Reform of The French Colonial System

webGuinée/Economy/Victor David Du Bois/ The independence movement in Guinea: a study in african nationalism/Chapter III. — Reform of The French Colonial System

Politique, société, économie
La première décennie du régime PDG

Princeton University, Ph.D. Dissertation 1962
Political Science, international law and relations
University Mcrofilms, Inc. Ann Arbor, Michigan 436 p.


Chapter III. — Reform of The French Colonial System
I. French West Africa Under Vichy

With the defeat of France in 1940, colonial and indigenous leaders had to decide what attitude to adopt toward the nominal government of France, the Vichy regime . At the same time, they had to decide how to receive the overtures from General de Gaulle’s Free French Forces in London. Felix Eboué, the African Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa, managed to rally the territories under his jurisdiction to the Free French cause.

Governor-General Félix Eboué

In contrast, Governor-General Pierre Boisson of French West Africa, collaborated closely with Vichy. Inspired by the Vichy racist ethic, Boisson’s administration devised a number of discriminatory measures against Africans and Europeans alike, suspected of sympathies for the Free French.

Men were tracked down and brought before tribunals only to find that their accusers were also their judges. In every colony under his jurisdiction, Boisson established concentration camps for the condemned . Native lands were often sequestered on the pretext of their being needed for public use. Credit facilities in retail stores, advanced to Europeans, were denied to Africans. Rank discrimination occured in the recruitment of personnel for the civil service.

Severest of all these measures was the Indigénat, a measure authorizing local administrators (e.g. the commandants de cercles) to mete out “administrative justice” for minor crimes and misdeameanors. Determined to keep the Africans subordinate, these authorities frequently inflicted sentences under customary law for such nebulous offenses as refusing to divulge information of “public interest,” or making statements alleged to “weaken the authority of the French State.” To hold a public meeting, to edit or produce a newspaper or public journal of any kind, or even to leave the territory temporarily, Africans were obliged to seek permission from the local district officers. At its worst, the indigénat was used by vindictive officials to condemn Africans to forced labor. The indigenous peoples always suffered most. Food was scarce, and liberties formerly enjoyed by them were proscribed. The severity of Vichy was felt throughout the Federation. In the Ivory Coast, members of the Abron tribe were imprisoned because their chief had declared himself in favor of the Free French and then had fled with some of his followers into the neighboring Gold Coast.

Elsewhere, chiefs were sometimes driven to suicide for venturing to suggest that Frenchmen and Germans were hereditary enemies who would not long maintain their precarious collaboration . Boisson made use of his high office as Governor-General to strengthen Vichy’s hand in French West Africa.
Yet even while vociferously proclaiming his faith in Vichy, Boisson prepared for the eventuality that Vichy might someday weaken. With the landing of Allied troops in North Africa early in November, 1942, he quickly perceived an imminent change in the fortunes of the war. Fifteen days after the establishment of the Allied beachhead, he reversed his opposition completely, denounced Vichy, and declared himself firmly behind the Free French. After long, secret negotiations with Free French, American and British authorities, Boisson proclaimed all French West African ports open to Allied shipping. He then announced the creation of an army to go to Tunisia to fight there with the Free French Forces under General Giraud.

The tense months which preceded Boisson’s change of front were marked by many acts of heroism on the part of local African leaders. One after another they declared their loyalty to what Léopold Senghor called “the true France.” Often at great personal risk, they openly supported General de Gaulle. The loyalty demonstrated by many of these West African leaders during these months of crisis deeply impressed General de Gaulle and other leaders of the Free French. It was an important factor in convincing them that the Overseas Territories should play a more prominent role in the direction of French African affairs in the future. But this could be only after hostilities had ended and a sovereign government had been reestablished in the metropole.

II. The Brazzaville Conference, 1944

On January 6, 1944, a joint statement by the Commissioner of Information and the Commissioner of the Colonies announced that General de Gaulle would shortly preside over a conference on French colonial policy in Black Africa. When this conference convened at Brazzaville in French Equatorial Africa, on January 30, 1944, all the French colonies south of the Sahara were represented by their governors. Other participants included a delegation from the Free French Provisional Consultative Assembly, representatives of the Governor-General of Algeria and of the Residents-General of Morocco and Tunisia, and delegates from various French-African chambers of commerce.

Apart from Governor-General Félix Eboué, host to the conference and a participant ex officio, African representation was limited to a few chiefs invited to sit as observers.

As the French colonies in Asia and the Pacific were not represented, the meeting at Brazzaville was not an imperial conference. Nevertheless, it was the first large-scale gathering of representatives of Overseas-France. In his opening address De Gaulle acknowledged the debt which France owed her colonies:

In the extremity in which France found herself, thrust back into the metropole by a momentary defeat, she found in her Overseas Territories a refuge, a source of aid, and now, a base of departure for her liberation, and this has created a lasting bond between her and her Empire

At Brazzaville attention rapidly focused on the question of what form a revitalized Franco-African union should take once the war was over. Although not all at the Conference were in agreement, the majority preferred a federal union of France and her overseas possessions to a centralized unitary state. On basic social and economic reforms, as will be seen, there was a substantial consensus.

There was general acknowledgment that the peoples of the Overseas Territories had demonstrated sufficient political maturity to be entrusted with more control over their own affairs. It was also admitted that in the past they had not had their proper share in the decision-making process of government. The Conference felt that the conseils de notables had been unduly limited to a perfunctory show of advice-giving. It also condemned the old conseil supérieur des colonies , top advisory body of the Ministry of Overseas France, long regarded as too conservative to cope with the needs demanded by changins times.
Thus the Conference recognized the need for basic reforms. Nevertheless, it steadfastly refused to consider either self-government within the Empire or independence outside it

The Conference offered proposals on a bewildering array of political, economic, and social problems . Its political proposals included:

increased representation of the colonies in both bodies of the metropolitan Parliament (i.e. the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic)
creation of territorial assemblies exercising powers specifically delegated by the metropolitan government to pass on the territorial budget and to advise territorial governors on internal matters — without obligation on the part of the governors to accept the advice
creation of an assembly of colonial representatives to sit in Paris and advise Parliament and the Ministry of Overseas France
establishment of regional and municipal councils to provide greater representation of indigenous interests, the colonial administration reserving to itself the power to appoint council members from the traditional ruling classes
institution of a federal chamber to sit in Paris, and comprising French and Overseas representatives.

