G. Wesley Johnson, Jr./William Ponty (1866-1915) and Republican Paternalism in French West Africa

African Proconsuls. European Governors in Africa.
L.H. Gann & Peter Duignan, eds.

New York/London/Stanford. The Free Press/Collier Macmillan Publishers & Hoover Institution. 1978. 548 pages

G. Wesley Johnson, Jr.
William Ponty (1866-1915) and Republican Paternalism in French West Africa

William Ponty

L’Afrique fut sa grande passion, elle fut sa raison de vivre, il lui a tout donné, il lui a consacree toutes les années de sa vie d’homme.
Governor Raphaël Antonetti, Journal officiel de l’Afrique occidentale française, 19 June 1915, p. 424.

William Ponty was the illustrious governor of France’s largest overseas colonial possession, French West Africa, from 1908 to 1915. Ponty was popular in his own day but has been neglected by historians in favor of early conquerors such as Gallieni and Archinard or later governors such as Van Vollenhoven. I propose to look at the career of Ponty and his achievements and innovations in colonial policy and administration and to suggest that Ponty was probably the strongest and most influential governor-general who ruled French West Africa during its brief life from 1895 to 1960. This claim is based upon his activity in the following areas: ending both the traffic in slaves and domestic slavery; creating the native provident societies; defining for the first time a coherent French native policy (politique de races); clarifying an Islamic policy; bringing pensions and benefits to African functionaries; favoring land for African use through a homestead land policy; and setting in motion the celebrated armée noire, the African troops who participated in World War I. In addition, Ponty created and defined the office he held as a standard for future governors.
Part of Ponty’s success rested on the fact that he was a link between the military conquest and the establishment of civilian rule. He became a true proconsul of empire, a governor who could rule most of the time with little interference from the ministry of colonies. That such a strong-willed man of action was mourned by his African subjects when he died and that he inspired admiration and respect from foe and friend alike becomes less remarkable upon examination of Ponty’s basic philosophy of colonialism. For Ponty was the high apostle of what I shall call republican paternalism, a blending of egalitarian concepts based upon the “rights of man” with a code of noblesse oblige. This was a reflection of nineteenth-century bourgeois France, often expressed as the mission civilisatrice. Ponty held humane and optimistic views for his day, believing in human progress in an era of scientific racism and giving his African subjects a basic respect that sets him apart from most early governors. At times Ponty seemed to anticipate the liberal era of the 1950s and decolonization, and at the end of his career there are hints of disillusion with the imperial task. But the daily record shows him an unabashed imperialist, proud of his vocation, strictly professional to the end (probably more so than the widely heralded Van Vollenhoven); it is this dualism—proconsul-conqueror, on the one hand, humane paternalist, on the other—that makes Ponty a fascinating study and also sheds new light on how French colonialism worked in the field. In Ponty we have a man who believed the republican ideal and dedicated his life to carrying it out.
Like Léon Faidherbe, Ponty had a keen insight into the mentality and time of his African subjects—a sensitivity and compassion rare in hard-bitten colonial circles. He liked the sobriquet vieil Africain that he bore in later years. It was a recognition of twenty-five years of almost uninterrupted service in West Africa as a most distinguished expatriate of his time, a man of two continents. Unlike Faidherbe and Gallieni, Ponty did not write books. He was a literate man whose speeches show us his fire and compassion; but to recapture the career of Ponty the historian must use official documents and archival records. No known family or personal documents survive. Much can be learned from comments of others (both French and African), from Ponty’s terse marginal notes in the archives and his reports to Paris, and especially from newspapers written by African elites. Ponty was also the subject of a thinly veiled biographical novel by Robert Arnaud, his former adviser on Islamic affairs, which is suggestive of his character and motivations . Comparatively little is known about his family background and personal life.
One purpose of this essay is to suggest some points of departure, questions, and problems for a future biographer. Since Ponty’s career was so intertwined with French West Africa, however, a full portrait will probably have to await a comprehensive administrative history of that colony. Moreover, I have sought to examine Ponty on his own ground—that of an imperialist of his time—rather than looking at him from the nationalist perspective of today. One has the impression that Ponty—like Faidherbe, Delafosse, and Delavignette—may weather the test of time and be remembered in African nations as a humane ruler of empire.

Early Career

Little is known about the early years of Ponty beyond the fact that he was born Amédée William Merlaud-Ponty into a middle-class family on February 4, 1866 in Rochefort-sur-Mer, in southwestern France. By the time he received his law degree at the age of twenty-two, he had opted for using his middle name and the second part of his hyphenated name—hence William Ponty. Ponty obtained an internship (commis expéditionnaire stagiaire) at the central administrative offices of the colonial section of the marine ministry in 1888. The earliest note on Ponty in his personnel file mentions that his first year’s performance was satisfactory but cautions “he is perhaps a bit too self-satisfied.” Whereas this trait appeared as a potential flaw to his examiner, it indicates a quality—great confidence in himself—that became the hallmark of Ponty as an administrator and the keystone of his success and effectiveness as governor-general for seven years. The young intern settled in slowly to his life’s work: in 1889 he was criticized for having “too many absences, primarily to visit his family at home.”
The next year, Ponty—who did not attend the new Ecole coloniale—was abruptly torn away from family and internship and assigned as an aide to Colonel Louis Archinard in the Sudan campaigns in what was to become French West Africa. Archinard needed a secretary in the field and young Ponty needed field experience and a protector to advance his colonial career.
Arriving in Sudan (then called the Haut-Fleuve region) at the headwaters of the Senegal and Niger rivers, Ponty was quickly exposed to a series of campaigns for the conquest and “pacification” of Africans in a populous and ethnically diverse area. As one of the first professional colonial administrators, he was part of the last days of the military operation in West Africa, and throughout his career there is ample evidence of Ponty’s affinity for the military . This new part of France’s West African dominions had become a separate political entity in embryo in 1880, with a commander who in theory was subordinate to the governor of Senegal but who in fact commanded with autonomy. A governmental shell, therefore, had existed in this area for a decade before Ponty’s arrival, but African resistance from such tenacious leaders as Samory Touré had kept the nascent colony in a continual state of alert. Colonel Archinard had succeeded to the title of superior commandant after his first tour, 1880-1890, when he bad taken over from General Gallieni; it was in preparation for his second tour, 1890-1893, that Archinard recruited young Ponty to serve with him in the Sudan. It was Archinard who finally conquered the once potent Tukulor empire of Ahmadou, the son of ElHadj Omar Tall. Maurice Delafosse later credited Archinard as being the true creator of the French Sudan
Archinard was seconded in his projects of conquest and pacification by Eugène Etienne, then serving as undersecretary of state for the colonies; moreover, in 1890 the French public was more favorable to further expansion than it had been in the 1880s. Archinard therefore decided to attack Ségou and strike a blow at the hegemony of Ahmadou; he was also charged with the continuing campaigns against Samory. Ponty received a baptism by fire, serving in seventeen battles against Samory’s forces alone; he was wounded at the battle of Ouassako and received his first advancement into the Legion of Honor in 1893 . During more than three years Ponty participated in a myriad of battles in Upper Guinea against Samory’s forces. He was involved in the assault against Kouroussa and later wrote of his job at the side of Archinard: “In November of 1892, Archinard dictated while I wrote the instructions for Captain Briquelot to move immediately toward Benty, to stop the march of our English rivals, and to create a commercial route.” Ponty helped formulate Archinard’s strategy of building a railroad from the interior to Conakry and hence the creation of French Guinea as a viable colony. Twenty years later at the dedication of this railroad, when Ponty was governor-general, Governor Camille Guy lauded him on having “the good fortune, which is unique and personal to you, to have brought this project to completion.” Not only was Ponty lucky, but he seemed repeatedly to be in the right place at the right time. His coolness under fire won him the admiration of Archinard, who found it easy to recommend Ponty for promotions. He also won the confidence of Archinard’s temporary replacement, Lieutenant colonel Humbert, who wrote: “Model secretary, very devoted, full of zeal, conscientious worker, indefatigable. Great deal of moral valor. Has never been sick. … Is tactful, and as a result, is well-liked by all of the officers of the column. In battle he is cool under fire.”
Ponty’s experiences in the final days of the conquest gave him a perspective that most colonial officers who followed him lacked. In fact, Ponty uniquely bridged the military and colonial worlds. After he became governor-general in 1908, Ponty lamented that so many of his early comrades at arms were no more or were no longer in Africa; most other colonial officials who moved up the ranks in the late 1890s had not participated in the conquest. Ponty knew Gallieni, Archinard, de Trentinian, Ballay, Bonnier, and other famous figures of the conquest because he was there. No other colonial official of such high rank knew equally well the two worlds of conquest and colonization.
In 1894, as a hardened military veteran of western Sudanic campaigns, Ponty was rewarded for his field performance by being appointed chief of the secretariat of the colony of Senegal. This brought him away from more intensive military experience to the world of the bureaucracy in Saint-Louis, which was then the capital of France’s black African colonies. Ponty was on duty when the new post of governor-general was created in 1895 as the French colonial establishment tried to bring order and system to these vast new possessions beyond the traditional borders of Senegal. He had been recommended by Archinard, who saw important things in the future for his protégé: “I think that, with perseverance, someday [Ponty] will gain an important post. I have full confidence in his future…. [H]e knows that you must work to gain something honorable in life…. [He] is resolute and intelligent.” Archinard, however, had to explain his glowing recommendation since the earlier notes on Ponty had painted him as a somewhat capricious young man given to frivolity. But now Ponty was firmly launched on his move up the administrative ladder, and the next year—in 1896—he accepted a transfer to the colony of Madagascar as an administrator first class.
In the Indian Ocean colony Ponty served under General Gallieni, who had first carved out his reputation in the French Sudan. Gallieni took an interest in him and reported to Paris that he showed outstanding leadership in his management of Mananjary province, where there had been a marked increase of colonial activity . But Sudanic Africa was in Ponty’s heart and the next year he requested a transfer back to French West Africa and was reassigned to Djenné in the Sudan as the cercle commandant. (This experience at the cercle level is what distinguished Ponty from the two other governors-general to whom he is often compared—Roume and Van Vollenhoven—neither of whom ever served in the field in this capacity. In his book on colonial life, Les Vrais Chefs de l’empire, Robert Delavignette placed the cercle commandant at the center of colonial governance
Ponty’s career illustrates the movement upward of a man who had helped carve out the colonial domain and then participated in the organization at the cercle level. At Djenné, Ponty collaborated with the new chief of the Sudan, General de Trentinian, vanquisher of the Mossi, who governed the new colony from 1895 to 1899. De Trentinian, a rough and ready disciple of Archinard, divided the colony (called Upper Senegal-Niger during part of this period) into cercles and defined the tasks of governing as colonial officials to his commandants. Even though he was a military officer who attained the rank of general during the latter part of his tour, de Trentinian called in a mission of technical experts and first investigated the feasibility of growing cotton scientifically.
When the general was called back to France, Ponty was named to replace him as governor—although without the title: he was called delegate of the governor-general until 1904, when he was promoted to governorship. The Sudan was split, several areas were organized into military districts—Timbuktu, Bobo-Dioulasso and Zinder, but Ponty retained control of the western Sudan. Even so, the question was raised why so young a man should be given such great responsibility (he was thirty-three when de Trentinian was recalled). Governor-general Ballay wrote:

Although still young, M. Ponty is endowed with a mature attitude, which is unique; he is well behaved and possesses to the highest degree the qualities of respect and discipline. Besides, he has the considerable advantage for this period of transition in the Sudan of having been trained by the military and therefore acceptable to them with greater ease than anyone else 10

Starting early with the military, yet being a colonial officer, now paid rich dividends to Ponty, who assumed gubernatorial functions after only nine years in the field. In this command position he presided over the largest and most complex of the French West African colonies (from 1899 until 1908). He had the training and time to complete the work of his shorter termed predecessors. In 1905, while in Paris, Ponty wrote a descriptive analysis of his work in the Sudan for the minister of colonies. This gives us a sampling of the mind of the conquistador turned colonialist: Ponty starts by saying that the “perfect tranquility” of the colony during the past several years has allowed him to devote himself to the “moral conquest of the natives.” In other words, Ponty, having gained physical possession of the Africans, is now striving for their souls. “Essentially, we are resolved with all our strength to make the natives respect [faire aimer] France by justifying with our actions those promises that we made the morning after the conquest.”
Ponty continues by pointing out that many Africans considered the French to be liberators from the old African tyrants. He admits in outlying areas there is still mistrust of the whites, but the fact that each year it becomes easier to collect taxes bears out his argument, even after giving chiefs one percent fees for collecting. He feels that taxation has helped the African learn how to handle money and plan ahead and has helped create a cash crop economy that ultimately benefits the native sector: “Sudan is not, and cannot be, a settler colony…. [O]ur duty is to train the natives [in modern agriculture].” 11 Ponty reserves the role of “intermediary” for resident Europeans, who will link up Africa with France. He cites the linking of the Senegal and Niger rivers by railroad as a contribution to the economic development of the colony that will benefit both groups. And looking at the new crops of rice being developed, he is hopeful that eventually Africa will not have to be dependent on imports of Asiatic rice.
Ponty closes his analysis with remarks establishing his loyalty and faith in republicanism at a time when separation of church and state had just been accomplished by the anticlerical republicans in France. He gives orders to cut off subsidies and salaries for the Catholic teaching orders in his colony; he faults them with proselytizing rather than teaching: “The blacks, whether animists or Muslims, want to keep their customs and religion. It is difficult for them to believe we are tolerant, that we believe in liberty of conscience, as long as we seem to favor the proselytization of the missionaries.” 12 In William Ponty we find the staunch defender of anticlerical principles, and it is no surprise that he became a prominent member—along with other aspiring young colonial officers—of the Masons 13. For many colonial leaders needed a credo, and republicanism furnished an ethos that carried men into battle against foreign potentates. Ponty concludes that more lay (rather than religious) teachers are needed so they could “inculcate in the Africans the great principles that make the strength and honor of republican France.” Only toward the end of his career are there hints of Ponty’s faith wavering.
Ponty governed Sudan longer than any of his illustrious predecessors and brought about the transition from military to full colonial rule. It was, in fact, this consistency and familiarity with one area for fifteen years that established Ponty’s reputation as an administrator and as someone who—in the mold of Faidherbe—knew the manners, mores, and language of the people. He was therefore in an unusual and advantageous position vis-à-vis his contemporaries, who suffered from rouage—the French policy of frequent transfers, designed to prevent corruption but often preventing a knowledge of the governed 14. By contrast, British governors usually served six years in a colony, which allowed the kind of familiarity Ponty developed. Why Ponty was so favored is difficult to pin down, but his personnel records suggest that he became an “indispensable collaborator” because of his experience. Moreover, he seems to have enjoyed the confidence of two important governors-general: Ballay, at the turn of the century, and Ernest Roume, architect and chief organizer of the federation of French West Africa.
Ballay noted that Ponty “has always been a valuable collaborator. … [H]e has performed difficult tasks with distinction and discretion.” Rourne was even stronger in his praise:

Manages an excellent budget [1902]; … I think he is destined to occupy one of the highest colonial positions [1903]; … [he] should be advanced as rapidly as possible [1906]; … M. Ponty is a true man of action and has not hesitated to go from Kayes to Niamey, all along the border, to get to the heart of the problem of these attacks [1907].

Roume concluded his report by saying that “every day” Ponty distinguished himself and merited the promotions and honors requested 15. Clearly, Ponty won the respect of his two commanders and found himself close by when the call came for him to become the new governor-general in 1908. His accomplishments as governor in the Sudan gained him his professional reputation and carried him to the top.

Governor of the French Sudan

The hallmark of William Ponty (like Faidherbe in Senegal) was an intimate knowledge of his colony, which won him the respect of many Africans. He displayed early in his career a willingness to move into the field to solve problems—a willingness that he kept intact in the governor-general’s palace. Later governors became wedded to their desks, and Ponty himself toward the end of his career lamented his diminishing opportunities for field tours. His intimacy with his charges is revealed by Governor Raphaël Antonetti, a close associate, when he told the story of Ponty, who, on a visit to Liberia, was asked to pass the troops in review and found a Bambara soldier from the Sudan with a tattered remnant of a French medal on his tunic. The African and Ponty had served under fire together years before; to the astonishment of the official party, Ponty had a reunion with the man on the spot, laughing and joking. Then, in a grand gesture, he stripped the colonial service medal from the chest of his accompanying senior officer and pinned it on the chest of the Bambara infantryman. “Here my brave man, you can say it was Ponty who gave you your medal.” And he shook the African’s hand and pressed twenty francs into it: “That’s for celebrating.” 16
As chief of the Sudan colony, Ponty early had to face the question of slavery. Some French commanders, such as General de Trentinian, had recognized the claims of masters toward slaves and their families and tended to let the social system remain unchanged. Ponty, the idealistic republican, wanted to attack the slave trade caravans, free the slaves, and resettle them in villages de liberté (“liberty villages”). For each governor of a colony had flexibility in handling the slavery question until 1905, when the decree of December 12 finally outlawed slavery. Only the Sudan had a coherent policy in French West Africa, and this was largely the work of Ponty; faced with greater numbers of refugees and displaced captives than other governors, he felt obliged to work out a humanitarian policy 17. Ponty moved soon after taking over command to remove the ambiguities and double standards that had characterized French policy in the 1890s, and on October 10, 1900, issued a decree for Sudan. It ordered the arrest of any persons trafficking in slaves, promulgated slave liberation, and ordained the establishment of so-called liberty villages so former slaves could be reintegrated into a new society. From a French point of view, the villages were noble experiments, akin to the underground railway in antebellum United States, where slaves could be brought to freedom. There were several problems, however: first, many Africans, such as the Fulani, were alarmed by the departure of their serfs; French commanders let them reassert domination rather than risk further unrest and insubordination.
Second, in actual practice the villages became recruiting centers for French forced labor projects so that some Africans exchanged African for French masters 18
Paul Marty, Islamic specialist and government interpreter, and Pierre Mille, independent journalist, both agreed in different contemporary articles that Ponty, as governor of the Sudan, was responsible for the demise of slavery 19. It is fair to say that this was his most important accomplishment before being named governor-general in 1908. But to bring abolition about, Ponty had to win over a number of his administrators who were not so imbued with republican idealism and “rights of man” rhetoric. Marty noted, “By a radical measure, which upset a number of his associates, but whose final success was justified once again by his farsightedness in political matters, he officially put an end to the state of domestic captivity.” 20 The slave trade itself had been vigorously attacked by the majority of French field commanders as the conquest moved forward; by 1897 the trade was considered near an end when civil authorities took over the Sudan area. But domestic slavery (servitude domestique) still existed; in fact, the number of captives (a more accurate term in this context than slave) actually grew as French dominion spread. And trading in private continued. Ponty, therefore, moved to resettle countless refugees who wanted to return to the land of their origin. The resettlement extended to Ségou, Kita, Bafoulabé, Kayes, Bougouni, Sikasso, Koutiala and other centers. A captive who sought freedom paid (if he could) his annual tax: then registered with the cercle commandant, who gave him a pass for his destination.
More complicated was the liberty village, which grouped together refugees with no place to go on lands supposedly uninhabited. Abuses in the administration of the villages, some of which were backed by antislavery societies, finally led to their demise and ultimate phaseout. Although Ponty supported the villages, he was sympathetic to cases in which captives were virtually adopted into the master’s family and emancipation would be traumatic—hence the possibility of some captive families’ staying on their master’s lands, with the diangal, a vassal’s tax, transformed into simple rent. Thus, Ponty earned the reputation among his colleagues as the “emancipator” of the Sudan and did more than any other colonial governor in French West Africa to prepare the way for the abolition decree of 1900. It is perplexing, however, why Ponty has not received proper credit. Senator J. Lemaire, writing in Maurice Viollette’s collection on French West Africa in 1913, wondered why Ponty had not received a medal for his antislavery achievements 21

