Guinea in the Colonial System
in Essais d’Histoire africaine. London: Hurst (ed.-transl.). 1980. pp. 111-147
If one consults official publications, even the most specialised, one will not gather much information on the fate of Guinea during the “colonial period”, at least from the conquest till the end of the Second World War. Undoubtedly one will find details of military operations, the dates of expeditions, and the names of those who covered themselves with glory. One will find the dates and particulars of decrees and decisions modifying the laws and the frontiers of the territory, and its division into “circles” and “circumscriptions.” There will be a list of governors, praise for their “work” and their virtues, and — very important — their portraits, with pince-nez and turned-up moustache, and chest and collar bedecked with gold and silver
But the ordinary man, the Guinean who worked the fields, bent double over the earth, and weighed down by heavy loads on his back over long journeys on foot — where is he ? All one can say is that he hardly ever appears except by accident and in a round about way, as a statistic that throws some light on his condition. The Grand Siècle (Great Century) of Louis XIV of France was not short of authors and chroniclers who give us a wealth of information about the court, on persons of rank, and even on the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the seventeenth century is one of the least known in terms of economic and social history — even less so, it has been said with deliberate exaggeration, than the Egypt of the Ptolemies. In colonial Africa, the colonisers wrote their own history. The history of the “natives” had no place there; it did not count, except under the heading of manpower. They only counted after the day in 1946 when they took the initiative in history, occupying the centre of the stage without being invited, and making all the cracks in the decayed colonial edifice become suddenly visible.
In these conditions, it was clear to historians that there was a point beyond which they could go no further along their chosen route. With everything to be done, with a new edifice needing to be built up from the foundations, all one could aspire to was a provisional assessment. Hence, this has to be an essay in the true sense of the word — a few strokes to try and penetrate the chinks in the armour-plate of ignorance forged by colonisation.
Another difficulty is that Guinea, a colonial creation arbitrarily carved out, does not lend itself easily to the kind of study I had in mind. For the time before the end of the conquest, it is necessary to add together the separate histories of regions which were organically linked to other parts of Africa, but once the conquest was completed, Guinea was poured into the mould prepared for it by the ministry of the colonies. Its history thereafter is difficult to separate from that of French West Africa and the “empire” as a whole.
Not having been able to follow the history at the local level in all its detail, and not wishing to produce, for Guinea, a history of French colonial Africa, I have had to accept the necessity of leaving certain gaps. To the historians of independent Guinea, with the archives in their possession, and above all with the freedom to say what they could not say before, belongs the task of producing definitive contributions.
The birth of “French” Guinea took place by chance. During the time of the slave trade, and up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was the Portuguese and the English who “held” the “Rivières du Sud” (the Portuguese by arriving first, gave their names to the Rio Pongo and the Rio Nunez). But the prohibition of the trade (despite long-standing relations with Brazil, where slavery still continued), Portugal’s weakness, and the abandonment of the forts previously used by the African-Portuguese gave a considerable advantage from 1820 onwards to the English, who were firmly ensconced in Sierra Leone. With them the “new style” of trade, dealing in merchandise, gained the upper hand. At this stage, the English — confident of their maritime and commercial superiority, and prime advocates of free trade — proposed, of their own free will, the abandonment of the colonies. More precisely, they were willing to renounce theirs, provided that their action was reciprocated; this would give them genuine and total mastery, just as they already had mastery of the seas. On the whole, their prudent “realism” did not make them slacken in any way, but rather the contrary; but here, for once, they were outsmarted. While commissions of inquiry were considering the evacuation — at some future date — of Sierra Leone, and the English were awaiting developments in Guinea, Bouët-Willaumez, King Louis Philippe’s naval commander in Africa, was making an increasing number of “treaties” with the littoral chiefs. Thus the navy was assured of a strong position at sea, and business in Marseilles would have favourable conditions for obtaining palm oil, which was increasingly used after 1840 for soap manufacture, lighting and lubrication.
Competition with England continued for a long time. The fort at Boke, built in 1865 in the hinterland of the Rio Nunez which had been ceded to France, was insignificant compared to the settlements at Freetown. And Bayol only signed a treaty for a “protectorate” with Futa-Jalon some months after the English Gouldsberry had done the same thing. In short, it was the consolidation of the French positions on the upper Niger which gave France an assured position of advantage. In 1882, the British “recognised” French rights over the “Rivières du Sud”, not without pursuing their own intrigues in the interior under cover of the difficulties with Samori (see above, page 000). This was one of the rules of the game; the French did as much at the same time on the lower Niger and at Benue. The Germans, for their part, gave up alleged “rights” on the Rio Pongo in 1885 in exchange for France giving up her “rights” to Porto-Seguro, and Petit Popo, (Anecho) on the Togolese littoral. In 1886 the frontier on the Rio Cassini was corrected in favour of Portugal, in exchange for the latter giving up Ziguinchor. An agreement in 1904, consecrating the British renunciation of the Los islands in exchange for that of the Gambia by France was the last such re-touching of the map.
At first a mere dependency of Senegal, the “Rivières du Sud” did not attain administrative autonomy till 1890. Under their new style of “French Guinea and Dependencies” (decree of 17 December 1891), they still included the settlements of the Ivory Coast and Benin, which were only detached in 1893. The lieutenant-governor installed at Conakry from the same date, wielded authority over several enclaves of French sovereignty and innumerable “protectorates” on the coast, just as he did over Futa-Jalon. When the interior (the Dinguiraye region — the empire of Samori) fell into French hands, it first came under the military administration of the Sudan. In 1895, at the same time as the government-general of French West Africa was created, the Farana sector, which controlled the frontier with Sierra Leone, was transferred from the Sudan to Guinea. Only when the decree of 17 October 1899 attached the Ivory Coast and Dahomey to the government-general did Guinea acquire its present frontiers. The fall of Samori put an end to wide-ranging military operations, and the “Grand Soudan” military area was divided up among the other colonies of the group, Guinea receiving its share.
The annexation of the littoral — the “Rivières du Sud”, to use its correct title — had not presented major problems. Its disintegration into numerous rival chiefdoms made European expropriation easier — which is not to say that it was achieved without fighting. Incessant intrigues with the object of supporting this chief against that rival, the rivalries between European powers (Britain, Germany and Belgium had a policy of intervention and, if not at installing themselves, then at least at obtaining pledges of concessions), the disagreements between the military and the traders, the demoralisation among the little fever-ridden garrisons in the forts — all encouraged an increase in bloody incidents. One of the most notorious of these “affairs”, the Rio Nunez ‘incident,’ is described in this essay.
The conquest of Fuuta-Jalon
Futa-Jalon presented scarcely any more obstacles to its conquest by France than the littoral, and here one has to ask why this state, one of the oldest and most developed in black Africa, offered no serious resistance to the conquest, while others equally ancient (if not more so, like Dahomey) or much more recent (the empires of Ahmadu and Samori) put up a famous resistance? It is not our claim that we can provide an answer, but we will put forward some hypotheses.
The weakness of the state of Futa-Jalon is probably explained by its feudal character, which made the organisation of a national resistance difficult, and at the same time the persistence of its ethnic institutions which prevented any genuine central authority from developing. In each small locality and each province, just as at the apex of the confederation, order resulted less from the exercise of genuine authority than through the unstable balance between the forces of rival families. The double-headed constitution — whereby power was held for alternate two-year terms by the almamy of the “Soria” branch and the almamy of the “Alfaya” branch (a source of incessant civil wars) and the inadequacy of the power maintained by the oligarchy of great electors — deprived Futa of any capacity for self-defence. The conqueror had a fine time stirring up the rivalry between the pretenders, only to relieve them of their power in the end without effort. In our view, the state of Futa-Jalon was weak because it had practically failed to evolve since the eighteenth century, while for example the state of Dahomey showed a remarkable evolution right up to the end of the nineteenth century, adapting itself at least partly to its new environment.
It was as part of a so-called “peaceful negotiation” that Dr. Bayol, entrusted with preventing the British from establishing themselves by signing “treaties of protection”, concluded the agreement of 5 July 1881 with almamy Ibrahima Sori. This may have been a protectorate agreement in European eyes (it was necessary then, before the Berlin agreements, to extract the maximum security), but it certainly was not so in the eyes of the almamy, since the tributary, in this treaty, was the French government. The latter, in exchange for commercial advantages (and the guarantee that European traders would only be obliged to pay fixed dues), agreed to pay an annual rent of 3,000 francs to the two almamys and a rent of 1,500 francs to two diiwal (province) chiefs. In the preamble to the agreement, the almamy proclaimed with sublime confidence:
« Futa-Jalon, united with France in a long and old friendship, knowing that the French people desire no extension of their possessions in Africa but amicable relations destined to provide commercial exchanges; knowing for a long time that the French never involve themselves in the private affairs of their allies… » and so on
A megalomaniac adventurer, Aimé Olivier, calling himself Count of Sanderval , lured by the vision of setting up an African kingdom for himself (he turned some land which the almamy had granted to him into the ‘kingdom of Kahel’, and struck his own coinage), had contributed to the success of the transaction, thanks to his good relations with the almamy.
While the war continued in the Sudan, the “protectorate” was exercised within prudent limits. But after the treaties of
Bissandugu (with Samori) and Guri (with Ahmadu), and the building of the fort at Siguiri (1887-8), Gallieni believed himself to be strong enough to re-tighten the purse-strings (which was very much his normal practice). The Audéoud mission had linked up the Sudan with Conakry and the littoral, via Timbo, and from that moment one could regard Futa as isolated. The Gallieni Convention of 30 March 1888, while it renewed the French “undertaking not to become involved in the internal affairs” of Futa, abolished the rents payable to the almamys and the dues imposed on traders. . . . As the result, war with Ahmadu and Samori flared up again, and it was then thought politic to cancel the Convention and continue the payment of rents. A war of succession, which began when the almamy of the “Soriya” branch died in 1889, enabled the French to reinforce their authority, which had as its local representative, from 1890 onwards, a lieutenant-governor residing at Conakry. The “pacification” of the Sudan was still awaited so that a new stage could be begun (Ahmadu had been pressed back towards the north and Samori to the edge of the forest region in the east). When almamy Bokar Biro refused to give up his post at the end of his two-year term and re-took Timbo, the pretext was at hand for an intervention with the support of the Alfaya clan chiefs (later accused — in order to get rid of them — of having “conspired” with Samori), and of Olivier de Sanderval (he too was eliminated once he was no longer useful and had become an embarrassment, and spent the rest of his days complaining of the French administration’s ingratitude to him). The French columns moved into Timbo in November 1896. Bokar Biro was defeated at Poredaka and killed by his adversaries a few weeks later. A new “treaty of protection”, signed on 6 February 1897, stipulated:
- Article 2. France undertakes to respect the present constitution of Futa-Djallon. This constitution will function under the authority of the government of Guinea [sic!] and under the direct control of a French official, who will take the title of Resident of Futa-Djallon.