The economic proposals of Brazzaville were:

creation of a central agency to promote economic development overseas by careful channeling of government and private investments in industry and by greater emphasis on technical aid projects 10

institution of a special corps of labor inspectors (inspecteurs du travail) in the colonies 11

various measures aimed at stabilizing the purchasing power of the natives.

Social matters were prominent on the Brazzaville agenda. In contrast to the old policy of cultural assimilation and the consequent minimizing of African values, it was now recommended that the native peoples should be encouraged to develop within the framework of their own traditions. Various methods were discussed for improving the position of women in the colonies, and considerable time was given to discussing even such subjects as the marriage status and a reform of the dowry system. The Conference proposed that distinctions be made in law between matters of State, civil and commercial suits, and penal cases. It also called for negotiations with other colonial powers to draw up a uniform legal code for all Negro territories on the African Continent.
The delegates recommended that the health services for the native populations be greatly expanded along the lines of socialized rather than private medicine so as to benefit the maximum number of persons. Among the projects suggested were mobile groups of health services and a central school of tropical medicine to be open to students from all parts of the continent. The Conference adopted all these suggestions and called upon the French Government to propose to the Belgian, Portuguese, British and Spanish Governments the joint establishment of a board of public and social health, to operate on a continent-wide basis.

The Brazzaville Conference, then, considered the wide range of problems which any French Government would face once hostilities had ended. Despite its high aims — to increase the harmony between the metropole and the Overseas Territories, and to raise the social, political and economic level of their peoples — the Conference had some shortcomings. Participation by the peoples most concerned — the Africans — was limited to Felix Eboue, and he participated because he was Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa and host to the Conference and not because he was an African.

Note. — Although of African roots as a descendent of former slavers, Félix Eboué was actually from Martinique, not from an African colony. His daughter married
, but the couple later divorced. — T.S. Bah

A few other Africans — chiefs — sat in as observers, but only as observers. Another grave defect was the decision to retain the dual electoral college, a device to protect the privileges of the white minorities. The failure to come to grips with this problem of elections was later to cause numerous conflicts between colonial authorities determined to perpetuate the status quo and militant Africans equally determined to alter it.

The Conference brought to light the schizophrenic character of French colonial policy: a sincere but unsustained yearning for democratic egalitarianism between the French of France and the overseas peoples, and a suspicious paternalism resolved to keep a firm hand on its African wards.

Despite its shortcomings, the Brazzaville Conference was significant in that it was the first major attempt by authorities speaking for the metropole to reform the French colonial system and thus try to come to grips with the problems of nationalism engendered by World World II. Although Vichy had lost control of French West Africa with Boisson’s reversal in 1942, some of her colonial statutes had remained on the books, and these the Conference went on record as opposing 12

III. The Constitution of 1946: Establishment of the French Union

On October 21, 1945, elections were held for the National Assembly, and a popular referendum determined that the new body should also function as a Constituent Assembly. Sixty-four of the five hundred and eighty-six members were elected from overseas 13. It was now that men like Leopold Senghor and Lamine Gueye of Senegal, Louis Aujoulat of Cameroun, Yacine Diallo of Guinea and Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast first captured the attention of the metropolitan public. In forceful and persuasive language they made their colleagues in Parliament and the French people in general aware of the urgent need of reform in France’s African colonies.

Senghor, one of the most eloquent of the African deputies, warned the National Assembly that unless it enacted the necessary reforms in the Overseas Territories it would one day find itself a government without an empire:

“Parliament is amusing itself. French intelligence and imagination, the most fruitful in the world, is degraded to supply circus performances. Deputies waste most of their time in subtle maneuvers to create a future government or future elections reflecting their party or their personal ambition. Meanwhile, the organic laws, which the overseas peoples await, gather dust in various committees. While waiting, these people grow impatient and dream. Of what do they dream if not to annul a compromise which has proved so sterile? Of what, if not a statute which would allow them to “regulate their own affairs since the Republic ‘one and indivisible’ is incapable of running them?”

Similar expressions of eloquence by other African deputies helped to win Parliament’s support for various reform measures dear to the African people even before the Constitution was drafted 15. The National Assembly, in its regular parliamentary capacity, churned out a mass of legislation to reform some of the abuses about which Africans had been especially vocal — forced labor and the Indigénat16

After a year of tortuous politics and several consultations of the French people by elections and referenda, the Constituent Assembly at last adopted a second draft of a Constitution 17. The nation languidly endorsed it in a referendum on October 13, 1946 from which more than one third of the registered voters abstained. The liberal wave which had swept France after the fall of the Vichy Government had by this time largely spent itself. Although less liberal in content than the first draft 18, still the Constitution, as finally adopted, was the first document in French history to go so far towards satisfying the aspirations of the colonial peoples. This was chiefly because it took up the resolutions of the Brazzaville Conference of two years before and framed many of these into solemn constitutional engagements.

To assuage French and African criticism of the Government’s policy of cultural assimilation, the Preamble of the Constitution called for a joint effort by the people of the French Union to develop “… their respective civilizations.” 19 Emphasizing the liberal and democratic nature of the new charter, the Preamble concluded:

“Rejecting any system of colonization based upon arbitrary power, she [France] shall guarantee to all equal acess to public office and the individual or collective exercise of the rights and liberties herein above proclaimed or confirmed.”

