Posted by / Monday 5 September 2016 / No comments

The structure of Colonial Administration in West Africa

The overseas colonial possessions of the French in West Africa included Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin (formerly Dahomey), Senegal, Boukina Faso (formerly Upper Volta), Mauritania, Mali (formerly French Sudan), Niger and Guinea. All the territories were put together as a federation with the headquarters in Dakar, Senegal but every instruction for the administration of the federation emanated from Paris, France.

Minister of Colonies  
There was a Minister of the Colonies at the top of the structure who was resident in France. He was a cabinet member appointed my the French government. Laws passed in the French parliament came through the Minister, down the hierarchy to the very bottom in the territories for implementation. However, the Minister himself could also pass a decree which was enforced in the federation.

Just below the Colonial Minister was the position of a Governor-General. Unlike the Colonial Minister who was based in France, the Governor-General was based in the federal capital, Dakar. His major role was to ensure the smooth administration of the entire French West African federation.

Further below, there was a Lieutenant-Governor. This person was put in charge of the territories that constituted the federation. It was this French official who implemented policies that emanated from the French parliament through the chain of command down to him. The Lieutenant-Governor was in charge of the various colonial government department and agencies within the territory.

Commandant du Cercles
Of all the territories constituting the federation, each of them was further divided into smaller units called cercles. That was the lowest level of administration where there was a French official designated as a Commandant du Cercle. Further below, African chiefs were used.  of equal size.

The African Chiefs
Down below the hierarchy were African chiefs. They were the people engaged in the direct implementation of French policies at the grassroots. The African chiefs were under the directive of the Commandant du Cercle. 

Organized into a federation
As mentioned in the introduction, there were about nine French territories in West Africa. All the nine were administered as a federation. The federal capital was in Dakar, Senegal and the head of the federation was the Governor-General who was in charge of the administration of the federation.

The French Colonial system of administration was a highly centralized one. The policies that were implemented in the colonies all emanated from the French metropolis in Paris. No official could implement any programme or policy in the territories if it was not sanctioned from France.

Uniformity of laws
All the decrees that came from the office of the Colonial Minister and those passed in the French parliament, were uniformly implemented in the federation as a whole regardless of any specific peculiarities of the territories.

No room for independence
The French regarded their overseas territories as an integral part of the French empire. They, therefore, did not envisage that there was ever going to be a moment when the territories would be granted independence. This may explain why there was a late development of nationalist activities in the French colonial West Africa.

Divide and rule
The French adopted a policy of so as to make it easy for them to effectively keep the people in continual subjugation. The locals were divided into citizens and subjects. The citizens were given a lot of freedom to operate while the subjects were made to undergo very inhumane treatments at the hands of the French officials. As the situation remained this way, the French were able to rule the Africans with ease.

Frequent transfers
French colonial administration was characterized by a system where the French officials in the territories were transferred from one station to the other very frequently. This was meant to prevent people from entrenching their positions in one territory and opening them to possible bribery and corruption.

1.         Discuss the structure of French colonial administration in West Africa.

2.         What were the main features of French Colonial rule before the Second World War?

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