- Article 3. The almamys at present commissioned and recognised will exercise power alternately and in conformity with the constitution of Futa-Djallon.
This, in fact, was annexation. This “scrap of paper” was respected for a shorter time than its predecessor. From 1897, almamy Umarou Bademba, who had been elected in place of Bokar Biro, was deposed and replaced. His successor Baba Alimu was given an area that had been reduced to three diiwe (provinces), the others, like Labe already, being proclaimed “independent” — which meant that they were placed under the direct control of the French administration. On his death in 1906, Futa-Jalon was shared between two almamys, under the pretext of substituting the joint rule of the Alfaya and Soriya families over different territories simultaneously for their alternation in power. At that point, the almamys were reduced, in political terms, to the rank of provincial chiefs, only retaining their “religious powers.” The official report of 1906 did not beat about the bush in its ratification of the political system adopted by the colonial administration — “the progressive suppression of the important chiefs and the parcelling out of their authority” . Finally, in 1912, the old provinces of Ditinn and Timbo were deliberately dismembered and the almamys reduced to the rank of cantonal chiefs. Bokar Biro, the almamy of Timbo, was removed to the periphery of his former domain, with the style of cantonal chief of Dabola
The “traditional” or imposed chiefs could no longer cause any serious concern to the colonial administration. Official historiography mentions the “two emergencies of 1905 and 1911 due to the agitation of Alfa Yaya and some xenophobic marabouts” . This agitation belongs to mythology. That there was discontent and bitterness among the feudal chiefs of Futa-Jalon as the result of the French administration’s actions is certain; but as for genuine attempts at resistance, there seem never to have been any. Caught between their subjects and the conqueror, they had neither the means nor the desire to go in that direction. According to Demougeot , Alfa Yaya, chief of the diiwal of Labe, was disgruntled over the Franco-Portuguese frontier agreement, which removed part of his territory and transferred it to Portuguese Guinea, and threatened a revolt — as the result of which an order of Governor-General Roume dated 23 November 1905 dismissed him from office and caused him to be shut up in Dahomey for five years.
The version of André Arcin , confirmed by the archives, is quite different. Immediately after the conquest, Alfa Yaya was one of France’s most reliable allies; he had been at the heart of the conspiracy hatched against Bokar Biro. It was the administrator Noirot who was responsible for his fortunate position: in a letter to Governor Ballay written on 6 April 1898 , Yaya recalled that he had always been friendly to the French, and had promised to obey all the Governor’s orders and ensure that all taxes collected would be handed over intact. As a quid pro quo, he asked to be accorded seniority over the other Futa chiefs who were making war against the French. Up till 1904, Yaya was indeed one of the government’s most loyal supporters, but in that year the governor, Cousturier, was dismissed and replaced by Frezouls, an appointment which arose purely out of French domestic political rivalries. For Frezouls it was important to demonstrate the ‘faults’ of his predecessor. By a “clever manoeuvre” (the very words of the journal A.O.F, of 11 February 1911) he enticed Alfa Yaya to Conakry. The chief came with his retinue, completely unsuspecting, and attended an official reception — at which he was arrested before being deported. One result of this action, according to Arcin, was that in future the Futa chiefs prudently refrained front visiting Conakry. Demougeot notes that Yaya’s arrest provoked considerable popular anger. A European observer wrote of the episode as follows:
Among those acts which excite universal condemnation, and which disgrace those who commit them — to borrow the very phrases used by the minister of the colonies in his recent instructions to the Commissioner-general of the Congo — one has to include failure to abide by promises one has given, and a want of loyalty on the part of certain representatives of government in their relations with the natives whom they administer … To an impartial public no other description can be given to the ambush which put an end to the power of the former king of the Labe, Alfa Yaya, who had earlier faithfully helped the French Government to take possession of Futa-Djallon, almost , without a blow being struck. It is known that Alfa Yaya was summoned to Conakry some months ago for a discussion: calmly and confidently, as befits a man with nothing on his conscience, he took a costly journey of several weeks accompanied by a guard of honour in response to the French representative’s invitation — and that as he left the government buildings he was seized, placed on board a ship bound for Dakar, and then deported to Dahomey 10
Yaya’s son Modi Aguibu was soon arrested too.
« On 1 November 1905, he dared to draw his sword against an officer in the Native Affairs department called Proust. He was immediately arrested, tried and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, It is not impossible that this incident was blown up for reasons of state. » 11
On consulting the archives one finds that not only was it not impossible, but that the incident was a put-up in every detail. Having been notified of his father’s arrest, Aguibu was afraid and thought of fleeing to Portuguese Guinea. The governor had the clever idea of sending him a telegram, signed Alfa Yaya, asking him to go to Conakry — but the deputy administrator of Labe, Tallerie, considered this manoeuvre dangerous: Aguibu might pretend to leave for Conakry but actually flee — with his people and his herds of animals, and at least a part of his father’s property. It was therefore necessary, on some pretext or other, to arrest him before his departure. So Tallerie invited him to his office, as he said, to discuss the journey to Conakry, and was so insistent at the meeting in requesting his visitor to lay down his sword that Aguibou sensed he was about to be arrested; scared, he fled with his sword drawn. He was then surrounded, seized and charged with “armed rebellion against the agents of authority” (article 212 of the Penal Code). In a report of December 1905, Louis Giraut, the administrator of Timbo, wrote that according to the statements made by witnesses, “Aguibu had not at any time drawn his sword with the intention of attacking the circle commander or any European,” and he concluded: “What therefore remains of the accusation brought against Aguibu? Nothing.” This did not prevent him a month later, acting in his capacity as “judge of the peace with extended jurisdiction,” from sentencing Aguibu to two years’ imprisonment for a crime which he himself recognised as being non-existent 12. Colonial reasons of state prevailed.
Returning to Guinea with Aguibu in 1910, Alfa Yaya and his supporters “held mysterious secret meetings” and “sought to provoke disturbances” (Demougeot); here again the archives show that these supposed plots were fictitious. Trusting in promises made by the Governor-General, Alfa Yaya believed that the possession of his property had been restored to him, and that he had been invested once again with his former power, The contacts he made on his arrival at Conakry could have had no other purpose than as a preparation for his re-installation at Labe, and his intentions were so lacking in secrecy that he expressed them in a letter to the governor, asking that he should be allowed to replace the chiefs then in office in the province with his own men. He and Aguibu were again arrested at Conakry on 11 February 1911, and this time held at Port-Etienne, known as an efficacious place of solitary confinement for African chiefs. Yaya died there the following year, the victim of rivalries between cliques of colonial officials, and above all of the application — thereafter systematic — of direct political administration. Considering the lessons to be learned from the affair, the Revue indigène noted: “This was not a mere isolated occurrence; the condemnation of Alfa Yaya and his supporters is of profound political significance. . . . One must not hesitate to make a break with the high command, which is acting immorally if the appointed chief is not held in the country itself, and dangerously if on the other hand he has deep roots in the country with whose administration he is entrusted.” 13
The “Wali of Gumba” affair (to which our earlier allusion to “xenophobic marabouts” referred) was of a similar kind. Tierno Aliou, known as the Wali of Gumba, was an aged marabout, more than eighty years old. His learning and piety had earned him great authority, although he was not a member of any of the reigning dynasties. He proved himself a loyal helper of the French administration, down to the exact payment of his taxes. Because of the commotion caused by the Muslims announcing that the advent of the Mahdi would put an end to taxation by the French, and despite reports indicating that he had calmed the excitement by urging that the advent of the Mahdi — while it should not be forgotten should be regarded as an event in the venture future, it was decided to arrest the Wali. But, as it turned out, the operation was a failure: the population mobilised to prevent the arrest, and two French officers and fourteen infantrymen were killed (30 March 1911 ). The result was the sending of an expedition, which achieved the following: the burning of all the houses passed en route, together with the provisions found there; the capture of important herds of bulls, cows and heifers; and the freeing of numerous captives 14. The Wali had taken refuge in Sierra Leone, but he was condemned to death, extradited from there, and died in the prison at Fotoba on 3 April 1912.
The struggle against Samori
In the former Sudanic regions it is impossible, as we have already said, to dissociate the territory incorporated into Guinea from the whole of which it used to form a part. First there was Dinguiraye, the old stronghold of the Tukulors, and El Hadj Omar’s point of departure; it had been given by Ahmadu to his brother Aguibu. The latter did not emulate Ahmadu’s defiant attitude; instead he thought it smart to play the French card against him, for which he was poorly rewarded: after the fall of Nioro, in 1891, he saw himself “transferred” from the authority of Dinguiraye to Bandiagara, which was still unconquered. He followed Archinard’s forces in the conquest of the Sudanic lands on the Niger, and made vain efforts to prevent the sack of Djenne. Enthroned as “king” of Macina by the French army, he did not retain his new crown for long: in 1902 he was pensioned off, and his kingdom came under direct administration.
Beyond Tinkisso, with the Wassulu empire 15, we come to another area and another man: Samori. This was a new state, set up between 1870 and 1875 by the newly emergent Samori Toure, whom Péroz calls the “Bonaparte of the Sudan”. With small, formerly independent states gathered together under his rule, the Wassulu empire was bordered by the Tukulor empire to the north-west, Futa-Jalon to the west, the kingdoms of Kenedugu (Sikasso) to the east, and the forest covered frontier regions of Sierra Leone and Liberia to the south. Except for a few extensions — into the Sudan and the Ivory Coast — Samori’s empire fell within the part of the Sudan transferred to Guinea in 1899.
No one has been subjected to greater calumnies that Samori. French colonial historiography named him “Samori the bloody,” a monster and a new Attila. School textbooks have always repeated this stereotyped image, grotesquely magnified; thus one author — whom, out of charity we refrain from naming — describes him as grinding little pieces of wood with his teeth while in a violent rage and regards this as unequivocal evidence of his “ferocity”. On the other hand, Samori does not need to be idealised; he was a man of his time and of the society into which he was born. He was a warrior, and the kind of war which he waged was not of the “humane” variety. That said, his moral worth was equal to that of a hundred Gallienis, Archinards and Voulets. Compared with men ready to resort to any lie and any crime, and motivated by unscrupulous ambition and the passion for glory and decorations, he remained to the end a man of honour, respecting the moral rules which belonged to his time and his people. From 1889 onwards, Colonel Péroz has written:
“It is not immaterial to note that in the whole western Sudan we [the French] — from this point of view [keeping our promises] — had an odious reputation, in no way superior to that we attributed to almamy Samori. In should rather be said that, according to the testimony of Samori’s most dedicated enemies, he was never once known to break his word 16.”