The Constitution of 1946 reorganized the old French Empire into the French Union, comprising:

the French Republic
the Overseas Departments (French West Indies, French Guiana, Reunion, Algeria)
the Overseas Territories (French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, French Somaliland, Madagascar, Comoro Archipelago, St. Pierre and Miquelon, New Caledonia and dependencies)
the Associated Territories (Togoland and Cameroun), administered by France under United Nations trusteeship
the Associated States of Indochina (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) 21

The central organs of the French Union were the President of the French Union (by virtue of being President of the French Republic), the High Council, and the Assembly. The President was also commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Union and was responsible for the security of both the Republic and the Overseas Territories. The High Council, composed of representatives from all the member states of the Union, functioned as a consultative assembly to advise and aid the government of the metropole in its direction of the Union. The Assembly of the French Union was composed of an equal number of members representing metropolitan France and of members representing the Overseas Departments and Territories. Overseas members of the Assembly of the Union were elected by their regional assemblies; of the metropolitan members, two-thirds were elected by the National Assembly and one third by the Council of the Republic 22

The Assembly of the French Union could take cognizance of bills or draft bills laid oefore it for its consultative opinion by the National Assembly, by the Government of the French Republic, or by the Governments of the Associated States. The Assembly of the French Union was competent to transmit to the National Assembly, through its bureau, advisory opinions about such draft resolutions. It could also present proposals to the French Government and to the High Council of the French Union. The metropole reserved to itself the right to legislate on penal law, civil liberties, and political and administrative organization in the Overseas Territories. On all other matters, Article 72 of the Constitution forbade the application of French law in the Territories without prior consultation with the Assembly of the Union.

In creating the French Union, France thus embarked on a program which she conceived to be a bold attempt to live up to her hereditary revolutionary principles. She relinquished some of the controls formerly exercised over the colonies, and sought to provide opportunities for Africans to participate in the process of government through the exercise of civil and political rights now granted them for the first time.

The basic freedoms of worship, speech, assembly and equal access to public office were guaranteed by the Preamble of the Constitution. Alongside government officials “vested with the powers of the Republic” (High Commissioners in the Federations, Governors in the Territories and top administrators in the outlying districts) Articles 76 and 77 established local assemblies. Although their functions were largely consultative, these territorial assemblies were accorded by the Constitution a greater degree of autonomy than were the conseils généraux of the metropolitan départements. Their decisions on budget and other economic matters were to be final and executory 23

Article 80 of the Constitution granted the status of citizenship to all nationals in the Overseas Territories in the same capacity as French nationals of the metropole.
Special laws, however, were to determine the conditions under which the overseas peoples could exercise their rights as citizens.

Article 81 stipulated that all French nationals and subjects of the French Union should have the status of citizens of the French Union and thereby enjoy the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Preamble of the Constitution.

Before the anoption of the 1946 Constitution, a basic distinction had always been made between holders of French civil status (statut civil français) and holders of personal status (statut personnel). The former had all the rights of citizens, the latter all the duties of subjects. The distinction was devised to safeguard the interests of the white minorities in the colonies by giving them a disproportionately large share of political power. To this end the double college system was created. A holder of French civil status exercised his franchise through membership in the first college. This college was limited to an infinitesimal fraction of the population by the very conditions on which French civil status was based 24. The African with personal status — a French subject, not a citizen — exercised his franchise in the second college. While this second college was very much larger than the first, its members still were only a small fraction of the total population. By and large, Africans remained without any form of franchise. As in many other colonial territories, in Guinea the double college system was used to weight the votes of the first college out of all proportion to the votes of the second: A French citizen cast a vote that could he equalled only by the combined votes of many African subjects. Many Africans had hoped that the 1946 Constitution would do away with the old distinction between citizens and subjects. They were disappointed to see that it did not.

Article 82 provided that those citizens who had statut personnel should retain it, so long as they did not explicitly renounce it 25. The second paragraph of the same Article ruled that this personal status could not be a reason for refusing or limiting ths rights and liberties deriving from French citizenship. The colonial administration, however, no doubt relying on the provision of Article 80 that “special laws shall determine the conditions under which they give, i.e. the African subjects, may exercise their rights as citizens,” determined that African citizens of the French Union should exercise their suffrage in the second college. This was in flagrant contradiction of Paragraph Two of Article 82, which, it will be recalled, ruled that personal status might “in no case constitute a ground for refusing or restricting the rights and liberties pertaining to the status of French citizens.

From November 1946 to June 1951 the number of registered voters in French West Africa rose from 930,000 to over 3,000,000, a three-fold increase 26. This notable rise was due to enactment of the law of May 23, 1951, expanding the franchise, which was passed by the National Assembly just three weeks before elections to that body were to take place. In Guinea, with a population estimated at 2,180,000, the number of registered voters climbed from 131,309 in June of 1946 to 393,628 in June of 1951. In other areas, the rise was even more spectacular. In the Soudan the number of registered voters soared from 160,000 to nearly 917,000, an increase of almost 600 percent. Even in Senegal, long the most favored of the French West African territories and having the longest tradition of equality with the metropole, registration increased from 192,000 to 665,000. Despite this astronomical increase in the number of new voters, the great majority found themselves registered as members of the second college.

The crux of the whole matter was simply how many representatives a territory might send to the National Assembly in Paris and who should elect them. The laws of October 5 and 7, 1946, alloted French West Africa as a whole thirteen deputies in the National Assembly, and of these Guinea sent two. They were elected on a common roll (Collège unique) comprising but for this election only — both citizens of statut civil français and citizens of statut opersonnel. French West Africa likewise was represented by nineteen senators sitting in the Council of the Republic, and of these Guinea sent two. The first college elected one senator and the second the other.

The high-sounding provisions of the new Constitution aimed, and with some sincerity, at holding out to colonial subjects — although peoples of different races, different creeds, and many different languages — the possibility of a new and better life, and a genuine personal dignity. These provisions did indeed promote former subjects to citizenship, but to a second-class citizenship of little political worth. Africans themselves assessed the new arrangement at its real value:

« Article 72 of the same Constitution, i.e. the Constitution of the Fourth Republic] affirms with regard to the Overseas Territories that the legislative power resides in the French Parliament. Now, in that Assembly which, from the banks of the Seine, legislates for them, how are Africans represented? Experience shows us that an African deputy — even though he is apparently recognized as a French deputy — often represents more than 700,000 inhabitants, while his colleague from Toulouse, for example, represents 50,000. »

Thus Frenchmen had not been able to bring themselves to accept the representation of Africans and Frenchmen on the basis of genuine equality which the Constitution proclaimed. If this was the sentiment of politicians in Paris, much more was it that of colonial officials long accustomed to dealing with Africans as refractory children. These colonial officials, used Article 80 and Article 82 to swell the ranks of the second college, thus obeying the letter of the law while knowingly or unkowingly contravening its spirit.