Governor-general of West Africa

Ernest Roume, French intellectual and master bureaucrat, became ill in October 1907 and returned to France. His tour as head of the group of colonies known as French West Africa was now at an end; his protégé and friend William Ponty was appointed to succeed him as governor-general. In many ways, Roume, the office man, had been preparing for his succession by Ponty, the field man. Although French West Africa was created in 1895, the idea of a federation of colonies with a unified budget and supreme commander really came about under Roume, a scientific-minded bureaucrat on the Indochina desk at the ministry of colonies who had been dispatched to Africa in 1902 22. Roume floated the first loan in France for French West Africa’s economic development and thereby procured a line of credit for the new colony; he stimulated interest in railway building; he created a rational structure for administering a far-flung empire with efficiency; and he constructed a marvelous palace on Cape Verde overlooking the green Atlantic, a baroque structure to awe the Africans with its magnificence. Ponty was the heir of these policies and fittingly the first occupant of the palace. As such, it was Ponty who gave form and life to the concept of the governor-generalship and brilliantly expanded the office thanks to the powers, concepts, and agencies that Roume had created 23
Moreover, the capital had been transferred from Saint-Louis to Dakar to make clear that henceforth Senegal was but one of many colonies under the government-general. A decree of 1902 spelled this out. As Newbury put it, the aim of the decree was to extend the responsibilities of the government-general to financial and political control of all the French West African colonies. The main idea was that the Dakar budget would be responsible for education, justice, customs, and public works throughout the federation; in return, each colony would contribute its revenue derived from imports and other indirect sources to support the general budget. Roume determined a number of ground rules for operating the government-general: he alone would correspond with Paris or foreign territories; he alone would publish official decrees affecting all the colonies; and all administrative organizational decisions required his approval. But in the area of native policy, which varied from Mauritania’s nomads to Ivory Coast’s lagoon people, the governor-general would leave autonomy to each colony’s lieutenant governor. Thus, Ponty inherited a viable administrative and economic federation of colonies unique in African colonial history. (It became the model for the creation of French Equatorial Africa in 1910.)
Ponty was on tour when he heard the news of his elevation to supreme commander; Martial Merlin, secretary-general to Roume, took over the reins of government until Ponty could arrive from a long and triumphal trip to Dakar via Kayes and Saint-Louis. Immediately a popular choice, Ponty was feted by French and Africans alike along the journey to the coast: in Saint-Louis he was honored for his service there more than a decade earlier, and a young man who held the post he had formerly filled, that of secretary, gave the principal toast—Joost Van Vollenhoven, later to become governor-general himself. Ponty thanked him and responded that he hoped under his rule Dakar would become the most magnificent port on the Atlantic Ocean. An indication that Ponty would be available to his public was a notice in the journal officiel: “The Governor-General will receive every morning (except Wednesdays and Saturdays) from 9:30 to 11: 00.” 24
Ponty started his administration in Dakar with much prestige: he was hailed as the true organizer of the Sudan colony, much as Faidherbe was memorialized as the father of Senegal. He was called “the right man in the right place” [English in the original] for his job, and it was clear that he was the first choice of Roume and the ministry of colonies. The inspector general toasted his welcome to the governing council, adding:

The task you assume is difficult. … [T]he resources of Africa are scarcely developed … that’s a job reserved for you. That work will be yours because you have the tenacity, energy, and spirit that are indispensable, and, above all, you have had the firmness to attract to you and hold the devotion, attachment, I would even say affection [of the people] in the new territories, where everything needs to be created 25

Much, therefore, was expected of Ponty as chief, and Ponty, in fact, gave much. He was already a veteran of eighteen years in the field—all in Africa, save for the interlude in Madagascar—and a man devoted totally to his career; he had never married. He faced a number of problems inherited from Roume, but Ponty was fortunate to preside over French West Africa at an optimistic time when the emphasis was on development. It was an era of great hope for the colonial party as the pages of La Quinzaine coloniale and L’Afrique française testify. In fact, Charles Humbert, in his survey of French colonies in 1913, called French West Africa the model colony and boasted that future historians would cite it as the preeminent example of the French colonial method 26. Originally, many Frenchmen thought it would be impossible to develop the wide-ranging lands of West Africa —from sahel to forest—but the steady progress of Roume and Ponty changed this pessimism and created a bullish climate. Ponty’s plans for expansion were altered only by the onset of war in 1914; he died in 1915 and did not live to see the disruption the war brought to his colony and the marginality of the postwar colonial world.
French West Africa during the time of Ponty was at its zenith in terms of colonial self-confidence, and this posture was, in part, the creation of the self-assured veteran himself 27. Ponty’s annual speeches before his Conseil du Gouvernement at times read like chamber of commerce reports; at one session, Ponty admitted that he was overweening in his pride after looking at progress reports but reminded his colleagues that French West Africa was like his family: he had devoted all his adult years to it. In fact, he presided over his government establishment like a patriarch, taking equal interest in French administrators and African chiefs, his two main groups of staff. In 1912 he was responsible for 2,403 French functionaries, of whom 341 were professional colonial administrators, who governed about 12 million Africans in five—later to become eight—colonies. He was all-powerful in a colonial world and only he had the right to correspond with Paris: all reports, requests, or complaints had to be sent to his office in Dakar, and he alone determined what would be sent to the ministry of colonies. This is why Robert Cornevin called Ponty one of the great proconsuls of empire: he held quasi-absolute power in a day when frequent political changes brought uninformed ministerial novices to power 28

Economic and Administrative Achievements

Ponty was in power from 1908 to 1915. He benefited from Ernest Roume’s success in raising funds for an ambitious public works program in French West Africa. The heart of this program was construction of railway lines linking coastal colonies with interior markets, such as the Dakar to Bamako line, Conakry to Fouta Djallon, and Bingerville to Upper Volta. Ponty was enjoined by La Quinzaine coloniale “to spend wisely these millions” and, in fact, pushing the railways further became an obsession with the governor-general, matched only by his interest in the armée noire. In dedicating part of the Guinean line, the antislavery champion promised “that the railway will make that barbarous necessity, human porterage, disappear.” Ponty, as an executor of the comprehensive plan worked out while Gaston Doumergue was minister of colonies in 1898, watched the progress of his railways; he also presided over the development of port facilities, the second great priority in the economic development scheme of French West Africa. This primarily meant building a modern port at Dakar, which now replaced the Cape Verde Island ports as the principal refueling and replenishing station for European ships on the Atlantic. Ponty could watch from his baroque palace as the work crews created an imperial city further to impress the Africans and to underline France’s claim to colonial grandeur 29
Ponty favored agricultural development and commissioned the first serious studies on irrigation possibilities of the lower Senegal river and the Niger river at Ségou. He called for increased beef production and opened the first refrigerated packing plant in Senegal in 1914. He started experiments in raising sisal hemp and in improving breeds of sheep for market and hoped that his old colony of Sudan would someday meet a large part of France’s demand for cereals and cotton. Ponty felt confident that once the infrastructure of railways and ports was completed, West Africa would take off economically. Practical and prudent, Ponty remarked that “we are only at the beginning of the rational development of French West Africa.” But his enthusiasm was barely masked, and colonial publicists such as Humbert and Viollette spread the word of his success to the French public. Ponty was also pleased with the migration of Africans toward rail centers, as occurred in Senegal, where whole villages moved from the Ferlo desert to southerly peanut growing areas in Baol and Sine-Saloum 30. It meant that the era of resistance to the spread of rails was over—as in the resistance of Lat-Dior Diop in Cayor—and that African peasants now wanted to participate in a cash crop economy.
Ponty made no secret about his desire to work closely with the large French business houses that now began to dominate the African market, to the prejudice of the old mulatto houses of Gorée and Saint-Louis and smaller independent French traders: “I favor close cooperation between the administration and commerce , he declared on several occasions, and his friends were drawn from the ranks of old line firms such as Maurel Frères, Vezia, Peyrissac, and Maurel and Prom. He was feted and entertained in Paris by members of the Union coloniale. Yet Ponty did reserve some areas for government domination: he thought private enterprise should be limited to operating feeder lines, with the government in charge of French West Africa’s main lines. Ponty worried about the great number of imports from other powers, especially the fact that his colony was dependent on foreigners for energy supplies. In a day when a minimum of economic planning was done, it was presumed that private enterprise would be given free reign to develop internal markets in French West Africa; however, Ponty also had sympathy for small French traders and when he died he was memorialized as the first governor-general who had helped the petits-colons in their quest to benefit from the African bonanza 31
In two areas of economic activity, however, Ponty came out clearly on the side of the African. One of his greatest accomplishments was the establishment of the Sociétés Indigènes de Prévoyance (“native provident societies”). Tried as experiments in Guinea and Senegal in 1908-1909, these combination seed storage and cooperatives were recognized by Ponty in a decree of June 29, 1910. He was concerned about the plight of thousands of Africans during the “hungry season” —often a period of several months before the harvest during which Africans did not have enough to eat—and about cases in which too little seed was put aside to insure sufficient planting. Ponty set up his program to provide insurance against natural disasters, to purchase adequate tools, to help Africans get credit for better terms, to provide aid in time of illness or accident, and to develop a spirit of African solidarity. The cooperatives spread all around West Africa and proved of great value especially in the 1930s—despite local corruption of administrators and African chiefs alike—in many areas serving as the model for modern cooperatives in independent Africa. Ponty was genuinely concerned about the problem of credit for many African farmers, how they easily got in debt; the governor-general personally attacked and defeated a scheme backed by important financial interests to institute a thirty percent interest rate in French West Africa: “It is not possible for the administration to authorize the collection of such onerous interest … without seriously compromising its responsibilities toward the natives.” 32
Ponty’s concern for the welfare of his subjects is further illustrated by his staunch resistance to increasing the head tax, which many colonialists were calling for:

It is true that the personal tax is very moderate, varying from .25 to 5.00 francs per head in different regions; at any rate, in my view, the present rate constitutes the maximum that we can legitimately require. It would be impolitic to increase it; it’s only by improving our censuses that we can increase the yield.