And Delafosse acknowledged that “treachery was not his custom.” 17 But after 1889 a slanted myth was created; for the benefit of French public opinion, Samori had to be depicted as a barbarian and a cheat, to justify in advance all the cruelty and deception that was to be practised against him! It was the same with all the heroes of the resistance to colonial conquest. By his attitude of resistance alone, Samori would have deserved a place of honour among the fighters for African independence. One of the paradoxes of his fate is that the most resounding tributes to his character and his ability as a statesman and as a strategist came from his enemies — Péroz, Baratier and Gallieni. But popular history designed for public consumption and for use in schools systematically willed this evidence into oblivion.
Péroz sketches this portrait of Samori the man:
“His general appearance was ascetic, with a look in his eyes that was sometimes sharp but more often veiled, and a subtle, gentle air. His strong, square chin suggested that he had unusual willpower.” 18
“He was very simply attired, with Moorish boots, a black turban and a dark caftan covering a white bubu. His head-dress — a kind of diadem of fine fretted gold — and a necklet, also of gold, were the only visible insignia of his rank.” 19
According to one tradition, he wits a simple pedlar who took up the profession of’ arms out of filial love to obtain the freedom of his mother, who had been reduced to slavery. It is unlikely that, as has often been alleged, this was mere propaganda. If Samori had wanted a mythology to arise around him, he would not have chosen an episode that recalled his humble origins; and at the time when Péroz was in Bissandugu there were too many people still alive who had personal knowledge of Samori’s beginning for the truth to have undergone much of a change.
This same Péroz emphasised the positive aspects of Samori’s work. He had collected under his authority many states or chiefdoms which were
« continually in aims against each other due to the irresistible passion for taking a few captives from each other, sometimes beaten and decimated, at other times victorious but weakened by fighting. […] [These states] were threatened with total depopulation when the strong arm of the almamy, grouping them together in one kingdom and giving them a community of interests, stopped these everlasting wars and opened up for the states an age of relative prosperity. » 20
Although he was the master of a large town, Kankan, Samori preferred to set up his capital near his native country, at Bissandugu. Péroz admired his “air of wellbeing,” and how “even outside the strict limits of his palace, there was a great effort to achieve relative comfort and an exquisite neatness.” 21 He goes on to describe the shaded place where “every Friday, after leaving the mosque, the almamy-emir came to hear the complaints and grievances of his subjects, who come for this purpose from the farthest parts of his empire.” And he concluded:
« In a word, Bissandugu, seen from a distance, has more the cool and pleasant appearance of a great agricultural settlement than the residence of the feared chief of a large empire. » 22
The empire of Wassulu, divided into 162 cantons which themselves were grouped into ten governments, was administered in a very precise fashion: apart from the administration of justice, which was carried on after the manner of St Louis, king of France 23, each of the governments had as its head a relative or comrade of Samori, assisted by a war chief (keletigui) and a religious leader. As far as possible, the cantons and governments united ethnic groups and families which had previously been opposed to each other, in order to wipe away the memory of former quarrels. The responsibilities which he placed on his people were mild. On this subject Colonel Baratier wrote:
« In financial terms, he exacted little from his people. He required each village to till one field for his profit, and levied a tithe on gold. » 24
The country was scarcely islamized; Samori wanted to impose Islam generally, and so look the religious title of almamy. He had not the learning of Ahmadu, but nor was he the ignoramus of colonial mythology. His piety was sincere; wherever he travelled, he caused fetishes to be destroyed and mosques to be built. « He required that the greatest possible number of people, and all chiefs without exception, should send their sons to school. Those who did not comply with his orders were reminded of the need for obedience by heavy penalties. 25 » When occasion arose, he questioned pupils himself to test their knowledge. Thus Samori added the style of Charlemagne to that of St Louis!
The army was highly organised. It included seven and later ten corps (corresponding to the ten governments) stationed on the frontiers, and an elite mobile reserve based at Bissandugu. Each corps comprised a permanent nucleus of professional soldiers (of slave origin, as in all the African states), sofas and bilakoros (cadets). In war, popular militias — the reserves — were added. The troops wore uniform (cap, short jacket and yellow trousers tightened at the ankle) 26, and the military workshops were capable not only of repairing but of manufacturing, evidently to a high standard of craftsmanship, all the parts of the rapid-firing Gras rifle (in service in the French army 1874-86).
Samori had showed his administrative talent before 1891; but his military ability, which had only been put to the test against the small chiefdoms of the Mande plateau, was not yet proved conclusively. He had succeeded in establishing his empire as much through the incompetence of his adversaries as by his own courage, “almost without firing a shot.” The only wide-ranging military campaign he had ever under taken — against Tieba, during the siege of Sikasso — resulted in defeat, which could have raised doubts about his capability in the field. On this Baratier noted: « [In 1891] no one in the Sudan knew what Samori was capable of. All were agreed that a surprise attack would succeed; the Sultan would be unprepared and everything would be over in a few weeks, almost without resistance. 27 » Archinard, who had just beaten Ahmadu, believed that Samori could be “liquidated” in one or at most two campaigns. But Samori’s resistance held out not for a few weeks but for seven years (1891-8).
« It is no exaggeration,” wrote Baratier, “to say that Samori proved himself the superior of all the black leaders who fought against us in Africa. He was the only one who gave proof that he had true chiefly qualities, and that he was a strategist and even a politician. He was in any case a leader of men possessing the boldness, the energy, the ability to follow up his actions and to look ahead, and above all an indomitable tenacity, immune against discouragement.” 28
His talent was to adapt his methods to the means he was able to deploy. He had the advantage over Ahmadu of possessing a number of rapid-firing rifles, provided by the French traders in Senegal or the British ones in Sierra Leone. But he had not enough to equip his whole army and, like Ahmadu, he had no artillery whatever. He knew by experience that tatas (the traditional forts of the savannas, built of dried earth) could not withstand artillery fire, so to be penned into a fort was to ensure that one would be crushed. He therefore decided to use the tactic of scorched earth: opening up the ground ahead of the French advance while harrying them uninterruptedly, and reoccupying the ground once the columns had moved on. In the words of Baratier:
« It was here that Samori showed his foresight at the same time as his strategic genius. While all the warriors armed with quick-firing rifles fought with us and retreated a step at a time, the troops armed only with “piston” (percussion) or Chassepot rifles were split up in two groups, each with its allotted task. The first of these groups had the care of the populations and escorted them on the move, and the second conquered territories to the east which brought the Sultan [Samori] an empire to which the exodus could go. This organisation of his forces into three groups — for defence of the territory, for the evacuation, and for external conquest — allowed him to achieve something unique in history: for seven years his people changed their country every year, and dug themselves into new regions to eastward, already obedient and well-organised, without leaving behind one old man or one grain of millet for the conqueror. »
Even if the enemy’s physical superiority made the final outcome of the conflict a certainty, one cannot but acknowledge the extraordinary intelligence with which Samori deployed all the means at his disposal to prolong resistance till the last possible moment.
In an earlier work I have expressed the view that Samori’s main weakness lay in his politics. He would not have understood — or at least would only have understood too late — the need for a common front of African resistance. From this point of view his campaign against Tieba, in which he failed to make effective use of his forces, was undoubtedly a mistake. But after 1891 he seems to have understood the danger. I have never previously thought it possible to affirm but do so now — that from that date he offered an alliance and aid to Ahmadu — who rejected the offer out of feelings of pride. Samori showed undoubted diplomatic talent; he played on the opposition between French and British imperialism, and negotiated alliances right as far as the coastal regions of Guinea, which had long been occupied by France.
After this, how much remains of the contemptuous portrait (the only one, as we have said, which is retained in schoolbook historiography) which Binger left of the African monarch? 29 According to Binger, Péroz deliberately embellished the trite facts. But when one examines his account in detail, the author’s racism and his incomprehension of African realities emerge at every point. One is reminded irresistibly of the question of Montesquieu, author of the classic Persian Letters (1720): “How can one be a Persian?” Binger, in spite of himself, wonders “How can one be an African?” But the basic explanation of Binger’s version is simply his desire to discredit his “rival” Péroz, whom he could not forgive for having seen and described Samori before him. Moreover, Sudanese policy in Binger’s time was no longer what it had been in the time of Péroz. When the latter signed the treaty of Bissandugu, the favoured policy was that of Gallieni, which envisaged that the great African states should be left in being, under French protection. Hence it was quite normal to give a flattering portrait of France’s ally. But when Binger came to Bissandugu, the break was imminent, and from that time on, the prevailing policy was Archinard’s: the Sudanic empires had to be “liquidated.” The enemy who was now marked down for destruction was therefore given the most unprepossessing features!
To dispose finally of Samori the “mass-killer,” one has to say that by this criterion he cuts a paltry figure compared with the French expeditions of Archinard and Combes. These expeditions were the ones which turned the country between Kankan and Beyla into a desert; Péroz had described that country as being “meticulously cultivated” and thus reminiscent of his native Burgundy! And what of Samori the “slave-trader”? There is no doubt that since the sixteenth century African wars had had no other purpose than to make captives; these were the only “goods” he could offer to the Moors in exchange for their horses, which he needed to mount his cavalry, and to British and French traders to obtain quick-firing rifles. What the official histories omit to mention is that French arms contributed in the same way, but on an incomparably larger scale, to French military superiority. And after Archinard’s conquest of the Sudan and the capture of Sikasso, the French army sold or distributed as “captives” thousands of their defeated enemies.
We will not discuss in detail here the campaigns waged against Samori, which extended well outside the frontier of Guinea. When the capture of Bobo-Dioulasso by Major Caudrelier closed the way to any further retreat to the east, Samori was without means of escape. The populations he had taken with him in his exodus during seven years were exhausted, and to look after them in a shrinking area of territory presented insuperable problems. He then offered peace, and was encouraged to believe that he would be allowed a peaceful withdrawal if he gave up his arms. It is these negotiations which explain the circumstances of his capture at Guelemu on 29 September 1898. That same morning, he had sent negotiators to the French post at Tuba, and when Gouraud’s small party of riflemen crossed his camp, they were not resisted since everyone supposed that they too were negotiators.
Samori never accepted the “sentence” of exile communicated to him at Kayes: he saw in it a new example of French treachery. He died in Gabon two years later in 1900, and Baratier concluded that “this conqueror whom the blacks, if they had known history, would have compared to Napoleon, found his St Helena in the island of Ogowe where he had been confined.” 30
The “pacification” of the borders.
