got to the chiefs.

Absence of power of enforcement
The chiefs did have the power of enforcement. They were also not to maintain any police force or prison service. It was feared that the locals could use the local police in their rebellious activities.

Close supervision
The chiefs were closely monitored in whatever they did. This was a limitation for the chiefs because they could not veer toward the left or to the right. The carried out every instruction as was handed down to them.

Status of the chiefs
The chiefs were minded in their actions, knowing that they should not have been the chiefs, it was by the powers of the French that they were chiefs. Knowing that they were not traditionally heirs to the throne, was a limitation of a sort.

1. Highlight six functions of chiefs in French colonial West Africa.

2. Explain six ways in which the powers of chiefs were controlled in French West Africa

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