Despite his enthusiasm for railway building, he argued against the idea that railways were designed to show a profit; rather, they were the means of subsidizing the development of agriculture. “By adjusting tariffs,” Ponty declared, “we can best stimulate the development of agriculture.” 33 He projected the goal of eventually substituting rice from the Niger valley for that from India, currently eaten by Europeans, and having cheap rail services to transport products to the ports was essential.
Ponty did have his share of economic problems. He geared up French West Africa for a share of the lucrative rubber market just as the world market became depressed, thanks to overproduction in Malaysia. He was aware that imports were constantly increasing in French West Africa, that the colony was dependent on foreign oil, rice, and cotton, within the framework of modified free trade (only after World War I did the French put the colony on a stricter schedule of protection). And increasingly he was criticized for allowing Syrians and Lebanese to continue immigration begun just before the turn of the century: criticism came from smaller French businessmen, whom these thrifty traders first jeopardized, and later by African merchants, who also felt threatened.
In the area of administrative achievements, it is fair to observe that French West Africa never in its sixty-five year existence had a better prepared governor-general than William Ponty. Ponty had the further advantage of being in power at a formative time when he could, in fact, serve as a lawmaker, although theoretically he was only to promulgate decrees from France. In actual practice, Ponty deserved his gubernatorial title with the Africans as Borom of Dakar, and he conveyed this image of “master” of West Africa with aplomb and style. Villard characterized this as a mixture of “good humor, spirit, and skillfulness.” Ponty was not offended—as were later governors-general—by genteel satirists in local newspapers who called him “Seigneur Guillaume I de l’A.O.F.” or “Guglielmo Ponty Africano.” In fact, there is good reason to assume that Mody M’Baye, early Senegalese intellectual gadfly and écrivain public, had Ponty in mind when he wrote his famous essay on the two types of colonial Frenchmen and how Africans should learn to identify and cope with them: the one who comes to Africa to exploit the natives, whom the African should mistrust; and the other, the bon français, who comes to Africa to help the natives and who thinks:

I take the opportunity of showing my love for and my gratitude to my country. In joining its service, I took an oath … that I would be like a father to the people in my charge. My most important task would be to educate them, and to make them into free men, capable of running their own affairs.

M’Baye argued that this kind of Frenchman could be trusted. Ponty was respected by fledgling elites and traditional chiefs alike as the model of desirable republican values 34
Devotion to duty was ingrained in Ponty and he expected the same standard of total commitment from his subordinates. He married only late in his career and argued that administrators who brought their families to Africa lost approximately fifty percent of their efficiency: “The comfort of the hearth [is] detrimental to good colonial administration.” 35 This also reflected the fact that times were changing in two ways: first, fewer administrators lived with African women, which had been a time-honored way of initiation into the coutumes du pays (more European women now arrived with their husbands—Ponty’s marriage followed this trend); second, as a result—and thanks to improved roads and to autos fewer administrators took frequent tours into the bush. General Gallieni set a brisk pace in Madagascar by constantly moving about like a medieval prince, and so did Ponty. It was personal contact that counted, and Ponty later took pride in the “old school of administrators” as being composed of those who knew “little about official regulations.” The Journal officiel of French West Africa is filled with descriptions of Ponty’s official tours during his tenure, which give credence to his reputation of being warmly respected and welcomed by African chiefs; in March 1911, for example, he visited the Fama of Sansanding, an old friend, “pour lequel M. Ponty a conservé une amitié pleine d’estime.” 36
Ponty’s greatest fame as an administrator was gained for his politique des races (discussed subsequently), which was a reflection of his interest in trying to mold and develop African leadership for French goals. Aware of the discrepancies between salaries and benefits of French and African bureaucrats and auxiliaries, he was the first high official to propose that African employees qualify for a pension after loyal service to France. Ponty described this as “cette politique qui tend à associer de plus les indigènes à notre oeuvre,” and he fought for African bureaucrats to share in liberal colonial pensions. This was the caisses de retraites for local agents, which affected Africans who were in the administrative service. Ponty seems not to have been a party to the policy that eliminated many Africans from government service after the turn of the century. To the contrary, in 1911 he announced that “I intend to make greater use of native elements in the creation of various lesser cadres.” 37
Ponty was also vigorous in his pursuit of educational reforms; today he is probably best known for the William Ponty School, originally a normal school, which was named for him after his death and which in its heyday (1920s to 1950s) was the most important postprimary school in French black Africa. He followed the anticlerical lead of Roume in maintaining a hard line on Catholic religious congregations and favoring the development of secular schools. In Ponty’s view, the essential subject was French so that the interpreter, whom he thought wielded too much power, could be eliminated: “The primordial condition for the success and duration of our domination resides in the natives’ acquiring our language as rapidly as possible.” He urged African chiefs to take advantage of the free French schools and to enroll their sons. He was cool to Catholic and Islamic educational institutions alike, if under French sponsorship, because animist Africans might be offended. His circular of May 8, 1911, forbade future use of Arabic in local court cases and in all administrative correspondence, thus compelling local Islamic elites to master French or hire translators and to send their sons to French classes. Ponty, however was not totally anti-Islamic and took pride in 1908 in the conversion of the “Ecole des fils de chefs et des interprètes” in Saint-Louis, founded by Faidherbe, into a medersa for teaching Koranic subjects—but under French control. And in the area of publications under Ponty’s direction, the first colonial journal for education was inaugurated in 1913, Bulletin mensuel de l’enseignement 38
Ponty was not infallible in administrative affairs. One excellent example of his lack of judgment was Dahomey, probably farthest from Dakar in terms of colonial interest. During these years Dahomey was a brutally run colony, with Africans subject to indignities and possibly the worst French administration in West Africa. Ponty refused to face these realities and once announced to Paris that “Dahomey is a happy colony, a country almost devoid of history.” He shared the bias and interest of Faidherbe for the upper Guinea coast and the Sudan; Dahomey was simply out of his ken.
In the related administrative area of medicine and sanitation, Ponty established a strong reputation in France as a farsighted leader. For example, he developed hundreds of dispensaries for medical treatment in the bush; he obtained funds for and stimulated campaigns against smallpox, yellow fever, sleeping sickness, and especially bubonic plague, which had struck Dakar. Ponty was denounced by African elites and chiefs alike for ordering the burning of towns and villages where unsanitary conditions were determined by health officials to be fostering the spread of plague; it even became a political issue in the hotly contested election of Blaise Diagne to the chamber of deputies as Senegal’s representative in 1914. But Ponty held firm, convinced that modern public health services were badly needed by African urban society. New bacteriological stations at Bamako and Bingerville were founded under his direction; the famous African hospital at Dakar was finished and put into operation; new doctors and auxiliaries were recruited; and Humbert in 1913 observed that “the governor-general neglects nothing.” Ponty was also lionized for his fight against alcoholism, which at first glance seems strange for the representative of a colonial power eager to export its wines and cognacs. His opposition to African consumption of hard liquor and spirits was actually aimed more at imports from Britain; he was pleased when French wine imports increased in French West Africa and observed that the Africans “are now learning to appreciate our civilization.” 39