The forest peoples on the Liberian frontier and the Koniagui and Bassari on the frontier with Senegal had never accepted any overlordship. Accustomed to living free, they resisted the colonisers with a fierce energy.
In the Koniagui country, for as long as the station commander at Bussurah did not try to levy taxes, there was no conflict, but in 1902 Lieutenant Moncorgé, backed by a column of troops, came to conduct the levies. In air unprecedented step, Yallu-Tene, the war chief of the Koniagui village of Ithiu 31, answered that he was ready to pay tax in millet or groundnuts, but that he had no knowledge of money 32. Moncorgé, ambitious to gain glory for himself, demanded money and persisted in an imperious and provocative way. On 16 April 1902, he formed up his riflemen and Peul auxiliaries (provided by Alfa Yaya, the deadly enemy of the Koniagui) 150 metres from the village of Ithiu, and ordered the chief to present himself. Three times the chief refused, and indeed he had every reason to be prudent: not long before, this same Moncorgé had lured to his side the chief of the N’Dama, Thierno Ibrahima, who was then attacked while asleep, sent in chains to Conakry, and deported from there to the Congo where he died six months later 33. Moncorgé now shot with his revolver one of the Malinke whom the chief sent to hint with his message. The Koniagui took up arms, and after two hours of fighting Moncorgé and his column were wiped out. Two years later, in April 1904, a punitive expedition of 500 men, including a section of artillery, came to avenge Moncorgé. Villages were burned, women and children sheltering in the forest were massacred by artillery fire, and Yallu-Tene and his warriors were killed, to the last man, in the fortified village of Ithiu 34
In the forest regions of Guinea, the Guerze, Manon, Toma and Kissi peoples had always held out against the Sudanic conquerors, and most recently against Samori and his underlings. The frontier fixed by an agreement of 8 December 1892 gave Liberia the whole forest region, including Beyla, but their operations against Samori soon led the French troops to over-step this theoretical line. Uncertainty over the exact location of the frontier and the lack of effective occupation by the Liberians made it easier for the forest people to resist. In 1894 Lieutenant Lecerf, who had come to N’Zapu in Toma country to intercept a convoy of arms being brought from Monrovia to Samori, was killed 35. And in 1898 the Bailly Pauly mission was annihilated by the Toma. No reaction followed front the French side.
However, when this sector was allocated to Guinea in 1899, it was organised as a “military region” with Kissidugu, Sampuyara, Diorodugu and Beyla as the advance posts 36. An expedition — the Conrart column — was given the task of relieving the Diorodugu post, which was being constantly harassed by the Toma. It succeeded on 28 February 1900 in taking the fortified village of Bafobakoro, the capital of the hostile war chief Koko Tolino, but the hitter took refuge at N’Zapa, inside Liberian territory, and the French troops, who had suffered heavy casualties, withdrew. A little later, operations were undertaken against Chief Digo, self-proclaimed king of Kissi, and Niadu, the centre of resistance, was burned by Lieutenant Crébessac 37. The annual report for 1903 on the general situation in French Guinea observed: « The independent spirit of the natives is very great. They live in villages which are independent of each other. The authority of the village chiefs is weak, and that of the canton chiefs, whom we wanted to install in the military sectors, is non-existent 38 » .
In 1903, negotiations to fix the frontier came to grief, but were resumed in 1904 and 1905. At the same time, the Liberian commissioners Cummings and Loomax occupied the hinterland, and there was now a race between the French and the Liberians for the possession of the best positions. In 1905, part of the troops garrisoning Kissidugu, Sampuyara, Diorodugu and Beyla were moved further south and respectively created new outposts at Bamba, Bofosso, Kwonkwan and Gwecke. At once new operations were started to give them some breathing-space and rejoin them together by means of a road running roughly parallel to the frontier.
Many operations followed in 1905-7 — at Bamba, in the part of Kissi country where the Millimono clan were dominant; at Bofosso, against the war chief Kokogu; in the Kwonkwan sector with the object of cleaning the road linking Kwonkwan, Singenu and Bofosso; and to storm the Toma villages of M’Balema and M’Balasso. In the Gwecke sector, Lieutenant Guingard destroyed the fortified village of M’Pale. But the most famous episode of the resistance took place at the fortified village of Bussedu, east of Kwonkwan. Colonel Loomax, the commander of the Liberian frontier, sent some riflemen to the village where they raised the Liberian flag, an action which put the French of the defensive. At the beginning of 1907, the French commander of the Guinea military region arrived at Kwonkan and authorised an attack on Bussedu. This was an abysmal failure. After a day of fighting (16 February) the French troops, who had taken the first three palisaded entrenchments surrounding the village, were halted by the wall of the fortification and had to fall back with heavy losses. Two months later, the attack was resumed, this time with artillery. After four hours of firing, the assault came to a stop; Lieutenant Guignard was killed and the order was given to retreat. Two demoralised lieutenants even abandoned the position and returned to Kwonkwan. The besieged defenders, knowing that they could not hold out indefinitely against artillery, took advantage of this break in the line of attack, evacuated Bussedu during the night, and reached Liberia. When the French infantry threw themselves into the attack on Bussedu next day they found the village empty. A Swiss explorer, Dr Voiz, who had been careless enough to remain in it alone, was killed by the Senegalese. The French command stated that neither the Liberian flag flying over the village nor the Swiss flag outside the lodging of Dr Volz had been noticed. . .
Resistance continued through 1908; and the mission to define the frontier was forced to abandon its operations east of Gweckedu, where it suffered a reverse at the hands of Koko Tolino. The village of N’Zapa, formerly allied to Samori, was burned in reprisal for the killing of Lieutenant Lecerf (fourteen years earlier!). Dr Mariotte, who was accompanying the mission, fell mortally wounded in an encounter at Koyama. In 1909 the outpost at Bamba was moved to Gweckedu, and a systematic attack was lauched against the recalcitrant region of Kamara, where Koko Tolino was still holding out. The centre of resistance in Daorassu was captured on 5 May 1909.
The last major operations took place in 1911-12. In August 1911, French exactions caused a general revolt in the country of the Guerze and the Manon, Samoe and N’Zerekore — “lairs” (sic) of the Manon — were taken, and French troops set fire to the villages of Theassu, Bossu and Thuo. But Captain Héquet, the expedition commander, and Barthié, the agent of the Trading post who had provoked the military intervention it N’Zerekore, were killed in the action 39
Establishing the new system. We have followed the stages by which the French installed themselves physically in the country and the administrative entity of the “colon of French Guinée” was set up. We must now take up the thread of the enterprise considered from the point of view of economic exploitation and political organisation (of these two, the second was created for the benefit of the first; they are inseparable).
The first forts built in the “Rivières du Sud” were to protect the warehouses of the traders established nearby. The French flag protected free enterprise, including the slave trade which still flourished in the local market if not for export. The French merchants explained their actions on this score without equivocation: their business interests made it impossible for them to refuse the most widely accepted means of exchange in the country. In August 1888, the administrator Guilhon testified in a report that he was certain “all the merchants in the Nunez, with perhaps two exceptions, deal in slaves” 40. In 1890 the situation was the same, and in 1902 the administration boasted of an ‘attempt to suppress the slave traffic’, while guarding against measures that were too precipitous.
Altogether, trading remained poor, being confined to the export of certain primary products in exchange for ironmongery, arms and “trade” gunpowder, i.e., of the lowest quality. Already rubber had a leading position among exports, before oil seeds (groundnuts, sesame, palm-kernels and palm oil). The creation of the port of Conakry in 1890 and its elevation to the rank of a colonial capital brought about a qualitative change in the situation. With its better geographical situation and with better equipment, Conakry outclassed the old ports of call on the “Rivières”, which thenceforward settled into a long slumber; numerous trading houses at Boke, Dubreka, Boffa and elsewhere closed their doors. Between 1891 and 1902, the annual volume of business of the establishments at Boffa fell from 1,600,000 to 23,000 francs. At the same time, the concentration of traffic brought benefits to the big specialised companies, especially those based in Marseilles. From 1890 to 1896 the situation in the political sphere remained somewhat stagnant, and the overall volume of business did not rise from its level of 8-10 million francs a year.
There were several reasons for this. First, the status of the hinterland was not settled. The war in the Sudan did not allow of too brutal an intervention in Futa-Jalon, and Britain took advantage by consolidating its foothold there politically and commercially. African traders — Guineans and above all Sierra Leoneans who were British subjects — had an important share of the traffic, and most commercial exchange was routed through Freetown which was better equipped and had an advantageous location. As well as these internal political commercial rivalries, there were external ones. In the Sudan the military government had instituted an “energetic” financial system — with a poll-fax and ussuru (market tax) of 10 per cent ad valorem — and a customs duty of’ 5 per cent ad valorem was levied on exports of rubber, ivory and gold at the Sudan-Guinea frontier. Dr Ballay, the first governor of Guinea, protested strongly against this system which diverted a large part of the traffic to Senegal at Freetown’s expense without benefiting Conakry. Behind Dr Ballay in his protest was the big business established in Guinea — while behind the military in the Sudan were the old business houses in Senegal (mainly of Bordeaux origin) and small traders, both European and Senegalese from St Louis, who had become reduced merely to the role of middlemen.
The final subordination of Futa and the elimination of Samori changed the face of things between 1896 and 1900.
Commercial activity quickly increased, reaching 10,400,000 francs in 1896 and nearly 25 million in 1899. A decree of 1897 placing a surtax on goods routed via Freetown dealt a death-blow to Sierra Leonean competition, and the Sudan-Guinea customs barrier was removed on 12 August 1898. The carving up of the military entity of the Sudan and the transfer to Guinea of its own piece of that entity sealed the victory of “Guinean” big business — primarily that of the C.F.A.O. (French West Africa Company) of Marseilles — over its rivals from Bordeaux in Senegal. At the same time, the administrative and financial system was effectively established. Before 1896, no one had dared to introduce a poll-tax and general forced labour 41, but in 1897 they were officially imposed.
(A local order fixed the poll-tax at 2 francs for all natives of either sex over the age of eight.)
At first this led to some difficulties with the almamys, but the latter were told bluntly of the role they were now expected to play. Noirot, the administrator, proclaimed: “The chief [almamy] will be obliged to collect taxes and provide labour for public works…. If he does not, he will be smashed like glass. 42” The difficulties were thus short-lived. In 1898 there was self-congratulation in high places, because the revenue from the poll-tax had exceeded all expectation. From 1896 to 1899 it increased from 13,900 to 861,000 francs, while revenue from customs and indirect taxation increased from 628,000 to 1,136,000 francs. In 1900 revenue from the poll-tax was higher than other income allowed for in the budget.