The Constitution not only introduced basic political reforms but showed that France, for the first time, was willing to replace her narrow assimilationist policy with a cordial recognition of the intrinsic values of African culture. The Preamble declared:

« The French Union shall be composed of nations and peoples who shall place in common or coordinate their resources and their efforts in order to develop their respective civilisations… »

France realized that she could no longer insist that the African elites in her colonies reject their cultural heritage and unquestioningly accept hers as their own. Significantly, the very concept of the elite was undergoing a fundamental change. No longer did it imply merely the adoption of the French language and values or the aping of French ways. Now, as the Constitution sought to translate liberal principles into reality, to be an African — and an African first regarded as a legitimate aspiration.

The reforms effected by the creation of the French Union in 1946 represented a decisive departure from traditional French colonial policy. But they were palliatives rather than remedies to the malaise which afflicted the Overseas Territories, and were powerless to halt the phenomenally rapid spread of nationalism in French Africa after the war. Though they proved far from adequate in meeting the needs of the time, these reforms did, nevertheless, contribute significantly to the evolution of representative institutions in the Overseas Territories, and served to familiarize the African peoples under French rule with democratic processes.

In the decade 1946-1956, French policy in Africa was chiefly notable for its inconsistency. Virtually without exception, the premises on which it rested were neither uccepted in spirit nor applied in practice. France’s claim that in the Constitution of 1946 she had granted equal political rights to Africans as French citizens had to be measured against her perpetuation of the dual college in many parts of West Africa and the wholly inadequate and inequitable representation accorded Africans in the National Assembly. Her claim that she had granted universal suffrage must be weighed against the massive preponderance of executive control retained in Africa even after the framework of democratic institutions had been set up. Her announced policy of expanding educational opportunities to prepare Africans to direct their own affairs must be scrutinized in the knowledge that Frenchmen continued to occupy the great majority of positions in the colonial administration, even long after “Africanization” policies had been promulgated 28

Throughout the decade African demands for social and political reform were in almost every instance met by official indifference, legislative procrastination, or public apathy. Only when the interests of the metropole (or, more accurately, the interests of the faction ruling the National Assembly at the time) happened to coincide with those of the Overseas Territories, or when France was confronted with a situation dangerously close to explosion, did she undertake remedial action. A France reduced to legislative impotency was unable to cope with the fast-recurring crises forced on her oy Africans demanding their constitutional rights as French citizens.

Unable to comprehend the plight of the African peoples, Europeans on the scene failed to speak up on their behalf to the metropolitan councils which alone had the power to save the situation. They let slip the opportunity to win the lasting gratitude and friendship of Africans. Their failure to respond at so crucial a time forever compromised them in the eyes of the indigenous peoples. In Guinea, as elsewhere in French Africa, this inaction went far in diminishing whatever hope yet remained that, in un Africa no longer so French as before, the place of Europeans could be secure.

What reforms did come about were thus achieved not so much because of colonial Europeans as in spite of them. Overlooking the superficial distinctions which party affiliation had often imposed on them in the past, Africans increasingly joined forces with each other and with leftist and left-of-center groups in the National Assembly. Working together, Africans and liberal-minded Europeans sometimes succeeded in pushing through Parliament reform measures which had long been pigeon-holed 29

But most of the reforms effected overseas during this period were quickly out-distanced by the new and more pressing problems which a restive Africa thrust upon the Assembly. As the situation in Algeria worsened and storm clouds gathered unmistakably over Black Africa, it became clear that something had to be done quickly if France were not to be faced with other Algerias.

IV. The Loi-Cadre

Torn by internal discord, the National Assembly lacked the will and the wisdom to cope with African demands for political reform. In effect abdicating its role as lawmaker of the French Union, the Assembly, on June 19, 1956, by a vote of 470 to 105 passed Law No. 56-19, the so-called “Loi-cadre.” This law provided the framework within which the Council of Ministers was authorized to undertake by decree reforms in the Overseas Territories. The Council of the Republic quickly approved the law by a vote of 211 to 77 30

The reforms of the Loi-cadre were not to be initiated according to normal French parliamentary procedure. The law did nothing more than specify the broad areas in which reforms were to be undertaken. Not Parliament but the Council of Ministers was to draw up the reform decrees which would implement the Loi-cadre. The Government (i.e. the Council of Ministers) was obliged to submit the reform decrees first to the Assembly of the French Union for an advisory opinion as to their adequacy, and then to the National Assembly, which had to act on them within two months. Upon approval by the National Assembly, the decrees were to be submitted to the Council of the Republic, which were required to act within thirty days. Parliament had four months in which to act on the proposed legislation. To ensure that the Government would institute the reforms without undue delay, it has provided that the special powers granted the Executive under the Loi-cadre should lapse on March 1, 1957 31

The Loi-cadre met with universal approval, for it seemed to offer something to everyone. Its chief electoral reforms (universal suffrage and the single college) went far to appease “both French and African critics who for years had been troubled by the failure of France to live up to the ideals embodied in the Constitution of 1946. It was gratifying that at last the democratic provisions of that document should be translated into reality. The French Government and people, chastened by the events in Indo-China and thoroughly alarmed by the F.L.N. 32 insurrection in Algeria, thought that the Loi-cadre’s sweeping electoral reforms would rob African nationalism of much of its appeal. At least sub-Saharan Africa, many of them reasoned, would be saved to France by the application of this providential instrument. The Loi-cadre should put an end once and for all to vague yearnings for a goal so inconceivable (to the French) as African self-governnent or independence from France.