Achievements in Native and Military Policy

William Ponty is probably best known in the literature on French colonialism for his native policy referred to as politique des races (policy of races), which established him as the leading practitioner of the new policy of association. His philosophy on governing traditional African societies evolved during his years in the Sudan and came to fruition in his famous 1909 circular after completing an inspection trip across French West Africa 40. During his governor-generalship Ponty refined this statement and tried to establish a coherent policy in relation to African chiefs and traditional societies, Islamic leaders and communities, and emerging urban elites—especially in coastal Senegal—and in the area of justice indigène (native court system). In so doing, he laid the foundation for French colonial policy in the twentieth century, which was later expanded upon and reinterpreted by governors-general Clozel, Van Vollenhoven, Merlin, Carde, and Brevié
Having participated in the conquest of the Sudan, having fought or been allied with many of the most important African chieftains of the day, Ponty considered himself knowledgeable on native policy and conveyed in his speeches this sense of having mastered African manners, mores, and mentality. Before considering his formal doctrine of la politique des races, however, it is necessary to look at Ponty’s fundamental assumptions about Africa, Africans, and their society. This is what can be termed republican paternalism—that is, an unswerving commitment to and loyalty toward the French Third Republic and its bourgeois, anticlerical, and materialistic ideals. Ponty was a recruit to colonial life in the “heroic age” of conquest: training in Paris just as the ministry of colonies was organized as a separate department of government; participating in the Sudan wars; called upon to lead the transition from military to civilian rule. He learned his colonial philosophy firsthand in black Africa, and this took—in addition to his dyed-in-the-wool republicanism—a paternalistic bent. That is, Ponty was in sympathy to and identified with his African charges in an emotional, personal way that differed from the attitude of colonial commanders more inflexible and less sympathetic to African problems (one thinks of his contemporaries Raphaël Antonetti, later to become infamous as builder of the Congo-Ocean railroad; Martial Merlin, who systematically persecuted urban elite Africans; and Gabriel Angoulvant, the strong-armed “pacifier” of the Ivory Coast). Ponty was not “soft” although he was sensitive and sympathetic.
It was this sensitivity that caused more than one observer to remark that Ponty was trop bon or très humain. It was at the root of his apparent popularity with peasant, chief, and urban elite alike, something few other governors could manage. Ponty interpreted French colonialism in this way when the question of land use was raised: “Our colony was not established to facilitate the emigration of white workers. The blacks, who are now our partners, make perfect settlers.” 41 This, then, was a form of partnership—the blacks as collaborators with the French; Africans were colonists to work with the French for development. The incongruity of Africans as colonists in their own land never occurred to Ponty; his views—expressed, after all, in 1908—were liberal for the day, putting the African at the center of the colonial stage. But he stopped short of believing that Africans were full partners, and it is this emphasis that turns his sympathy, understanding, and real love for them into paternalism. Clozel, asked to comment on Ponty’s policies, replied, “We follow the policy of association, which permits us to bring the natives even closer to us.” Ponty thought it was France’s mission to win the Africans’ goodwill, to bring them to respect (faire aimer) France and what it stood for: universal republican principles.
A good example of this was his championing of land use for Africans. “We have renounced,” he told the governors assembled in the governing council, “vast agricultural concessions that have never given expected results. It’s the African cultivator who more than anyone else is at the heart of agricultural production.” Ponty then issued a warning to potential plantation owners: “European enterprises should not be allowed to be established to the detriment of African landholdings, which it is our duty to encourage, support, and guarantee.” 42 Ponty emerges here as the great protector of African society—which he was, certainly, in his own mind—but the ultimate benefit is always to France. His insistence on the power and the glory going to the metropole identifies Ponty, despite his liberalism and real empathy, as a colonial paternalist.
This attitude is further revealed in a word often employed by Ponty to describe his method in native policy: apprivoisement. Some commentators have translated apprivoisement into English as “taming”; that is, Ponty wanted to tame the Africans. This construal misses the intention of his thought; a better translation would be “to become accustomed.” He wanted the Africans to become acclimated to French rule, to like the French, to work with them as junior partners, and—as we shall see—in exceptional cases (such as that of the urban elites) to become black Frenchmen, that is, to become assimilated. But Ponty was not an assimilationist: his long tenure had convinced him of the worth of African society and he did not wish to destroy its fabric; his practicality told him that association was the only workable policy for the millions of new subjects France added to its colonial empire during the conquest. Such was the nature of Ponty’s republican paternalism. Let us now examine his own doctrines.
The policy of races, a phrase Ponty had used often during his governorship of the Sudan, was the subject of the circular of September 22, 1909. This circular may be taken as the foundation of native policy in West Africa in the twentieth century. Ponty begins not with a hard line or firm orders to his subordinates: rather his first words reveal the tenor of the circular: “It is undeniable today that in order to produce positive and lasting results, our administration should become flexible toward the diverse modalities of native policy.” He then sets out the basis for this policy: “Now it seems possible today to formulate this policy into a body of principles derived from a greater understanding that we now have of the psychology of our subjects, from our constant concern not to offend them in their customs, in their beliefs, and even in their superstitions.” But the heart of his policy was that African traditional societies should be governed by leaders drawn from their own people—a kind of local nationalism. Ponty accepted the idea that African chiefs were desirable and were to be part of the French colonial establishment, but he insisted that they be drawn from their own people. He opposed “carpetbaggers” from other ethnic groups or from other regions and especially the imposition of Islamic chiefs over non-Islamic peoples. Ponty was striking particularly hard at leaders of areas ruled by their erstwhile conquerors; the problem of local imperialism he expressed as the “commandements indigènes purement territoriaux calqués sur les anciennes principautés locales.” 43
How did this approach harmonize with French colonial doctrines of centralized, direct rule, so often contrasted to the doctrines of Frederick Lugard in British areas, often known as indirect rule? For Ponty, “purifying” native African rulers meant that France would in effect have greater control over its subjects; that by ousting traditional kings, warlords, and mercenaries who flunked the ethnic test, France put itself in a position to appoint African chiefs who would be partners with France, who could be led to aimer la France. The policy of races, then, assumed the widespread appointment in French West Africa of chiefs at the regional and canton levels since it was recognized there would never be enough Frenchmen to provide total direct rule. Paul Marty, an Islamic affairs officer who admired Ponty, summed this up: “He has freed all ethnic groups; he has proclaimed the equal human value of all peoples and their right of existence; he has brought back to life peoples who were dying under social and religious oppression.”
Ponty further argued that his goal was to establish closer contact between the ruler and the ruled, and by having handpicked chiefs who would serve as French auxiliaries he would be able to transmit his republican values. “We should continue,” he said, “to surround them [as we have done] with external signs of honor and esteem; to fulfill the obligations that we have contracted toward them; and to utilize their services by making them auxiliaries in our administration.” He wished to bypass the interpreter as well as the alien chief; he wanted a chief who spoke the language of the people administered- but also the language of the conquerors, French, to encourage closer contact. Ponty also urged more frequent tours by his French administrators. During his first week in Dakar as governor-general he established an “open door policy” whereby Africans could carry on palavers.

We must act wisely in the generous tradition of our people. We must draw the people near to us so that they come into direct contact with the administration. Our native policy will become wholly effective only when it becomes sufficiently flexible so as to influence the masses, to shape them in some measure, enabling them to evolve according to the needs of their milieu, and without doing them injury 44