Those from whom tax payments were expected did not yield without a struggle. When he tried to extract payment of the tax, “Milanini, the administrator of Nunez, had to spend the night in an open boat to escape being killed by Baga women armed with the pestles they used for husking rice 43.” But from this time onwards, armed force was available to impose “respect for the law”.
Even before “budgetary autonomy” had become a legal obligation for the colonies (i.e. to provide for all expenses, including the salaries of European administrators and officers of the armed forces, from their own resources), Guinea was in a position to comply with such a rule. Its budget showed a surplus from 1891 onwards, and there was no hesitation about drawing on it for extraneous needs (Dr Ballay had to protest against the subventions to the “Colonial Museum at Marseilles” which he had generously imposed on him). On 30 June 1900, reserves amounted to 743,000 francs, and André Arcin shows that it “grew from year to year, the different budgets correcting each other by means of significant surpluses” 44
Thus it was possible — at the expense of the colony (that is to say, of the African masses) — to undertake the only important “investment” in the territory: the building of the Conakry railway, which remains to this day the sole route that goes into the interior, and is thus the axis of commercial traffic. Work on it began in 1900. The bed of the first 120 km. of track was laid down under state supervision with a loan of 12 million francs, and the permanent way was contracted out to a private concern employing the usual methods — to the point of provoking protests from the business sector. In December 1900 the colony’s commission for commerce and agriculture complained that caravans were being attacked and robbed on the road to Conakry, and that the navvies working on the railway were stripping fields and villages bare and so reducing them to famine. “The ration of 500 grams which [the workers] are supposed to receive is reduced by embezzlement, but in any case it is utterly inadequate and should be raised to 750 grams 45.” Those workers who were exhausted or sick did not touch their rations and had to be fed by their comrades. Mutinies broke out on some of the sites, and the contractors asked for soldiers to be sent…
The method of carrying out the work prompted some polemics. Ballay, the former governor — against the wish of his one-time secretary-general, by now his successor — supported a concession request emanating from a “Franco-Belgian” group inspired by Colonel Thys, the notorious “strong man” of King Leopold of the Belgians. This group, hoping to widen the scope of’ its activities by the same methods which had served it so well in the Congo, French Equatorial Africa and the German colony of Kamerun, demanded — on top of the concession — the mere trifle of 120,000 hectares of land. However, Cousturier ensured that good administration prevailed. The insufficiency of the loans for the work was made good from the colonial treasury’s reserves, and — helped by numerous requisitions of labour — the track reached Kankan. It is permissible to ask what was the cost in human lives.
The defeat of this last attempt to introduce into Guinea the system of “big concessions” (which triumphed in the Belgian Congo and in French Equatorial Africa) requires us to retrace our steps a little. French West Africa, as is well known, did not experience this system. No doubt, some concessions for “plantations” and for forest and mining rights were given out with a liberal hand, but the attempts to bring in great monopolistic concessions with sovereign rights failed. The business houses, whether front Bordeaux or Marseilles, killed them off at birth. They were powerful enough to do this, and could not tolerate a system which would remove a part of the territory from their sphere of activity. They preferred “free trade” to continue, thus assuring them of a de facto monopoly of external and internal commerce which they never ceased to consolidate 46
The era of rubber.
With only one port of mediocre quality, and a railway of limited range and difficult gradients, Guinea had to remain like most of French-ruled black Africa — but even more so than many other territories — at the rudimentary stage of simple trading. Entrenched in their routine, and making considerable profits with negligible investment from the import and export of goods which were nugatory in both quantity and quality, the big commercial houses obstructed all development and all productive investment. From 1890 till 1914, the basic export commodity was not a product of cultivation, but one that was non-renewable, and could only be gathered up once and for all. The term Raubwirtschaft (a robber’s economy — of pillage and devastation), invented by German economists, here came into its own.
At the end of the century the progress of the bicycle and the motorcar, together with the multiplication of other uses for rubber, increased the demand for this primary substance. In the Amazon basin of South America and the Belgian Congo, exploitation was concentrated mainly on tree rubber. In French Equatorial Africa and Guinea, rubber was extracted from lianas which were widely distributed in the savannas, belonging to the landolphia group. Production was poor, but because it was obtained by administrative compulsion or in the form of a tax, the trading companies could obtain it cheaply. With 1,500 tonnes of rubber in 1904, and 2,000 tonnes in 1914, Guinea provided the bulk of production in West Africa. (More than 4,000 tonnes were produced in 1906, 1909 and 1910, constituting more than 60 per cent of the value of exports.)
This was a form of exploitation that devastated and exhausted the country, making the savannas sterile. Once the plants nearest to the villages had been used up, the populations were forced to look for rubber farther and farther away. The African peasant could not escape from this process: to administrative compulsion (each circle had to contribute its quota to the “production”) was added compulsion of an indirect kind. On the eve of the First World War, an author was still able to write: “The exploitation of rubber is still, for many territories… the only means the native has of procuring the money he needs 47.” The primary reason why he needed the money was to pay taxes. He fended for himself as best he could, when necessary putting stones in the middle of balls of rubber to increase the weight. Furthermore, Guinean rubber had a bad reputation: here, as elsewhere, the representatives of the trading houses falsified the weights they used for their own benefit, and it was perhaps they, above all, who were responsible for the “adulteration” of rubber which the authorities complained of. An order of 1 February 1905 forbade trading in adulterated rubber and specified that it should be produced in sheets, but it was not put into operation because the warehouse managers opposed verification, “even threatening armed resistance 48.” Rubber reached its peak in 1909-10, when the price paid per kilo was 14-20 francs in Conakry and 12 francs in the interior. But when there were crises — and speculation on the world market and the weakness of the sources of supply made these occur frequently — the back-breaking toil of the Guinean peasant had been (for the peasant himself!) totally in vain. This is how it was in 1900-1; after 1910 came the collapse.
When plantations started producing — and their share of world production rose from 12 per cent in 1910 to 50 per cent in 1913 — prices fell. In Guinea, purchases fell by 60 per cent between those years; the growing of food crops was abandoned, and the result was famine. By 1915 the average purchase price of rubber had fallen to 2.50 francs per kilo.
The palm oil , which was second in the order of exports and which provided the “Rivières du Sud” with the source of their wealth, was neglected. Guinea scarcely possessed a tenth of the palm groves of French West Africa, and only a quarter of the trees were exploited (against a third on the Ivory Coast and half in Dahomey).
We can throw some light on the drama of “red rubber” — bloodstained rubber — in the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa. The conflict of interests and the scandal of the brokerage companies contributed to it. Probably the rubber produced in Guinea was no less stained with blood than that of the Congo, but on that the record is silent: the “good understanding” between the administration and the companies let nothing leak out. The few visitors who left written records only give a few allusions to justify the saying of Albert Londres:
“The rulers of our colonies are glad to show “their” country to a few French citizens, but by the beams of a very faint lantern 49.”
Rubber was not Guinea’s only open sore. Like the other colonies, it had a taste of many kinds of forced cultivation, at the whim of administrative fantasies. An investigator (albeit an official one) will take up the story:
« The administrator, on his own initiative or on instructions from his provincial centre, will assemble the native chiefs, speak highly of the benefits of this or that type of cultivation, and call on them to put it into practice. He hands out the seeds and sends his guards to mark out the fields, and to see that his orders are carried out, both in the growing and in the harvesting. Those who will not or cannot obey are punished with fine, and imprisonment. »
Governors and administrators change frequently — and the agricultural programme changes with them. Continuously, a new form of cultivation is demanded of the agriculturalist without preliminary study, without preparation, and sometimes with no chance of success. Every year thousands of hectares constitute what the native calls “the commandant’s fields” — a heavy tax which costs the budget nothing, but which discourages the native or makes him resolutely hostile to our influence… In the Kurussa circle in Guinea, in 1914-15, 800 hectares of land chosen by the circle guards were planted under compulsion with cotton plants from Dahomey of an unsuitable type. No consideration had been given to the subsequent ginning and sale… Throughout French West Africa there was forced cultivation, imposed according to this circumstance or that opinion. During the war, the system reached its height 50
On the pretext of aiding the “war effort” and provisionning the invaded French homeland, an “extravagant programme” was activated. The systematic pillaging of produce led to famine, and “the only result was that a few thousand tons of sorghum, which could not be preserved, and rice were exported 51.” The initiator of this programme was the Governor-General Joust van Vollenhoven, whose departure for the war and glorious death in 1918 have served to make him a hero. The man’s courage cannot be doubted; but what was less certain was his humanity, which was given as the reason for his dismissal, since he had opposed the intensive recruitment for the army begun at the end of 1917. Intelligent and industrious, but with a boundless ambition and authoritarianism, this French-naturalised Dutchman, brought up in the milieu of colonists in Algeria, had served in Indo-China as a protégé of Albert Sarraut, to whom he owed his speedy promotion 52. He was appointed Governor-General of French West Africa in 1917 with the mission of “re-victualling France” — which he carried out using methods at which one can only guess, and with the derisory results we have mentioned. Intensive recruitment for the armed forces was clearly not compatible with his economic programme, but the actual cause of his resignation was the sending out of the Diagne mission 53 at the beginning of 1918 with the task of stepping up military recruitment in West Africa: he lost his job not because of the purpose of the mission (which was only a secondary reason, and in the end merely a pretext) but because the Deputy for Senegal, in order to put his sad task into effect, had been given the title of Commissioner of the Republic in West Africa, with the rank of governor-general! This was too much for the authoritarian proconsul, who announced his refusal to countenance the “fragmentation of the command”, above all for the benefit of a “native”, and asked to be relieved of his responsibilities. He then left for the front.
Thus to the evils of forced labour were added those of military recruitment. The result, in certain places, was rebellion and the exodus of populations into neighbouring foreign territories.
Persistence of slavery.
Forced cultivation, forced labour, military recruitment (for a three-year term), taxes — these were the benefits which the “French peace” brought to the people, and especially to the lowest orders of society, the former slaves, who were more crushed than ever in spite of numerous declarations of the “humanitarian” intentions of European public opinion. At this point we must return to the problem of slavery.
The decree of 27 April 1848 issued by the provisional government of the Second Republic, abolishing slavery in the French colonies, was never put into effect in Africa. At the beginning of the Second Empire, Faidherbe expressly stated that it did not apply to Senegal. It was necessary to wait till the decree of 12 December 1905, which did not strike at slavery itself but at actions connected with the trade (from two to five years in prison for the parties to any agreement having as its object the removal of a third person’s freedom).
