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The functions, powers and limitations of the Commandant du Cercle

The French organized their entire West African overseas territory into a federation of eight divisions with its headquarter in Dakar, Senegal.   The administrative structure was hierarchical and the Cercle was the lowest level of the hierarchy where there was a French official designated "Commander du Cercle".

Collection of tax
It is the function of the Commandant du Cercle to ensure, through the native rulers, that the natives within his cercle paid their taxes to the French Administration.

Forced labour
The French system of forced labour was one of the policies by which the French authorities made sure they got valuable work done in the territories. It was the duty of the Commandant du Cercle to ensure that the work was done by making sure that African chiefs provided natives to be engaged for the forced labour.

Cultivation of crops
The cultivation of major crops was a major feature of French agricultural policy in the overseas territories. One of the functions of the Commandant du Cercle was to make sure that the crops which were cultivated by the natives for the French were of high quality.

Executes government policies
Every policy directive that came from the French metropolis stopped on the desk of Commandant du Cercle and he was the man on the ground to implement all government policies within his Cercle.

Judicial functions
There was a local court presided over by the Chef de sub-division that tried cases brought before it. If any party to a case was not satisfied with the outcome of the case, he could appeal to the Criminal Tribunal for redress. The Commandant du Cercle presided over the Criminal Tribunal.

Appointment of Cantonal Chiefs
The Commandant du Cercle also played a major role in the appointment of Chiefs of Cantons within his Cercle. Though the appointment of the Cantonal Chief was done by the Lieutenant-Governor, the particular persons who were appointed, had to be recommended by the Commandant du Cercle.

Control by the Lieutenant-General
The Commandant du Cercle was under the control of the Lieutenant-Governor. The latter could override some of the decisions of the Commandant du Cercle.

Frequent transfers
In order to prevent a particular Commandant from entrenching his tentacles in a cercle for too long, thereby opening up himself to be possibly corrupted, the Commandants were frequently moved from one cercle to the other.

Limitation by Chef de Canton
The Commandant relied heavily on the cantonal chiefs for information because he often remained in the capital of the cercle. As a result, he could sometimes be misinformed by the chiefs that served under him.

Check by letter writers
There were some individuals who lived in the four communes, well educated, who could write letters about happenings in the Cercle. They normally wrote about the injustices dished out by the Commandants to the people. Their writings, therefore, served as a check on the powers of the Commandant du Cercle.

Fear of local rebellion
There were instances of local rebellion within the Cercles in the past which caused disturbances, though the rebellions were duly crushed. Therefore, the Commandant du Cercle still feared such rebellions and it served as a limitation to the powers of the Commandant du Cercle.

Limitations from Dakar
Whenever a commandant sentenced a person to a term of imprisonment of more than five years, the sentence could be reviewed by the Chamber of Certification, a kind of Supreme Court based in Dakar, Senegal.

 1. Highlight six functions and powers of the commandant du cercle.

2. a. Describe the position of the Commandant du Cercle under French colonial rule.
    b. Highlight five limitations of the Commandant du Cercle

3. a. Describe the position of the Commandant du Cercle under French colonial rule
    b. Highlight five functions performed by the Commandant du Cercle.

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