Ponty also urged his administrators to study local customs in order to better understand their subjects.
Was Ponty anti-Islamic? In 1911 he retorted critics’ remarks that he was
against Muslim populations: “It is not part of my policy to interfere with the legitimate exercise of the Muslim religion. … [I]t is against what I’ve called Muslim clericalism, the marabout, who distorts the doctrine.” Ponty argued that he wanted protection for the two-thirds of the population who were animist in persuasion. Paul Marty, who helped (with Robert Arnaud) to develop the governor-general’s Islamic policy felt that Ponty was not hostile to Islam despite the fact that he forbade Arabic in official correspondence; “the greatest liberalism” guided the governor-general, who maintained with the great Mauritanian and black sheiks “the most friendly of personal relations.” 45 And it was Ponty who finally ended more than a decade of French persecution of Amadou Bamba, founder and spiritual leader of the Mourides sect, prominent especially in Senegal; Bamba had been exiled but finally returned under house arrest. Ponty flattered Bamba, sought his advice, and eventually enlisted his aid in recruiting Senegalese for the armée noire. Later, when Ponty died, Bamba composed an ode to his greatness, calling him “sultan” and “master” of the country. Whether this was cooption is difficult to say, but it was an indication of a successful Islamic policy.
Early in his administration Ponty and other French officials became concerned about possible links between the Muslims in French West Africa and those under the jurisdiction of the Ottoman sultan in Turkey. He sent Arnaud and later Marty to study different tariqas and marabouts to determine whether France’s African subjects would be loyal and whether there was danger of subversion and propaganda from Turkey. In a world rapidly moving toward conflict, foreshadowed by diplomatic alignments, French colonial officials feared hostility in their own domains. Arnaud, in his L’Islam et politique musulmane française, emphasized that the “West African Muslim has not in any way been influenced by political developments in the Ottoman Empire…. [T]he black Muslim ignores the revolutionary dogmas of these modern times.” 46 Moreover, when war came in 1914, Ponty was flooded with a number of affirmations of loyalty from diverse Islamic holy men across French West Africa, many of whom knew Ponty personally. Marty reported that Ponty had not requested this show of support, had issued no statement or proclamation; it was a genuine outpouring of respect.
Under Ponty’s orders, a research office on Islamic groups and leaders in West Africa was established so that pro-French marabouts could be rewarded and hostile ones closely watched. Ponty was also mindful that Islam was making great progress under the French banner, possibly greater than before the conquest; this is why he wanted protection for animist groups and why he wanted to destroy many of the older chieftainships, a majority of which were Islamic and had been imposed: “We must destroy all hegemony of one race over another, combat the influence of local aristocracies, and suppress the great chieftainships, which are almost always a barrier between us and the people and which work to the profit of Muslim clericalism.” 47 Ponty, the good republican, remained on the attack against both clericalism and aristocracy. His commissioned intelligence in Islamic affairs made him respect the specialist and caused him to set his subordinates studying African societies so they could be better administrators. However, the war came before Ponty’s schemes could bear fruit in other than Islamic affairs; consequently, later critics such as Maurice Delafosse and Joost Van Vollenhoven thought Ponty had been anti-intellectual and disdainful of native policy research; the record does not support this claim. To the contrary, Ponty gave the impetus to this movement and inspired Clozel, who, after Ponty’s death, laid the groundwork for what was to become the famous Institut français de l’Afrique noire (IFAN).
Ponty’s “policy of races” placed special emphasis on the reform of the native court system. Here Ponty was clearly ahead of his times since he valued Africans as persons and wanted a better system for protecting them against administrative whim or abuse. The decree of November 10, 1903, had set up French West Africa’s basic judicial system, but Ponty and other veterans of African bush life believed the system was badly conceived and in need of overhaul. The reorganization, comprising seven chapters and fifty-five articles, was personally supervised by Ponty and announced in the decree of August 16, 1912; he considered it one of his greatest triumphs. Ponty’s instructions give a brief idea of his intentions: “Our judicial organization guarantees to the natives the maintenance of their customs. Tribunals … will be composed of judges who follow the same customs as the parties coming before them. … The claimant will have the certainty of being judged according to his traditions.” Special tribunals would be created for Africans living in the midst of a dominant ethnic group in order to protect minority rights. Ponty wanted to follow the general rule that local customs should determine punishments—except in well-defined areas such as murder, where French law would prevail—and should not allow punishments involving mutilation, torture, or ritual murder. He believed that Africans would be thankful for the reforms, that such an “equitable” system would draw them to French rule, and that it would help develop them intellectually, morally, and materially, His judicial reform was consistent with the policy of races, emphasizing ethnic and local differences. He said if a book were written about colonial accomplishments he would not hesitate to offer his justice reforms “as the prologue.” 48
The year after these reforms Ponty went further by announcing his intention to modify the indigénat, France’s system of administrators who had disciplinary powers that were not dependent on court hearings. Created during the conquest in 1887, this system seemed to Ponty to be out of step with his reforms, especially since he believed the Africans had shown “goodwill” in early recruitment operations. French officials could imprison an African for two weeks without trial after a summary judgment. Ponty may have been influenced also by the celebrated Mody M’Baye case. As mentioned before, M’Baye was an African scribe and a permanent gadfly in Senegalese political matters. In 1913, after publishing critical articles, M’Baye was thrown into prison on a summary judgment by Paul Brocard, administrator of Sine-Saloum in Senegal. M’Baye appealed directly to Ponty, arguing that since he was born in Saint-Louis he was actually a French citizen and hence not subject to the indigénat. Ponty’s subordinates had weathered M’Baye’s attacks for years and were delighted Brocard had finally put him in jail. But Ponty, aware that M’Baye was well connected in France to the civil rights organization League for the Rights of Man, ordered M’Baye freed. The lieutenant governor for Senegal, Henri Cor, was astounded. Ponty explained that he believed the administrator had handed out a sentence far too stiff for merely authoring an article; that public opinion in France was now hostile to applying the indigénat; and that it was perfectly normal for the African to appeal to a higher authority. (Ponty often was criticized behind his back by colleagues for intervening in affairs of this type, especially in Senegal, where political consciousness was growing among urban Africans.) 49
Ponty also made a major contribution to relations with emerging African elites. In retrospect, it is apparent that Ponty favored—indeed, fostered—advancement of Africans known as elites, or évolués. This is remarkable because the veteran of the bush, such as Maurice Delafosse, usually was antagonistic to the city African. Yet Ponty in his paternalism seems at times to have embraced Senegalese creoles (mulattoes) and originaires (inhabitants of the “Four Communes” comprising Saint Louis, Gorée, Dakar, and Rufisque. Their inhabitants were French citizens and enjoyed representative institutions.) His ambivalence is illustrated by two examples: it was Ponty who first proposed reforming Senegal’s conseil général, the preserve of elite mulatto politicians, in order to cut its power and aid traditional chiefs; yet he early favored the idea that urban African elites from the Four Communes should have the right to vote in local elections regardless of where they lived. This ambivalence caused consternation among both elites and traditional Africans and is best explained by the fact that Ponty was above all a paternalist; if he could help or promote Africans in their milieu he would do so, provided they were loyal to France. Recall that it was Mody M’Baye, despite his published attacks on the administration, who earlier had proclaimed his loyalty to the good Frenchman, the one who stood for the principles of the French revolution. In 1909 Ponty had also tried unsuccessfully to get the ministry of colonies to authorize a number of rural Africans to vote in the Senegalese local elections. How did this interest in African elites, who were supposed to be products of assimilation, square with the doctrine of association, for which Ponty was now a leading spokesman?
Like many Frenchmen of his day, Ponty accepted the idea of evolution and applied it to non-European peoples. In his mind, some Africans were more ready for advancement to French civilization than others; he would help each group, whether elite, Islamic, or animist, toward closer association with France. There is no question that Ponty was well liked by many tradtional chiefs; his tours often spawned rivalries between local leaders who vied to entertain the governor-general. He won over such Islamic leaders as Amadou Bamba and counted the support of the powerful Sheik Sidia of Mauritania50. But at the same time Ponty cultivated mulatto deputy Franpois Carpot of Senegal, representative of the old creole Catholic elite of Saint-Louis and Gorée, which had wielded much economic and political power in the nineteenth century. Idowu, in his excellent study of the conseil général of Senegal, concluded that Roume and Governor Camille Guy of Senegal had favored taking away political rights of the Senegalese, but that William Ponty objected, arguing that “the Senegalese deserved keeping their rights because of their long and loyal devotion to France.” 51 Roume and Guy wanted to abolish the conseil général; but Ponty, the good republican, worked to reform it so that rural as well as urban areas would be represented. In Ponty’s mind the ultimate goal was eventual assimilation since bringing Africans into the council was another step in developing their loyalty to France.
Beside M’Baye and the council, the most important urban elite problem for Ponty was the election of Blaise Diagne as Senegalese deputy in 1914. Diagne was the first full-blooded black African elected to the French Parliament, and his election caught officialdom by surprise. Even Ponty had predicted that mulatto party leader Carpot would be reelected. After the first election, when Diagne led the field, Ponty was embarrassed by not being prepared for the victory of the majority black voters; the ministry of colonies thundered telegrams at him demanding explanations. Ponty still thought the French backed candidate, Heimburger, would win. When Diagne took the runoff election, Ponty had to send a special report to Paris. Pressures on Ponty were great. First, the French business candidate was defeated; second, mulatto leader Carpot went down to defeat; both of these groups contested the idea that a simple African could win the coveted election to sit in Paris and brought pressure to invalidate the election. Moreover, many of Ponty’s colonial administrators were alarmed by the prospect of a member of the African elite in high office. Ponty himself observed that “between the primary and runoff, Diagne was without scruple in threatening us with African strikes.” 52 (Diagne had actually argued that unless French businessmen extended credit to African customers, he would call for strikes.)
In the face of enormous pressure to stop Diagne, Ponty received a report from Raphaël Antonetti, acting governor of Senegal, that suggested that Ponty should buy off Diagne, possibly with a high administrative post in France, or that it could be arranged simply to “get rid of him.” Ponty left out these suggestions in filing his report to Paris although he must have been sorely tempted. After the election, bubonic plague broke out in Dakar; Ponty’s orders were to burn part of the city and Diagne incited the Africans to rioting and resistance. Moreover, Ponty complained that Diagne was picking on him (the latter had sent telegrams of protest to high officials in Paris). Ponty’s report on the election hinted that Diagne himself was ineligible to vote and hence could not be a candidate, but Ponty stopped short of suggesting that he not take his seat.
Available evidence suggests that Ponty’s republican principles dictated his attitude: that Diagne had won a free election and that he was entitled to his political reward—despite the dire consequences predicted. And there is one unknown quantity: the fact that both Diagne and Ponty were members of the Grand Orient, France’s most prestigious Masonic lodge 53. Did Ponty leave the way open for his fraternal brother? There seems to be no question that Ponty could have stopped Diagne, at least in the early stages, but the fact that he did not strongly reinforces the view that his republican paternalism was applied equally to African elites.
Ponty did not articulate a policy vis-à-vis elites in official circulars. However, his attitudes and actions suggest an implicit policy of tolerance and encouragement. By freeing Mody M’Baye (who could have been left in jail under terms of the indigénat), by working for a broader representation in the conseil général (when he could have aligned with Roume and Guy to abolish it), and by not quashing Diagne, Ponty showed his basic liberal tendencies. In return, when he died La Démocratie, chief journal for the elites, praised Ponty and lamented his passing. It is probably not an exaggeration to say that political movement in Senegal of Diagne, Galandou Diouf, Lamine Guèye, Tiécouta Diop, and the Jeunes Sénégalais could not have survived but for the implicit recognition of Ponty. For this reason Ponty may be characterized as the most liberal governor toward Africans until de Coppet in 1936, and among certain political militants of the prewar period Ponty’s name has the same ring as that of Faidherbe. Both have weathered the nationalist writing of history; whereas Merlin, Antonetti, Angoulvant, Van Vollenhoven, and others have often suffered stinging critiques 54
In summary, Ponty’s native policy was an attempt to give French West Africa a modus operandi consistent with France’s republican ideals and stated colonial needs, on the one hand, and humane and sensitive to the needs of French subjects, on the other. In the Ponty differed from earlier administrators, who were interested in consolidating the military conquest; this policy was a departure, from the approach of non-Africanist Ernest Roume, who was interested principally in administrative and budgetary organization and who created a workable structure for Ponty. But none of these persons tried to bring together elements of an African policy as did Ponty. To be sure, Ponty was building on Algeria, Faidherbe, and other models and legacies. Another difference is that Ponty was a popular governor, better known among the people than any other governor-general of his time; there was a sense of relief when he replaced “the cold and aloof Roume.” Ponty was not a theoretician but a pragmatist who wanted his méthode—in the full French sense of the word—employed by his subordinates for the greater glory of France. His devotion, patriotism, emotional attachment to Africa and Africans, and his reason for an enlightened native policy are summed up in a speech he gave before his council of government in 1912: “Excuse me for giving such a long report … please remember that a great part of my life, and all of my career, have been spent in this country, and that I love French West Africa in the same way one can love his homeland, and I have the same hopes and ambitions for its greatness.” 55
Closely related to native policy was Ponty’s military policy, understanding of which is essential to understanding of his administration. We have seen that Ponty spent his early years with military men conquering the Sudan and that when he was elevated to the governor-generalship one reason advanced was his strong rapport with the military. His activities in the military sphere can be divided into three phases: pacification, border settlements, and the armée noire.
“Pacification” is a word that was never wholly accurate; today’s historian has difficulty using it. Yet it appears in the literature, and Ponty believed one of his great accomplishments had been to finish the pacification of French West Africa. To him, this meant a small-scale effort on the model of France’s final campaign against African resistance leader Samory Touré. The stakes were high, for Ponty believed that feudalism (and invariably resistance leaders were viewed as tyrants) is the enemy of republicanism and hence that France possessed the right to destroy leaders and institutions of the ancien régime. Ponty and his colleagues deduced that any African resistance to French rule must be an aberration impeding progress and should be rooted out. Thus, both as governor of the Sudan and as governor-general, Ponty sanctioned and rewarded pacification campaigns.
Perhaps the most hotly contested movements were in the Ivory Coast, where Gabriel Angoulvant was lieutenant governor. Ponty openly criticized policy and methods in the Ivory Coast, and little love was lost between these two commanders. Ponty felt more at home in the more northerly areas, and he gloried in military campaigns in Mauritania, Tibesti, Upper Guinea, and Upper Casamance in Senegal 56
He felt that once the foe was vanquished, he should immediately be invited to join the victor: “From our enemies of yesterday, we will make our auxiliaries of today.” He lauded Colonel Laperrine, who recaptured Gao with méharistes nomads, “which shows what can be accomplished with police forces composed of elements recruited from desert populations.” Ponty was critical of the southern colonies such as Dahomey and Ivory Coast because they had not always followed his policy of races, which he believed was the key to pacification. But by the time of his death in 1915 he had not eliminated the need for pacification: African resistance had continued in numerous areas and would increase in violence during World War I 57. In the context of his tenure as chief of several colonies, however, Ponty believed—and with good reason in that day—that his policies had resulted in the pacification of many areas, and he bragged to Paris about his success.
Another military task eventually handed over to the diplomats was that of defining borders between colonies in West Africa. Ponty pushed hard for commissions to work out quarrels over boundaries, rights of passage, commercial tariffs, and other matters with Liberia, Portugal, Britain, and Germany. During his years in office most of these questions were eventually resolved, and Ponty even embarked upon a goodwill tour to Liberia. The Journal officiel of French West Africa listed the delimitation of the federation’s borders as one of Ponty’s outstanding accomplishments 58
His military policy hinged on the creation of the armée noire, a logical extension of the tirailleurs sénégalais of Faidherbe and the African troops first used by Archinard in the Sudan conquest. Ponty had marched with Archinard and seen the valorous African infantrymen in battle; he learned to respect African military capabilities and, in turn, earned the respect of African soldiers. Archinard had been the first to use these troops mainly by themselves, often without French support troops or cadres, and his results were encouraging. They also seemed impressive to two young men, Charles Mangin and William Ponty, who two decades later jointly would become the principal architects of France’s black African army. Mangin published a book in 1910, La Force noire, which has been credited (or blamed) for setting in motion black Africa’s contribution to France’s World War I army 59. A careful reading of the record suggests that such groups as the Comité de l’Afrique française favored having black troops as auxiliaries, available to substitute for regular troops, which might be recalled from North Africa for metropolitan duty. France faced the problem of demographic stagnation and theorists of the day wondered openly how in a showdown France’s forces could combat the numerically superior Germans? African troops had been used for short-term reinforcements in Morocco, but the alarm was sounded from Algeria, where local residents argued strongly against the deployment of black troops there. In this context, therefore, the groups supporting the idea that black Africa might be tapped for manpower decided upon a mission to study the question, and Mangin was picked to head it.
Most accounts omit the fact that Ponty requested the mission in the first place and that it is unlikely it could have succeeded without his close cooperation. He early recognized the value for France of using African soldiers, and in Paris he became a part of the inner circle that planned the orchestration of the campaign to use black troops. Marc Michel has called this group “les Soudanais” because many had served with Archinard in the Sudan. The first public notice that Mangin and Ponty were working in concert was in L’Afrique francaise for May 1910 where it was announced that