In practice, the policy of the French government appeared highly contradictory. Now, and even before 1905, there were indignant denunciations of slavery, and measures for freeing captives: it was a matter of self-justification for French opinion, to which the abolition of slavery had never ceased to be cited as one of the objectives of colonisation. But anti-slavery was equally in accord with the wishes of certain “large economic interests”, which had assessed the profits to be made from colonisation. In their eyes, domestic slavery (i. e. the only form of slavery which survived the abolition of’ the trade) was a “barbaric” custom because it was unproductive… “As practised in West Africa, [domestic slavery] results in an easy and idle life for men who, if they were skilfully stimulated by the spur of self- interest [sic!], would have been able to become active workers desirous of enriching themselves by their labour…” 54 …And, we should add, capable above all of enriching with their labour the promoters of the colonial enterprise. Thus, the issue is clear: the suppression of slavery was a matter, not of improving the lot of former captives but of keeping their former masters at work!
Meanwhile, the freeing of former captives was utilised in a way that had not been foreseen. The creation by Gallieni, from 1887 onwards, of “freedom villages” which subsequently multiplied in the Sudan (although there was also one in Conakry) gave rise to an idea. Their object in fact was to place at the disposal of government outposts, in the neighbourhoods where they had been set up, a fresh workforce to replace that which had been driven to take flight by repeated forced labour requisitions. “It is quite certain that the motive which led to “freedom villages” being set up everywhere was that it provided an excellent solution to the problem of finding porters and labour gangs; in any case, it was greatly superior to the system of going out armed looking for people every time they were needed, only to have them escape the first moment they were not being watched. It was a slow, hazardous and complicated system. Because of political requirements and the scruples of public opinion, what in Africa was a demographic question was portrayed in Europe as a humanitarian undertaking 55.”
It was no coincidence that in the Sudan the “freedom villages” were much more straightforwardly described as “villages of the commandant’s captives”. Escape was punished by imprisonment, and one of the most effective methods of exacting payment of taxes was to take a hostage from the village concerned and detain him in a “freedom village” until the tax was paid in full 56. As for those captives held by the “friends” of the French, woe to those who took the official anti-slavery declarations literally, as happened at Siguiri in 1895 following a circular from the governor, Grodet, forbidding trading caravans. The captives rebelled, the circle commander sentenced the “leaders” to several years in prison, and the “liberal” governor demanded that they should be given the hardest work in the station. The “freedom villages” were disbanded progressively between 1905 and 1910, by which time administrative distraints had allowed for all future taxes, forced labour and requisitions to be exacted.
The policy of “freedom villages” mostly affected the southern part of the Sudan which had been joined to Guinea. In Futa-Jalon a rather different policy was followed. Because the prospects of “utilisation” were minimal there, and the administration had decided to give its support to the local aristocracy, slavery was maintained and protected, at least for the benefits of “friends” of the French. The right to pursue escaped slaves was continually exercised with the co-operation of the administration, in spite of the Ponty circular of 1 February 1901 which expressly forbade it. Unless he purchased his freedom (for 150 francs), every escaped captive, was returned to his master, even one from whom he had suffered ill-treatment. None of this prevented the laws forbidding the slave trade being invoked when it was a question of bringing down a political opponent. The method was all the more effective since slaves, together with herds of animals, constituted practically, the entire wealth of the aristocracy of Futa-Jalon.
Such action was taken against Alfa Yaya, who was accused of the crime of trying to recapture his captives when he returned to Conakry in 1911. A little earlier (in 1909), the inspector of administrative affairs, Bobichon, had ordered Alfa Alimu, who had been nominated chief of Labe province after Alfa Yaya’s first disgrace, to be arrested and condemned to three years’ imprisonment for “slave trading acts”. Since Alfa Alimu had been chosen to carry out the functions of Alfa Yaya specifically in his capacity as the latter’s personal enemy, the governor, Liotard, judged this action of his former friend Bobichon to be “disastrous”, especially on the very eve of Alfa Yaya’s return. Again in 1911, to punish the “revolt” of the Peuls of Gumba (in the Kindia circle), 1,500 captives were freed (we saw above what this supposed revolt actually was).
For staunch members of the administration, nothing had changed. Even the “suppression” of slavery had some surprising effects. A report of 1911 noted: “In Futa-Jalon it had the paradoxical effect that domestic captives of the Fulas were transformed into free sharecroppers, paying dues four or five times higher than before, to the great joy of their dispossessed “masters” 57.” In fact, on the eve of the Second World War domestic slavery remained a reality — at least in Futa-Jalon — and was discreetly protected by the administration. Even if the services rendered by the captives were negligible, and as the result of this their exchange value was considerably lowered (their value in 1936 was 150 francs or half a cow, as against three cows in earlier times and eight cows for a blacksmith), they remained an important element in heritable property, and it was on them that the main burden of tax, requisitions and military recruitment fell 58
Understandably, the League of Nations condemned in 1925 the slave practices tolerated in French Africa. And in this connection the virtuous people who in 1948-50 heaped coals of fire on Saudi Arabia, where “French citizens” of’ French West Africa were sold as slaves forgot to explain that if there had been trading, it was because the said “citizens” were still captives in the eyes of the administration, which in Mauritania for example still exercised the right of pursuit against fugitive slaves, for the benefit of pro-French notables.
Direct administration and the chiefdom.
Between 1890 and 1914, the system known as “direct administration” was gradually installed. The old rulers — including those who had given most assistance to French penetration — were eliminated and the old political framework was turned completely upside-down: ethnic boundaries, the traditional boundaries of the diiwe of Futa-Jalon, were cut up and reshaped according to administrative necessity or fantasy. The political reality thenceforward was the “circle”, and eventually the “sub-division”, commanded by a European administrator, and below that the canton and the village commanded by African chiefs styled “traditional” or “customary”.
In reality there was nothing traditional or customary about these chiefs, either in their role or in the powers devolved on them. Their assignment was to ensure that many administrative tasks (taxation, forced labour, military recruitment, etc.) were carried out at the lowest possible cost and on their own responsibility, and were thus the exact counterparts of the caids in Algeria (a sub-order of administrators). The system of direct administration was quite simply modelled on the one tested in Algeria, that test-bed for French colonisation, but without the slightest concern to take account of “traditions” or even the actual conditions prevailing in black Africa.
The fiction which had hitherto made a distinction between a “country under French sovereignty” and a “protectorate” was suppressed by a simple decree, that of 23 October 1904, whereby in effect all the territory of Guinea (like that of French West Africa generally) passed into the ownership of the French state. Unilaterally the French government turned into “scraps of paper” the thousands of treaties of protection it had signed and thanks to which it had implanted itself successfully in Africa. It is true that out of concern for efficiency, the chiefs were usually chosen (above all in Futa-Jalon) from among the old ruling families. But traditional rules of investiture and succession were no more respected than the boundaries of the old provinces. For most of the time, the role of the traditional assemblies — when they met — was merely to rubber-stamp the decisions of the administration.
Not only were earlier abuses not suppressed, but they were aggravated. For its own ends, colonisation had systematically cultivated and developed all the negative, retrograde aspects of the old chieftaincy and feudalism, and suppressed or obscured the limits imposed by true custom: in short, everything that was at all positive or democratic in the traditional institutions. The “despotism” of chiefs is an innovation of colonisation. It was simply the reflection of the despotic basis of the colonial command, which was totally alien to the African tradition whereby the chief was, before all else, the servant of custom and the law, and was genuinely controlled by democratic or oligarchic assemblies. This is how it was in Futa-Jalon, where the assemblies, at one time numerous (in each misiide or parish and each diiwal or province, and at the level of the confederation), were suppressed, and the councils of elders reduced almost entirely to a consultative role. “The present canton chiefs”, Gilbert Vieillard noted, “have more power than the former diiwal chiefs because they are no longer restrained by those bodies consisting of the powerful families whose rival strengths counterbalanced each other in the misiide59.”
The exactions which had formerly been blamed on the chiefs not only did not disappear; they became worse. In former times, the victims of raids carried out by chiefs at least had the recourse of defending themselves with hand-arms. But from this point on, raids were made under cover of the imposition of taxes and with the assistance of the circle-guards, and resistance was no longer possible — or it exposed one to the full severity of the law. Relatives and courtiers of the chiefs (mbatulaabhe — men of the “bag” and the “cord”, so called in reference to their administrative functions), in the course of their official “rounds”, vied with one another to carry off grain and oxen in addition to the taxes. In the famine of 1936 they even went so far as to help themselves to basic necessities. In the words of the administrator Gilbert Vieillard:
“The young people who had left to earn [the wherewithal to pay taxes] and had not returned; taxpayers who had emigrated, gone into hiding or were actually fleeing; and dead persons included in the census weighted the tally of those enumerated. Too bad — money had to be found, and so they were reduced to selling the property of those whose affairs, were not in order and even of those whose affairs were in order but who did not dare to complain too much. First they sold the animals — cows, sheep, chickens — then grain, cooking pots, Korans, anything that would fetch a price. The prices were low and the chiefs’ men and the Syrian traders fished in troubled waters. The taxpayer seldom saw the difference between the sale price of his goods and the total tax due. When there were no goods to sell, they obtained pledges, on the next harvest and the children 60.”
When Vieillard blamed his “notables” for surrounding themselves with obvious riff-raff, the latter replied, with reason:
« Do you want us to collect taxes and provide men liable for forced labour and conscription? We will not be able to obtain them for you with gentleness and persuasion. If the people are not scared of being trussed up or beaten, they will merely laugh at us 61. »
And the administrator had no answer because the tax had to be brought in; it was well understood that for the chiefs who did the dirty work, the key phrase was “I don’t want to know about it.” If the tax did not come in, or if there was a public scandal, the chief would foot the bill for the operation. His despotism had as its limit that of the circle commander who, at the slightest dissatisfaction, could destroy the lesser despot.
The system of forced labour, requisitions etc. began in the rubber era, and continued until quite recent times, after reaching a new climax during the Second World War. So that time, in the name of the “war effort”, the peasants were hit once again by the most extravagant exactions, being forced to buy at high prices products they had not cultivated, and then let them go to European traders for a tenth of the prices they had paid. There were times when this was too much for the circle commander. One administrator, called on to provide an impressive number of kilos of honey in a circle which did not produce it, answered by telegram: “All right for the honey. Send the bees.” He was punished for this insolence. Ray Autra recalled in his poem “L’effort de guerre” the calvary suffered by the Guinean peoples during this grim period. The end of the war and then, in 1946, democratic pressure and the abolition of the indigénat and of forced labour still did not put an end to the traditional practices, least of all in remote regions. Even in 1949, the counsellor-general Camara Caman revealed that all the taxpayers of the Macenta circle had to make a forced contribution of almost 20 kilos of rice, which was then carried on men’s heads over distances of dozens of kilometres to the appointed centres, where it was resold for 11 francs per kilo to European traders who resold it for 16 francs. The market at Macenta was guarded to prevent the producers from coming to sell directly to consumers 62. And he added: “Anyone who passed the administrator and did not salute him had his head-dress confiscated and deposited in the circle office 63.”