To West Africans, on the other hand, and to the Guineans in particular, the Loi-cadre meant something quite different 33. To them the law was not an end in itself, but merely an evolutionary step toward total autonomy, which they held to be a requisite for eventual African unity 34

Despite these fundamentally different interpretations both Frenchmen and Africans looked forward with confidence to the successful application of the Loi-cadre; hence its adoption was assured. For the metropole, and particularly for the Ministry of Overseas France, the law was seen as the basis for a new and permanent working relationship between France and her African territories, assuming the maintenance of French influence and the protection of French investments. For the Africans, it was a framework within which their federalist aspirations could be realized, always keeping in view the ultimate attainment of autonomy and the dismantling of the colonial structure.

In the language of the law itself; its purpose was “… to give the overseas people a more direct share in the management of their own interests 35. Its main provisions were as follows:

Article One called for administrative decentralization and devolution
Article Two empowered the territorial assemblies to pass on alleged breaches of their regulations and to set limits for penalties incurred by such infractions
Article Three enabled the Government to reform the civil service
Article Four directed the Government to take measures to raise the standard of living and to promote economic development in the territories
Article Ten established universal suffrage
Article Twelve eliminated the dual college in favor of a single electoral college

In providing for decentralization, it was intended that the government in Paris and the central colonial administration in Dakar should relinquish some of their powers to the territorial authorities. Accordingly, in December 1956, the Government submitted the first reform decrees to the National Assembly, changing the name of the Federation of French West Africa to “Group of Territories of French West Africa,” and designating the Governor-General as High Commissioner 36. Although in some respects the Group continued to function much as had the Federation, important changes were nevertheless made. Chief among these was the fact that the Governor-General and the Grand Conseil, heretofore the principal holders of executive authority in the Federation, were now reduced to coordinating agents for policies and services common to the Group as a whole.

The Governor-General, now known as High Commissioner, was restricted to tw roles: chief representative for his Group before the metropolitan government, and executive officer of the Grand Conseil. In the former capacity he remained the depository of those powers retained by the French Republic (foreign policy, defense, finance, police, higher education, and communicaticns); in the latter capacity he acted as chief coordinator of those services left to the Group (Group finances, inter-territorial economic development, public health, education, and geological and soil surveys).

The Grand Conseil was also stripped of most of its powers 37 “in order to permit the territories every liberty compatible with the minimum of indispensable common action. 38” Its role was consequently reduced to that of arbiter in inter-territorial disputes. Its deliberations henceforth were to be confined to matters of common interest to the territories and to matters concerning more than one territory submitted to it hy the territorial assemblies 39. Because its powers were now diminished, the financial resources of the conseil were also reduced.

While the reforms enacted under the Loi-cadre provided for establishing an African executive at the territorial level (the Conseils de Gouvernement discussed below), no provision was made for a comparable executive at the Group level. Reduced to the role of a coordinating agent, neither the High Commissioner (the former Governor-General) nor the brand conseil could fulfill this function. Doubtlessly, this was due in part to the intention of the Government in Paris to deprive the former federal executives of the power to initiate policy. But it was also due to the unwlillingness of the French Government to see control not only at the territorial but also at the federal level vested exclusively in African hands.

An advantage of this scheme was that it accorded greater autonomy to the various territories of the two Federations, thereby helping, to satisfy African demands for a stronger voice in the directicn of their own affairs. Another advantage was that it dismantled the federal structures which held the disparate African peoples together. The French feared, first, that African unity would be more likely to come about if the federal structures which held the disparate African peoples together were left intact to provide a basis for future political amalgamation.
Even more strongly, they feared that a united Africa, however “gallicized” its leaders, might someday feel sufficiently self-reliant to challenge French authority

Reform fared better at the territorial than at the federation level. The conseils de gouvernement which were established at this time (composed of a Prime Minister and six to twelve ministers) shared the executive power with the chef de territoire (i.e. the former Governor), and increasingly emerged as one of the most important reforms of the French colonial system. Although still accountable to the Ministry of Overseas France, the conseils in fact constituted an incipient executive branch, foreshadowing the responsible governments that were to come in the next few years with independence.

By the same decrees, the territorial assemblies, which for ten years had enjoyed control ever territorial budgets, were now to be elected by a single college and by universal suffrage. They were given, though only on a local level, a significant increase in regulatory authority in matters such as internal trade, secondary education, urbarnization, codification of customary law, cooperatives, soil conservation, reforestation, and agriculture. In key matters such as higher education, control of territorial police forces, and the allocation of customs revenues, however, the High Commissioner preserved control.

The Government had been granted by Article One, paragraph four of the Loi-cadre the power to decree the conditions under which municipal circumscriptions overseas could be set up and could function. The Government could also determine how legal status was to be granted to these circumscriptions. The National Assembly’s aim was to permit the Government to correct the imbalance in representation which long had favored the urban population over the rural and which in some areas had not been remedied by the expansion of the electorate in 1951.

Reform was overdue, for African leaders long had been preoccupied with securing greater representation at the metropolitan, federal and territorial levels and had neglected working for the expansion of purely municipal institutions. Conservative Europeans, in France and in the colonies, were fearful of any step that might lead to an extension of the single college and concentrated their opposition on any proposal to increase the number of municipalities. They feared the extension to other parts of Africa of the system prevailing in Dakar. There, the introduction of the single college had been made inevitable by early grants of genuine municipal autonomy and the firm resolve of African leaders to maintain it 40
In the case of Guinea, there was a plethora of administrative units —20 cercles, 270 cantons and 6 major urban centers. These had little influence on the development of genuinely democratic institutions, however, for Africans participated in their direction in only a minor capacity. The franchise extension of May 23, 1951, was of scant value when the franchise could not be exercised in local political institutions. Africans, in increasing numbers, had exercised the franchise, electing representatives to a variety of legislative or consultative bodies, but this fact did nothing to correct the serious lack of men trained in actual administration. Only in local institutions could the people have found an outlet for their new sense of political responsibility. Lacking this outlet, many found an alternative in political agitation. West African democracy was most unevenly developed until, with the Loi-cadre and the subsequent decrees of 1956, municipal circumscriptions were established which gave Africans an opportunity to participate actively and effectively in “… the management of their own interests.”