Monsieur Ponty, governor-general of West Africa, requested that a special mission be sent to Africa to study the organization of the recruitment of black troops; the minister of colonies has entrusted the mission to Lieutenant colonel Mangin and to Captain Cornet of the colonial infantry and administrators Le Herisse and Guignard

Such early dispatches and commentaries make it clear that the mission had orinated with Ponty, but in later years his name disappeared from accounts, especially since he died during the war and was survived by Mangin, who wrote several books on the subject 60
Some influential colonial figures were against the idea. Governor Peuvergne of Senegal, for example, during the next month gave his endorsement but warned that “it was never the intention of the public powers to send a black army outside of French West Africa.” Then, in his report to the council of government in June 1910, Ponty clarified speculations on Mangin’s mission: they hoped to recruit 5,000 men yearly, to compose a reserve force of 20,000 “stationed in our coastal cities but available to the government to be employed wherever needed.” He also announced the departure of another battalion of tirailleurs for Algeria to add to the two sent in 1908 to Morocco. And by November 1910 L’Afrique française reported that Mangin had completed his travels and had found that “the conclusions of the mission confirm the possibilities of creating a reservoir for the project that M. Ponty, governor-general, has established.” 61
Ponty and Mangin had worked closely on the first general enlistment of July 1907 to July 1908, during which 7,868 blacks were recruited for new battalions in the French Congo, the home guard in the French West Africa, and the two battalions mentioned for Morocco. This success had encouraged both men to ask for more troops. In 1910, the French authorities set up a study mission, which Ponty had believed would convince Parliament to grant their request. Ponty had not favored conscription (as did Mangin) but realized volunteers would be insufficient; so he came out for the doctrine of recruitment a l’amiable, which meant putting the burden on individual African chiefs to come up with quotas of recruits. His successor, Clozel, later wrote that he did not share Ponty’s enthusiasm for this idea and doubted that Africans would respond; nevertheless, they were forced to cooperate, and Ponty seemed justified in his assumption of the wisdom of taking Africans into partnership in the military arena—an extension of his pacification policy of “enemies yesterday, auxiliaries today.” 62
Mangin’s team visited almost all cercles in French West Africa, held more than 100 palavers with major chiefs, and wrote 63detailed subreports with impressive documentation. Michel suggests that with approval from “collaborating chiefs” and urban Africans of Senegal and Dahomey—who aspired to assimilation via military service—and with Ponty’s support, Mangin was able to convince his superiors that such recruiting should take place. With Archinard’s patronage, Paris issued the decree of February 7, 1912, which authorized limited recruitment of Africans for four years.
The new proposal was called the Plan Ponty and had as a goal the recruitment of 5,000 Africans per year for the next four years—precisely what Mangin had wanted. Ponty’s political pragmatism helped carry the day for Mangin; as Davis commented, “[Ponty’s] recognized competence in colonial affairs, and the fact that he was not a military man, made the Plan Ponty of perhaps greater significance for the time being than Mangin’s ideas.” Ponty wanted the chiefs to have sole responsibility for finding the young men for military service, but few chiefs would take the responsibility—the onus—of recruiting from their own people. Within a few months Africans were fleeing to neighboring colonies such as Gambia to avoid the draft, and news reached Paris that some administrators threw aside voluntary enlistments and simply moved toward conscription. Le Temps observed that the situation would be put in order when Ponty returned to Africa from Paris, that recruiting had been mainly in Senegal, and that it needed to be extended to other colonies 63
From 1912 through 1914, 16,000 men were recruited in French West Africa, mostly in Senegal, Sudan, and Guinea. But protests continued, administrators did not share Ponty’s enthusiasm, and—with complaints coming from French business houses—recruitment went back to a voluntary basis just before the outbreak of the war. As Michel points out in his seminal article, Mangin had not, in effect, been able to create his reservoir of black troops for France. Yet the precedent was established, and once the war started Ponty quickly recruited more men. Moreover, as Michel emphasizes, the idea—and morality—of drafting colonial subjects was now established firmly in French public opinion. When war broke out in August 1914 Ponty justified his years of support of the African troops and made recruitment the number one item on his agenda until his death the next year. The black troops to serve in France left Morocco on August 10, 1914, in time to participate in the battle of the Marne, where they suffered heavy losses. Other battalions from Morocco arrived in October, and during the rest of the war there was a constant stream of men from French West Africa for the armies of France. The troops of Mangin and Ponty were useful if deployed properly (not in the winter months) and earned a reputation for bravery under fire. When Georges Clemenceau became prime minister in 1917, he wanted more Africans for a badly depleted French army. Joost Van Vollenhoven, the new governor-general of French West Africa, balked at recruiting more Africans (he feared widespread rebellion), but Clemenceau bypassed him and sent Senegalese deputy Blaise Diagne to conduct the 1918 recruting campaign. In total, 161,000 men were recruited during the war in addition to those recruited beforehand—a considerable effort by an African society that scarcely understood or had a stake in European wars 64
For Ponty, it was the crowning glory of his long colonial service: “It will be the proudest and most honorable moment of my career to have served at their head,” he told his lieutenant governors. In 1913 the Senegalese regiment won the Legion of Honor and Ponty boasted: “This sudden recognition by the government of our black soldiers … goes straight to the heart of the vieil Africain that I am; of the African who for more than twenty years has had the honor of marching at the side of these audacious troops.”
Ponty’s devotion to his tirailleurs eventually cost him his life since in early 1914 he began to suffer seriously from uremic poisoning and was advised by his doctors to sail for France and medical treatment. But he preferred to stay at his post, arguing that the war now made recruitment essential for France’s welfare and that to leave would be the equivalent of deserting one’s post in the midst of battle. Despite repeated warnings from doctors, friends, and his wife, Ponty clung tenaciously to his office, perhaps afraid his power might be seized by younger, ambitious men. Finally, on June 13, 1915, Ponty died in his baroque palace overlooking the Atlantic at Dakar, and countless Africans of the federation from Senegal to Niger went into mourning for the old Sudanese chief. Above all, there was sadness in the regiments of the 60,000 men he had recruited to fashion France’s force noire. It was, as the journal officiel observed, his “connaissance de l’âme et des milieux indigènes” that had made the armée noire possible 65