It is too easy, in order to give a good account of what the French achieved, to invoke the very modest achievements of the last ten or twelve years of colonisation, forced upon them by pressure from the mass of the people, who had by now organised themselves. It is more advisable to examine the balance-sheet of the first forty or fifty years of colonisation, such as one might have drawn up on the eve of the Second World War. For some of the data we will make use of figures producer] later and hence all the more significant. In 1939, Guinea had much the same infrastructure as in 1914: 662 km. of metre-gauge railway and a poorly-equipped port — all obtained from the country’s own resources (forced labour, taxes and loans). The trade economy, with all its parasitic characteristics, still prevailed, though showing signs of stagnation even more pronounced than those in the other territories of French West Africa.
Only commerce — exporting and importing — represented a considerable volume of turnover. Concentration was more and more in evidence, Indeed, the quasi-monopoly of several houses was already established by 1900. In first place was the C.F.A.O. (French West Africa Company) of Marseilles; then some large British concerns; and finally the Swiss company Ryff and Roth, which was still in a relatively modest position. In all there were scarcely twenty companies of any consequence in Conakry, and with warehouses in the interior. The other merchants were merely their intermediaries.
Customs legislation had got rid of the Sierra Leonean traders in 1897, the same time as saw the appearance of the first “Syrians” (in fact Lebanese) who were soon to have a monopoly of the direct purchase of rubber, for they paid in cash while the old trading houses continued to insist on giving in exchange trade goods from their warehouses. But the Lebanese were never able to rise above the level of intermediate retailers, having to be content with a slender profit margin, and thus eliminating the competition of the trading posts, where overheads were too high.
The 1914-18 war made it possible to eliminate the German houses, which had been of some importance; and several old Manchester-based British houses disappeared or were absorbed by the branches of Unilever. In future the Big Three — the C.FA.O., the Société commerciale de l’Ouest africain (S.C.O.A. — formerly Ryff and Roth) and “Niger français” (in other words, the Anglo-Dutch Unilever company) — controlled the market, keeping a tight hold over houses of the second rank like Rouchard (which had become Unicomer), Chavanel, the Comptoir commercial franco-africain, etc.
With the administrative stranglehold, commerce had managed to penetrate deeply, but much more through administrative constraints (forced deliveries to European firms at controlled prices) than by the working of supply and demand. At the same time the economy of Guinea vegetated, uncertain of its direction and second-rate in every area. The absence of a dominant commodity, like groundnuts in Senegal, resulted not so much in stability as in a lack of development, in the most “colonial” sense of that term. And meanwhile Lower Guinea, Futa-Jalon, the Manding plateau and the forest regions offered the most varied resources.
Since the decline of rubber (production had fallen to 190 tonnes in 1934), no cultivated product had really replaced it. There was just one partial success, the development of banana production in the hinterland of Conakry, and alongside the railway as far as Kindia. With the introduction of the Chinese banana tree, production rose from 7 tonnes in 1903 to 260 tonnes in 1920, 26,000 in 1934 and 52,000 in 1938. Guinea had thus become the leading of producer bananas in French Africa. But the inadequate means of transporting and marketing the production limited its development, as did the competition from producers in the Americas. In short, banana production (which took place only on European plantations — African plantations did not become important till after the war) remained somewhat peripheral in the country’s economy. Everything else was insignificant. The orange groves of Futa-Jalon produced a few dozen tonnes of orange essence (144 in 1934 64, the highest pre-war total being 298), which it was difficult to place on the market. The coffee-tree, which could have been successful, gave only an insignificant production. It had been introduced at Dalaba in central Guinea by Professor Auguste Chevalier in 1914, and the authorities ordered its cultivation over a wide area between 1920 and 1930; then the world economic crisis made its exploitation unprofitable just when the plants were becoming productive. Nine-tenths of the trees were abandoned in 1939, and production was never more than about 20 tonnes. By contrast, on the eve of the war coffee production was reaching its peak in Guinea’s forest regions, having climbed from 11 tonnes in 1932 to 956 in 1940 — but even the latter figure was not significant.
As for other traditional food production, which forming part of the subsistence economy of the peasant population (palm oil, palm kernels, groundnuts, sesame, rice and livestock), the trading firms were only able to obtain a small surplus of indifferent quality. More than elsewhere in French West Africa, agriculture remained the only productive sector. The only industries — and those on a very small scale — were extractive. The mining companies (Mines d’or de la Falémé-Gambie at Siguiri and Soguinex for diamonds in upper Guinea) were content to use their mining rights to carry off the production of the alluvial deposits, obtained by traditional African skilled methods and without any significant investment: this was the equivalent, in mining terms, of what had been done in the sphere of agriculture by the gathering of rubber. We need not discuss these “mining companies” whose most obvious activity was shady speculation, for which Guinea was merely the pretext. The iron deposits of Kalum had been known since 1904, and there had been prospecting for bauxite. But their exploitation was of no interest either to French industry, itself an exporter of these minerals, or to commerce which had little desire to invest in hazardous speculations. Processing industries were almost non-existent, and in no instance had passed the stage of hand-craft. Even in 1947, by which time the war had stimulated some of these industries, there was no oil plant in Guinea capable of processing more than 500 tonnes a year. The few plants for canning and for production of fruit juices were already in financial trouble.
As we have seen, the government and the administration were no more than the agents of the consortium of large trading houses. The latter had enough direct representatives in the departments of the ministry of the colonies and the colonial inspectorate to keep a firm hold over governors and administrators who were not sufficiently compliant. But most of these fulfilled with spontaneous zeal their mission to “open up these backward regions to our commerce and hence to civilisation [sic]”. But where there were no benefits to the populations, the general costs of the enterprise were firmly placed to their charge. We will leave aside forced labour and forced cultivation in order to concentrate on the tax burden. In 1934 direct taxes were shared out as follows:
- Europeans paid 100 francs per head, plus a contribution of’ 5 per cent on the rentable value of property
- natives paid a personal tax of between 11 and 20 francs, plus circle tax, plus a tax on their animals (45 centimes for a sheep, 2.25 francs for each head of cattle, and 13.50 francs for a horse). Contemporary data are lacking, but to measure the relationship between a prison’s taxes and his income, we should note that in 1951, according to the statistics of INSEE (the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies), the average annual income of an African in French West Africa was 10,000 CFA francs (in Guinea it was only 7,000, and that of a European was 315,000 francs 65
Now we will look at the budgetary structure, as far as receipts were concerned. In 1940, 66 out of receipts totalling 81.4 million francs, personal taxes alone yielded 35,9 million. By contrast, tax on income (paid by the Africans too) produced only 1,3 million, patents and licences 4.1 million, and land tax 700,000. The balance came from indirect taxes, which had their ultimate effect upon the mass of consumers. In short, the European population enjoyed a privileged fiscal status, and the big commercial houses had genuine immunity. On the other hand, the personal tax and its supplements, to say nothing of “contributions” and which had to be paid to provident societies, and to say nothing either about the supplementary dues payable to the chiefs and their hangers-on, frequently accounted for three-quarters of the peasant’s money 67. To obtain this indispensable cash, the poor regions of Futa-Jalon had no other resource besides the export of their labour, notably as seasonal agricultural labourers in Senegal.
What, on the other side, were the benefits accrued to the Guinean population? Were there not some famous schools? In 1935, forty-five years after the establishment of “French Guinea”, education was provided in the territory for a total of 6,558 pupils, out of a total population of 2 million; 111 French and African teachers taught in:
- thirty-four elementary and preparatory schools
- nine regional schools
- two orphanages
- one apprentices’ school and
- two vocational agricultural sections at Labe and Kankan.
Secondary education did not exist. The one and only “upper primary school” had the staff and the standard of a “secondary modern” school. But, it will be asked, did not this modest educational achievement have a positive character compared to the void which it filled. It is this idea of a void that one has to dispute.
Early in the nineteenth century, the explorer Gaspard-Théodore Mollien, following Mungo Park, testified that in every village in Futa, at least, there were Koranic schools where the instruction was not limited to reciting the holy book — as has so often been said as a salve to the conscience. Mariani, the inspector of Muslim education who visited Guinea in 1911, informed an astonished administration that, not in Futa alone but in Lower Guinea as well, he had found in modest-sized villages karamokos capable both of writing and of conversing in literary Arabic. He proposed that medersas (Muslim colleges) be instituted. The Mariani report was consigned to the archives, and traditional education, which was suspected of being a vehicle for dangerous influences, continued to languish.
Among the forest populations there were courses of initiation for young people. However archaic they may have been, rites had an educational content which was better than nothing. Here again, the colonial system, always ready to invoke “custom” to disguise oppression of the people, cared little for these authentic traditions. On this subject Captain Duffner noted:
“The course of training was carried out in the forest, the men and the women being separated, and used to last for between five and seven years for the men and between four and five years for the women. Since the economic conditions of life have changed, and since recruitment has taken away the young people, the course has become shorter in order to allow the villages to build up their workforce 68.”
We now turn to the subject of hospitals. The same source 69 tells us that in 1935 the whole of Guinea had a hospital in Conakry (built in 1901 ), two ambulances, twenty dispensaries or medical posts, fifteen maternity units or posts with midwives . . .
The work from which this information is taken states that the department of the Pasteur Institute at Kindia was established in that place to be able to procure the anthropoid apes necessary for its work…. Nothing had been done at that time to counter-act sleeping sickness. It was necessary to wait till 1938 for Dr. Jamot, who had been dismissed from his post in Cameroun, to set up a specialist service parallel to the one he had created in the latter colony — not without meeting dogged resistance. One can conclude with Gilbert Vieillard that the activity of the medical officers “was taken up with attending to the little clusters of white people and their employees” 70 — which is to say that they gave almost nothing to the peasant masses, who were the majority of the population.