Article Two of the Loi-cadre empowered the assemblies of the territories to levy fines up to 200,000 francs and mete out prison terms not to exceed three months for breaches of their regulations. Such penalties were to be determined for each category of infractions by the head of the Group of Territories, the head of the territory, or the head of the crovince, upon proposal by the Assembly.

Article Three sought to disengage the civil service from exclusive control by the metropole, one of the most constant causes of complaint by the African deputies. The Government could “… by decree taken in the Council of Ministers on the basis of the report given by the Ministers of Overseas France and, on occasion, by the Ministers concerned, and after consultation with the Council of State, inaugurate a reform of the public services in the Overseas Territories aimed at defining, on the one hand, the State services charged with managing the interests of the State, and, on the other, the territorial services as well as the division of attributes between those services.” 40

The chief purpose of this provision was to facilitate the access of Africans to all ranks in the administration.
This was to be done by accelerating Africanization programs and placing certain branches of the civil service under local authority. Accordingly, the decrees implementing this article instituted a complicated scheme which, for purposes of regulation, divided the civil service into three parts, each with certain responsibilities. Central administration of the civil service gave “way to a division of authority among Paris, Dakar and the various territorial capitals. For services in which the French Republic retained responsibility (defense, education, monetary regulation, trade, and foreign affairs), control was exercised from Paris. For services which affected the Group as a whole (transportation, inter-territorial communications, and health services), administration was directed from Dakar. Lastly, for services of a purely local nature (soil conservation, reforestation, scientific research, local public health), authority resided in the various territorial capitals.

The problems to which this unwieldy scheme gave rise were foreshadowed by the bitterness and rancor which marked debate on them in the National Assembly. Few other points in the Loi-cadre provoked such heated discussion. By dividing responsibility for colonial administration among the three authorities, the National Assembly aggravated an already complicated situation. A fierce struggle ensued between the territories, the Groups and the metropole as to which services were to be allocated to whom. Moreover, the new system weakened the sense of accountability in civil servants. These problems notwithstanding, the placing of some sectors of the civil service for the first time under direct control of African territorial authorities was one of the most significant accomplishments of the Loi-cadre.

Title III of the Loi-cadre, instituting universal suffrage (Article Ten) and a single electoral college (Article Twelve), sparked the greatest interest in the Overseas Territories and in France. Men and women twenty one years of age, properly registered and not disqualified, and without regard to their personal status, henceforth were to vote — and to vote in a single college for their representatives in the National Assembly, the Council of the Republic, the territorial assemblies, the municipal circumscription councils, municipal assemblies of the communes de plein exercice, semi-organized communes (communes de moyen exercice) and mixed communes.

Since the Loi-cadre prescribed reforms overseas by governmental decree rather than by separate parliamentary action on each issue, it circumvented the procedural delays which usually attended legislation in the National Assembly. The liberalism with which the provisions of the law were interpreted by Robert Buron, Minister of Overseas France under Premier Pierre Mendes-France, and by his successor, Pierre Henri Teitgen, under the government of Edgar Faure, did much to allay the fears of some Africans that France would never actually undertake the political reforms so long overdue. The fears of some Frenchmen that by the Loi-cadre France would lose her influence over her colonies were gradually dispelled as the reforms enacted by the implementing decrees gained approbation both in France and Overseas.

If the Loi-cadre was important as a basis for these reforms, it has no less important as a tacit admission that the Constitution of 1946 was no longer a workable charter for the fast-changing relationship between France and her colonies. In fact, the Loi-cadre was a desperate attempt to solve the problems which had not yielded to a long series of near-quixotic reform programs, timidly conceived and limited in scope. Liberal though were many of its provisions, it came too late.
Events were soon to show that African nationalism was not a temporary malaise but a permanent problem. It would neither be ignored nor legislated away.

The Loi-cadre, by taking powers from the metropole and giving them to the territories, pushed the colonies to a greater degree of autonomy. In effect, therefore, it repudiated the constitutional claim that France and her territories were an organic whole, one and indivisible.
Constitutional revision became the logical and inevitable next step, and this goal increasingly came to occupy the center of discussion both in Africa and in France itself.

. For an excellent account of French West Africa under the Vichy Regime, see “L’Afrique Occidentale Française depuis le débarquement allié en Afrique du Nord,” Notes documentaires et études, No. 31, Série coloniale VII, Ministère de l’Information (Paris, 8 mars 1945).
. One hundred and fifteen persons were condemned to death during this period, some sixty were sentenced to hard labor, and three hundred and fifty-four were imprisoned. A great many others were held under virtually permanent arrest in various camps located throughout the Federation. Boisson made extensive use of the French West African units of the Légion Française to carry out his policy of Schrechlichkeit, always in the name of “applying the principles of the ‘national revolution.’”
. Ibid.
. Senegal, Mauritania, Dahomey, Soudan, Niger, Ivory Coast, French Guinea, Togo, Chad, Ubangi Chari (now Central African Republic), Gabon, Middle Congo (Brazzaville), Madagascar, Réunion and the Comores Islands.
. Discours du Général de Gaulle à la Conférence de Brazzaville, 30 janvier 1944. Comité Français pour la Libération Nationale, Document Serie II, No. 527, 2 fevrier 1944, n.p. [London?]
. See Chapter 1, p. 24.
. After 1937 known as the Conseil Supérieur de la France d’outre-mer.
. The rigidity of this attitude is evident in a declaration of the delegates at Brazzaville: “… the aims of the civilizing task performed by France in her colonies exclude any idea of autonomy, any possibility of evolution outside the French Empire bloc … Even the remote possibility of the constitution of autonomous governments in colonies must be rejected.” Quoted from René Massigli, “New Conceptions of French Policy in Tropical Africa,” International Affairs, Vol. 33, No. 4, October 1957, p. 405. Cf. Robert de Montvallon, Ces pays qu’on n’apellera plus Colonies (Paris, n.d.), p. 44.
. For a complete record.of the proceedings of the Conference see Conférence Africaine-Française, Brazzaville, 30 janvier-8 février 1944, Ministère des Colonies Paris, 1945); also Jean de la Roche, “Libertés Blanches et Noires,” Le Monde Libre, mai 1944.
10. These proposals were given substance by the Plan for Modernization and Equipment, an adjunct to the Monnet Plan for the Metropole (April 30, 1946). From this Plan came the establishment of F.I.D.E.S. (Fonds d’Investissements pour le Développement économigue et Sociale), modeled closely on the British Colonial Development and Welfare Corporation. F.I.D.E.S. drew up a ten-year plan for the development of French dependencies “… to satisfy the needs of the native populations and to create widespread conditions that would be most propitious for their social progress.” F.I.D.E.S. became the principal channel through which investments and technical aid flowed to the Territories. Thompson and Adloff, p. 253; see also French Economic Assistance in French West and Equatorial Africa: A Decade of Progress, 1948-1958. Ambassade de France, Service de Presse et d’Information (New York, 1958); Commission d’étude et de coordination des territoires d’Outre-Mer. Commissariat Général au Plan de Modernisation et d’Equipement (Paris, 1954); Inventaire social et économique des Territories d’Outre-Mer (1950-1955). Ministère de la France d’Outre-Mer, Service des Statistiques. Imprimerie Nationale (Paris, 1957).
11. This proposal evolved from a thorough discussion of native labor policy, a review of wages paid to various classes of workers, a study of production methods, and a scrutiny of labor union activity in the colonies.
12. The Vichy Government quickly denounced the Brazzaville Conference as an attempt by Gaullist elements to surrender the French Empire to the United States and Great Britain. See Guy Crouzet, “La conférence de Brazzaville,” Les nouveaux temps, Paris, 2 fevrier 1944.
13. The referendum asking the voters if they wished the National Assembly to draft a Constitution was approved by 18,597,000, with 697,894 opposed. Political Handbook of the World … as of January 1, 1946 (New York, Council on Foreign Relations, 1946), p. 64.
14. Quoted in P.F. Gonidec, L’évolution des territoires d’Outre-Mer depuis 1946 (Paris, 1958), p. 15. Cited in Edgar S. Furniss, Jr., France: Troubled Ally (New York, Council on Foreign Relations, 1960), pp. 183-184.
15. One of the most notable of these was the abolition of forced labor on April 11, 1946 largely as the result of Houphouët’s persistent efforts.
16. Few issues aroused more resentment in Africa than forced labor, which had a long and doleful history in Guinea. It was mainly of three types: penal, military and outright impressment (prestation). The third was the most odious, for it affected the greatest number. In French West Africa, every European and African male between the ages of eighteen and sixty was obliged by law to work a certain number of days at whatever task the colonial administration should assign. Africans were most frequently impressed into labor on roads, public works and European-owned plantations. In 1936 some 596,000 Guinean prestataires (men liable to this labor or the tax which commuted it) were registered with the colonial administration. During the war years, Vichy officials throughout the Federation, invoking the power granted them by the Indigénat, resorted to forced labor as a means of completing public works projects and keeping the African population subdued. Although officially abolished by the Constituent Assemhly in 1946, forced labor continued to be practiced in many parts of the Federation in fact if no longer in theory. Traditional practices continued, particularly in the more remote areas, far removed from official surveillance. Guinean [schoolteacher and the only RDA winner in the 1946-47 election] and Councillor-General Camara Caman revealed that, as late as 1949, each taxpayer in the cercle of Macenta (in the Forest Region of Guinea) was obliged to furnish as much as twenty kilograms of rice. This grain was carried by the natives for tens of kilometers to specified market centers where they had to sell it for eleven francs per kilo to European traders, who resold it for sixteen francs. Careful watch was kept on the market of Macenta to prevent producers from selling directly to consumers. A person meeting and failing to salute the colonial administrator was liable to be flogged or jailed for showing “contempt of a magistrate in the exercise of his duty” or “contempt of French authority.” See Virginia Thompson, French Guinea: A Survey of Pertinent Information in Nine Parts, United States Tariff Commission, February; J. Suret-Canale, op.cit., 21-62; Réveil (newspaper), Dakar, 4 avril 1949.
17. Political Handbook (op.cit.), p. 64.
18. The principal differences between the two drafts were that provisions for decentralization of power and the institution of federalism between the metropole and the Overseas Territories (both, recommendations of the Brazzaville Conference) were left out of the second draft, as Parliament once again insisted on administrative centralization through the Ministry of Overseas France. Further, the second draft did not clarify the rights of the Overseas citizens.
19. Inter-Parliamentary Union. Constitutional and Parliamentary Information. New Series (First Year), Sole Number, 1948, Geneva, p. 32.
20. Ibid.
21. See “From the French Empire to the French Union” International Affairs, Vol. 26, October 1950, pp. 487-502; also, “France and the French Union: A New World Comes to Birth,” Roundtable, Vol. 43, March 1953, pp. 145-152.
22. In addition to its 27 representatives in the Assembly of the French Union, French West Africa, by the laws of October 5 and 7, 1946, sent 13 representatives to the National Assembly and 19 to the Council of the Republic. Representation of the Overseas Territories in these bodies, however, was at no time ever really apportioned in strict accordance with the cone ept of equality proclaimed in the Constitution. Contrary to the system for the metropole, African representation both in the National Assembly and in the Council of the Republic bore no relation to the size of the constituencies. The promise of universal suffrage, deriving from the Constitution’s assertion of the absolute equality of all citizens of the French Union, had it been fully adhered to, would hove meant that the National Assembly would have had 1,040 members, of whom no less than 496, or nearly one-half, would have been elected from Overseas France. But in fact, French Guinea, with a population of nearly 2.5 millions had only three members in the National Assembly and two in the Council of the Republic. See G. Gayet, Compte rendu. Séances de l’Académie des Sciences Coloniales, février 1952. Cited in Thompson and Adloff, p. 46; also, K.E. Robinson, op.cit., p. 161.
23. See “Progress in French West Africa: The Territories and Their Administration,” World Today, Vol. 7, July 1951, pp. 299-305.
24. Persons qualifying for French civil status had to meet stringent requirements, including a literacy test in either French or Arabic. In practice this proved to be the most limiting factor, since the literacy rate in French West Africa seldom reached more than six percent of the total population.
25. The French text of Article 82 read: “Les citoyens qui n’ont pas le statut civil frangais conservent leur statut personnel tant qu’ils n’y ont pas renoncé. Ce statut ne peut en aucun cas constituer un motif pour refuser ou limiter les droits et libertés attaches à la qualité de citoyen français.” (“Citizens not claiming French civil status shall retain their personal status so long as they do not renounce it. This status may in no case constitute a ground for refusing or restricting the rights and liberties pertaining to the status of French citizens.”). The French never got around to spelling out in law the precise conditions by which overseas citizens could renounce their personal status and attain full French civil status.
26. Statistics in L’évolution récente des institutions politiques des territoires d’Outre-Mer et Territoires Associés, Ministère de la France-Outre-Mer, 11 mars 1954, p. 19. Cited in Thompson and Adloff, p. 59.
27. Albert Tévoédjré, op. cit., p. 17.
28. Even after passage of the famous Loi-cadre in 1956 (discussed below) in which the “Africanization” of the civil service figured as a central point, Gaston Deferre, Minister of Overseas France, was telling colonial civil servants: “When the State recruited civil servants it assumed certain obligations. It does not have the right, on the pretext that the territories have evolved, to withdraw the guarantees which it has given to them. I wish to state in the most categoric fashion that the Government intends to live up to the career guarantees which it gave those civil servants at the time they entered the administrative service.” Quoted in Albert Tévoédjré, op. cit., p. 20.
29. Significant progress here was achieved during the brief but dynamic tenure of Pierre Mendes-France, ably seconded by Robert Buron as Minister of Overseas France. Yacine Diallo, Socialist deputy from Guinea, played a prominent role in drafting the Municipal Reorganization Bill of 1955. This measure reduced the powers of the Governor-General in favor of the territorial assemblies, and promoted certain communes de moyen exercice to the status of communes de plein exercice. It also effected an important redistricting of municipal circumscriptions.
30. Journal officiel, 24 juin 1956, pp. 578 ff.; “Law No. 56-19 of June 23, 1956 Authorizing the Government to Carry Out the Reforms and Take the Measures Calculated to Ensure the Development of the Territories Under the Jurisdiction of the Ministry of Overseas France”, English text, African Affairs, No. 14A, Ambassade de France, Service de Presse et d’Information, (New York, August 1956). For a review of the various reforms instituted in the Overseas Territories as a result of the Loi-cadre, consult “Territoires d’Outre-Mer; réformes et révolution,” Journal officiel, No. 57-31S, février 1957; “Rapport général de presentation des décrets pris en exécution des prescriptions de la loi No. 56-19, séance du 23 juin 1956,” Bulletin de l’Assemblée de l’Union Francaise, No. 148, seance du 4 décembre 1956; “Le nouveau statut des territoires d’Outre-Mer,” Revue politique et parlementaire, mars 1757, pp. 225-245; “Réformes d’Outre-Mer; nouvelles structures resultant de la Loi-cadre du 23 juin 1956 et des décrets pris pour son application,” Notes et Etudes Documentaires, No. 2.347, 16 novembre 1957, Ministère de la France-Outre-Mer, Service d’Information et de Docunentation; H. Luchaire, “Les institutions politiques et administratives des territoires d’Outre-Mer après la Loi-cadre,” Revue juridique et politique de l’Union Française, avril-juin 1958; “Réorganisation de l’Afrique Occidentale Française et de l’Afrique Equatoriale Française,” Rapport fait au nom de la commission des Territoires d’Outre-Mer; Assemblée nationale, N° 3926, séance du 29 janvier 1957. See also “Territoires d’Outre-Mer (A.O.F., A.E.F., Madagascar), Réorganisation,” Journal officiel, No. 57-58S, avril 1957; “Afrique noire française; genèse et dispositions de la Loi-cadre du 23 juin 1956,” Chronique de politique étrangère, juillet-novembre 1958.
31. L.G. Cowan, op.cit., p. 247
32. Front de Libération Nationale, the name of the principal ‘Moslem’ insurrectionist group in Algeria.
33. See Chapter 4, pp. 104-113.
34. See “La Loi-Cadre et L’Afrique Noire,” Touré, I, pp. 21-25.
35. At the territorial level the governor was now called chef de territoire. Comparable changes were instituted in the Federation of French Equatorial Africa.
36. The Grand Conseil formerly enjoyed a wide range of powers including the right to deliberate on:

the acquisition, sale, exchange or lease of real and movable property belonging to the Federation
legal cases to be prosecuted in the name of the Federation (unless of an urgent nature)
transactions concerning federal rights
acceptance or rejection of lecacies or gifts to the Federation
construction, classification and planning of roads
grants-in-aid of federal interest
concessions made to companies or individuals
public works executed from federal funds
determination of the conditions of exploitation and rates to be charged by public utilities operating within the Federation
the classification and direction of irrigation canals. In addition, the Grand Conseil decided the amount which each territory should receive annually in federal grants and in tax rebates. Cowan, op.cit., pp. 109-111.

37. Documents de l’Assemblée Nationale, 1956-57, No. 3424, p. 2. Cited by Cowan, ibid., p. 250.
38. The Grand Conseil still retained regulatory powers over interritorial communications and public health measures on a Group level.
39. Dakar’s unique and highly favored position in French colonial history stems from the time of the French Revolution. The decree of 16 Pluviose, Year II (1792) abolished Negro slavery and proclaimed that “all men, without distinction of colour, domiciled in French oolonies, are French citizens and enjoy all the rights assured by the Constitution.” In Senegal, which was at the time the only French colony in Africa, the original four communes of that territory (St. Louis, Dakar, Rufisque and Gorée) were designated communes de plein exercice (self-governing municipalities) of the French model and allowed to elect their own mayors and city councils. See Hodgkin, op.cit., p. 34.
40. Loi-cadre, op.cit., p. 4.


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