Thus on the eve of the Second World War the balance-sheet of colonisation appeared to the mass of the population of Guinea — the peasants — as being totally negative. Where, for them, was this famous “civilisation” of which the benefits were to compensate them for their accumulated outpouring in labour and taxes, to say nothing of the tax in blood during the two world wars? The infrastructure which colonisation provided — the railway, posts and telegraph, roads, the port etc., — only had the effect of handing the country over a little more to the usurers of big business, and of intensifying its exploitation. Schools, hospitals — access to these was only available to a privileged few. The peasant continued to live and work like his forebears, except that he worked harder and ate less; undernourishment became chronic in lean periods, the periods when work was hardest. The peasant’s average daily diet contained less than 1,000 calories (a normal diet was estimated to contain 3,000). “The food ration has been known to fall to 208 calories a day — in lean periods certainly, but beyond any typical degree of shortage.” 71 It is not difficult to imagine what famines were like in such conditions; they occurred, whatever the colonial literature may say, in 1913-14, 1931-6 and 1944-5, and they were infinitely more terrible than those recorded from the times before colonisation. We know the appalling rate of infant mortality, the ravages wrought by endemic tropical diseases and epidemics on malnourished and weakened constitutions; and we know that the population level stagnated around the 2 million mark throughout the fifty years of colonial rule.
Meanwhile, by its own contradictions, the colonial system was involuntarily preparing the conditions which would cause its downfall. European education was being spread among a minority, albeit a narrow one, and abridged and depersonalised though this education was, colonialism gave to some Africans at least the possibility of analysing the causes of their own condition and of finding the means to free themselves from it. That the colonial regime would have been glad to dispense with education was shown on many occasions. But it could not slough off this “necessary evil” which made it possible for it to procure the minimum of subordinateto ensure that the administrative and economic machine would run smoothly. The progress of the market economy, even in the rudimentary form of trading, encouraged the circulation of men and ideas. And the sending of soldiers to France opened a window on the world outside Africa.
The political awakening of 1945, advances in the organisation of the masses, and the emergence of African solidarity, enabling ancient ethnic and tribal antagonisms to be overcome — all these factors came together immediately after the war, and shook the old structure to its very foundations, causing it ultimately to collapse. But that is another story.
1. Published in Présence africaine, XXIX, 1950-60. pp. 9-44.
2. E. Rouard de Card, Les traités de protectorat conclus par la France en Afrique (1870-1895), Paris: Pedone, 1897.
3. The Portuguese title was his reward for ceding some right which he had acquired in the region to Portuguese Guinea. He had begun his African career as agent in Bolama for the Marseilles firm of Pastré. (Archives nationales de la République de Guinée, 1 E 27.)
4. This term was used in the Chamber of Deputies by Etienne, the secretary of state for the colonies, concerning the treaty concluded between Gallieni and Ahmadu several years before being borrowed (without acknowledgment) by the German chancellor Bethman Holloweg in his more famous reference to Germany’s treaty with Belgium.
5. Rapport d’ensemble sur la situation générale de la Guinée française en 1906, Conakry, Imprimerie Ternaux, 1907; also P. Marty, L’Islam en Guinée, Paris: E. Leroux, 1921.
6. J. Richard-Molard, Afrique Occidentale Française, Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1948, p. 44.
7. A. Demougeot, Notes sur l’organisation politique et administrative du Labé, Dakar: I.F.A.N., 1944.
8. La Guinée française, Paris: Challamel, 1907.
9. The original is in the national archives of the Republic of Guinea, I. E. 7, 1.
10. M. Crespin, “Alpha Yaya et M. Frézouls”, Revue indigène, 1906 (2), pp. 45-6.
11. A. Demougeot, op. cit., p. 51.
12. National archives of the Republic of Guinea.
13. G. Teuillère, “Alfa Yaya et la politique indigène”, Revue indigène, 1911, p. 615-20.
14. Report of the head administrator of the circle of Kindia, 15 May 1911 (National archives of the Republic of Guinea, I.E.3). The affair was extensively studied by Mlle Verdat (Etudes guinéennes, 3, 1949, pp. 3-66), but her approach owes as much to the traditional viewpoint as to academic objectivity, with contradictory results.
15. So-called by Péroz, but incorrectly so because Samori’s possession did not correspond to any historical territorial entity.
16. E. Péroz, Au Soudan français, Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1889, p. 348. Lieut.-Col. E. Péroz was born at Vesoul in 1858. He joined the Carlist army in Spain at the age of 17, and after its defeat, joined the French marine infantry, in which he made his career. After taking part in the war against Samori, he became officer commanding troops in French Guiana. He published several books on the French campaigns in Africa and an autobiography Par vocation. Vie et ventures d’un soldat de fortune, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1905.
17. Histoire des Colonies françaises, under the direction of Gabriel Hanotaux and Alfred Martineau, vol. IV: A.O.F. by Maurice Delafosse.
18. Péroz, Le Tour du Monde, 1890, p. 306
19. Péroz, Au Soudan français, op. cit., p. 357.
20. E. Péroz, L’Empire de l’Almamy-Emir Samori, ou Empire de Ouassoulou, Besançon. Imprimerie Dodivers, 1888 (Extraits des Mémoires de la Société d’émulation du Doubs).
23. I am well aware that some will regard this comparison as either absurd or outrageous. However, St Louis was a saint in the manner of his time, for whom “the laity, when they heard ill-spoken of the law of Christ, could defend it in no other way than with the point of a sword, which they would drive into the belly of the slanderer as far as it would go” (Joinville, Histoire de Saint Louis, Wailly’s edition, p. 53).
24 A. Baratier, “Samory”, Revue indigène, 53 (1910), p. 513. General Albert Baratier (1864-1917) took part in the Samori campaign under Humbert, the Monteil “column” against Kong and the Marchand expedition to Fashoda in 1896-8. He published several books on his military exploits.
25. Baratier, A travers l’Afrique, Paris: Perrin, 1912, p. 65.
26. Inaccurate, according Yves Person (1978).
27. Baratier, A travers l’Afrique, p. 71.
29. L.G. Binger, Du Niger au Golfe de Guinée, Paris: Hachette, 1892. Louis-Gustave Binger (1856-1936) was first an explorer, then Governor of the Colonies (1893) and from 1897 director of African affairs at the Colonial Ministry.
30. Baratier, op. cit., p. 76.
31. Or possibly Ityo: but the spelling used in the administrative reports was “Ithiou”.
32. National archives of the Republic of Guinea, 1.D.18.
33. M. Crespin, “La question du Coniagui”,1906,pp. 88-93.
34. National archives of the Republic of Guinea. Part of these documents have been reproduced in B. Maupoil, “Notes concernant l’histoire des Coniagui-Bassari et en particulier l’occupation de leur pays par les Français”, Bulletin de l’I.F.A.N., XVI, 3-4 (1954) series B, pp. 378-89.
35. The Toma village of N’Zapu had allied itself with Samori, and was obliged to function as a staging post for his communication with Monrovia (to replace those he had had with Sierra Leone, which were no longer safe).
36. The posts of Sampuraya and Diorodugu were only created in 1899.
37. Histoire militaire de l’A.O.F., Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1931.
38. Rapport d’ensemble sur la situation générale de la Guinée française en 1903, Conakry: Imprimerie Ternaux, p. 66.
39. See Histoire militaire de l’A.O.F., op. cit.; Baratier, Epoques africaines, Paris: Perrin, 1913, pp. 15-34; A. Terrier, “La frontière franco-libérienne”, Bulletin du Comité de l’Afrique Française, 4 (Aug. 1910), pp. 127-32; Lt. Bouet, “Les Tomas”, Bulletin du Comité de l’Afrique Française, Renseignements Coloniaux, 1911, no. 8, pp. 185-99, and no. 9, pp. 220-46.
40. A. Demougeot, ”Histoire du Nunez”, Bulletin du Comité d’Etudes historiques et scientifiques de l’A.O.F., XXI, 2 (1938), pp. 274 ff.
41. After 1896 the circle of Farana, which controlled the Sierra Leone frontier, was detached from the Sudan and incorporated into Guinea, and this introduced into the budget of Guinea the resources of the poll-tax which was imposed there, as in the whole of the Sudan.
42. A. Arcin, Histoire de la Guinée française, p. 592.
44. Ibid., p 622
45. Ibid., pp. 701-2
46. In French Equatorial Africa and the Belgian Congo, on the other hand, it was the British trading houses which were ousted by the Franco-Belgian concessionnaires. In those territories they did not have political authority behind them, and were thus reduced to revealing to the world the crimes of their competitors, in a not wholly disinterested spirit. E.D. Morel, the author of Red Rubber, which denounced the crimes of Leopold II and his agents in the Congo, represented the commercial interests of Liverpool.
47. H. Cosnier, L’Ouest africain français, Paris, Larose, 1921, p. 7.
48. Ibid. p. 11.
49Albert Londres, Terre d’ébène,Paris, Albin Michel,1929, p. 260.
50. H. Cosnier, op. cit. pp. 146-7.
51. Ibid. p 148.
52. See A. Prévaudeau, Joost van Vollenhoven, Paris, Larose, 1953.
53. Blaise Diagne, an African, was the Deputy for the four communes in Senegal.
54. R. Cuvillier-Fleury, La main d’oeuvre dans les colonies françaises d’Afrique Occidentale et du Congo, Paris, Sirey, 1907, p. 31,
55. Denise Bouche, “Les villages de liberté en A O.F.”, Bulletin de l’I.F.A.N, 3-4 (1949), p. 529,
56. We should add that the “freedom villages” were freely drawn onto provide labour and domestic servants (the local people spoke simply of “slaves”) for Europeans and the Catholicand women for the amusement of soldiers.
57. Denise Boucher, op. cit., p. 524.
58. See G. Vieillard, “Notes sur les Peuls du Fouta-Djalon”, Bulletin de l’I.F.A.N. 1 (Jan-Apr. 1940), pp, 87-210.
59. Ibid., p. 113.
60. Ibid., p. 171.
61. Ibid., p. 129.
62. Réveil, Dakar, 4 April 1449.
63. The administrator in question was a man of relatively mild disposition. Some of his colleagues resorted on similar occasions to the whip, or to giving the offender a spell in gaol for “insulting a magistrate while in the performance of his duty” or expressing “contempt for French authority”.
64. This figure is close to production at the present day.
65. See M. Capet and J. Fabre, “L’économie de l’A.O.F. depuis la guerre”, Annales africaines, 1957, pp. 135-94.
66. Colonie de la Guinée française, Compte définitif des recettes et des dépenses. Exercise 1940. Conakry: Imprimerie du Gouvernement, 1942.
67. Capet and Fabre (see note 65) estimate that in 1951 the average minimum proportion of an African peasant’s money income absorbed by taxation, for West Africa as a whole, was 32 per cent.
68. Captain Duffner, “Croyances et coutumes religieuses chez les Guerze et Manon de la Guinée française”, Bulletin du Comité d’Etudes Historiques et Scientifiques de l’A.O.F. 4(1934), p. 545.
69. La Guinée française, Agence économique de l’A.O.F., 1935.
70. G. Vieillard, op. cit.
71. Médecin-général Peltier, Marchés coloniaux, 242 (1 July 1950), p. 1460.