Personal Life and Conclusion

William Ponty’s personal life is mostly an unknown quantity because of the paucity of original personal materials. Glimpses of his personality can be picked up in published reports of official gatherings, such as the sincere praise given by Inspector General Guyho, who welcomed Ponty to Dakar in 1908: “You have the knack … of always remaining yourself, full of good humor and affable, whether in difficult or happy days.” His comrade in arms Camille Guy, with whom Ponty often disagreed, described him: “a very penetrating intelligence … nothing discourages him. … [He] possesses a will that no one can thwart … and shows smiling good humor in the face of fatigue and danger.” Fournier, Ponty’s finance director, observed that Ponty was said to have a lucky star but that actually Ponty rarely left anything to chance, always being prepared on smallest details when making a decision: “his instructions … will be models of clarity and sagacity for generations to come.” He believed that Ponty’s moderation in native policy was responsible for creating the climate of African loyalty, that his generosity disarmed his enemies. General Pineau, head of the French West African troops, called Ponty “the kind of delightful comrade full of good humor … whom you hated to leave and whom you wanted to keep track of.” Pineau confirmed the fact that Ponty was popular with troops in the army and that the organization of the black army succeeded thanks “to Governor Ponty and to him alone” because of his knack of cutting through red tape and inspiring African chiefs to cooperate. “We salute him for the last time. … [H]e succeeded in being our chief, but even more so our friend.” Antonetti said that Ponty’s name was the best known in black Africa—especially in the Sudan, where Africans often named children, favorite horses. and even villages after him 66
There is one source rich in personal materials but it should be used with caution. This is Robert Arnaud’s biographical novel of Ponty’s career, Le Chef de porte-plume, published in 1922, seven years after Ponty’s death. Arnaud, writing under the pen name of Robert Randau, describes Ponty (called Ledolmer) in his governor’s palace in Dakar, aging and meditating upon his past glories and mistakes. The action is seen through the eyes of a young aide, Tobie—presumably Arnaud himself, who was Ponty’s staff officer for Islamic affairs. The portrait of Ponty that emerges is often critical, at times pathetic, at times humorous, and it helps shed light on the inner man.
Ledolmer (Ponty) is famous for his knowledge of “the native mind” and for his interest in feminine companionship. Melancholy because he lacks a permanent relationship, Ledolmer finally surprises his mistresses and colleagues by going to France and bringing back a bride who was in show business. This corresponds with Ponty’s marriage in 1910 and with his difficulties in adjusting to marriage and to having his wife run the governor’s palace. Arnaud tells us that Madame Ledolmer sacks the old Bambara soldiers, who were Ponty’s trusted servants; to her the palace was a military barracks to be changed. Arnaud tells of the palace intrigues around Ledolmer with only thinly disguised characters; one subordinate is in reality Gabriel Angoulvant, whose ambition was to replace Ponty. We find Ponty tolerating the elite African politician Sissoko (read Diagne), who has defeated Ledolmer’s candidate at the polls. Tobie’s wife, Camille, describes his aging glory:

Poor Ledolmer was once a man in the mainstream of his time. Now he is old, and gaga, and full of himself. All he can do is to play father confessor to civil servants. When in his cups, he reminds me of the old type of piratical Corsican uncle from the Indian Ocean, Uncle Barbassou looking for a woman.

Arnaud describes Ponty’s palace, considered so magnificent by the Africans, as a place filled with “paintings purely second-rate, sent out by the undersecretary for beaux-arts … and a mantlepiece in the Louis Philippe style, but false.” From this gilded prison, Ledolmer commands his vast empire, lost without his old colleagues who have retired or died before him; he relives his battles against native tyrants, against slavers, savors his feminine conquests in Paris while on leave. “I’m no more virtuous than the next person,” he laments. “I’m not really concerned about such things, and I willingly excuse weaknesses except in the matter of duty.” He fondly recalls his old friends, the broussards, from the conquest: “We entered into the furnace together and because we were always in action, wound up without family, home, or posterity.” Ledolmer thunders to his assistant, “Never employ the term ‘subjects’ in administrative texts when speaking of the natives.” And on native policy he waxes eloquent, expatiating “with passion on his plans for social reform among the ‘least advanced’ black peoples of tropical Africa, but with extreme prudence, for he does not want to infringe upon even the smallest traditional right.” To his superintendent of education, Ledolmer frets about the dangers of assimilation: “Be careful! The students will become so Frenchified that they may pretend to be the only true Frenchmen!” 67
To the ladies, Ledolmer confides, “You see, Madame, I was born a good French bourgeois, but I have lived a life worthy of a hero of Fenimore Cooper.” Ledolmer passes in review the African troops leaving for Morocco, wishing them godspeed first in French, second in Bambara, and third in Tukulor (Poular). Their response to his sentiments is “noisy as sirens.” But one of his staff members complains: “He is the incarnation, in my view, of the colonial bohemian type. … [H]e likes only those who resemble him. He lives for the pleasure of his passions and claims that he has the constitution of a superman; in such a situation, it’s easy to become blind to his merits!” Ledolmer prides himself on his achievements as governor of a vast empire; he delights in telling his intimates, usually mistresses or admiring women, of his recipe for success; the self-confident charm shows through, the egotistical drive to succeed:

From a multitude of African cantons juxtaposed under my authority by the conquest, I have constituted an empire, a black France. I have the double honor of having surrounded myself with colleagues chosen from the elite and of having never had to share my power with anybody: I am a solitary figure. … It’s true, I have become, without realizing it, an African monarch.

Toward the end of the novel, when Ledolmer has finally married and become weak from keeping up with his young wife’s frenetic schedule, which includes endless receptions, bridge parties, and suppers that the old campaigner is ill-suited for, he philosophizes about his career. It is here that Arnaud provides us with his deepest insight into the twilight years of Ponty’s rule, and we see doubts about the French presence in Africa voiced by the vieil Africain:

Now then, my friends, there are times when I ask myself, why in the world did we come here? At the risk of our lives, we have made a lot of heroic gestures, but to what end? Our people will never adapt themselves to these tropical countries, where we will simply atrophy by interbreedings. Was it to build a fortune for several dozen merchants, more or less honest? Was it to teach the blacks, in hollow phrases, the paradoxes of Rousseau on human goodness and the social contract? These people here, they were used to simple ideas, to uncomplicated dogmas; we profoundly trouble their psychological makeup, even despite ourselves. And why? Will they some day constitute themselves into South American type republics, on the model of Liberia? We will have spilled our blood, wasted our money and energy to bring about the triumph of racial hatred. Do you think I could be very enthusiastic about having knocked myself out to help bring about such results? And don’t think that I’m exaggerating! The half-civilized inhabitants of the cities have their minds stuffed with the principles of 1789; they conclude only one thing: it’s necessary to get rid of the Europeans 68

Abbreviations used

  • ARS Archives de la R6publique du Sénégal (Dakar)
  • ANSOM Archives nationales, section outre-mer (Paris)
  • JOAOF journal officiel de l’Afrique occidentale française (Dakar)

1. Robert Arnaud [Robert Randau], Le Chef de porte-plume (Paris, 1922).
2. The French ministry of colonies was created later (1894) than the British. See William Cohen, Rulers of Empire (Stanford, 1971), pp. 19-21; also William Ponty, personnel dossier, ANSOM, EE (11) 1137 (6).
3. This helps explain his willingness to build an African army when most colonial officers, who by training and temperament were separate from the military, opposed such solutions; see memorandum by Maurice Delafosse for Joost Van Vollenhoven opposing recruiting during 1917, ARS, 2-G-17-4.
4. Maurice Delafosse, “L’Afrique occidentale française,” in Gabriel Hanotaux and Alfred Martineau, Histoire des colonies françaises (Paris, 1931) 4:184.
5. M. Fournier, speech, JOAOF, 19 June 1915 (p. 421).
6. William Ponty, speech, ibid., 4 February 1911 (p. 86); Camille Guy, speech, ibid.
7. Lieutenant colonel Humbert, note, 4 May 1892, Ponty personnel dossier, ANSOM.
8. Colonel Louis Archinard, note, 1892, Ponty personnel dossier, ANSOM; General Joseph S. Gallieni, notes, 18961897, ANSOM.
9. Robert Delavignette, Les Vrais Chefs de l’empire (Paris, 1939), available in translation as Freedom and authority in French West Africa (London, 1968).
10. Governor Ballay, note, 1899, Ponty personnel dossier, ANSOM.
11. Ponty, “Note sur la colonie du Haut-Sénégal-Niger,” ANSOM, Soudan 1, c. 11-bis.
12. Ibid.
13. In this case, Le Grand Orient, whose members filled many important posts in the upper echelons of French colonial administration; private communication from Robert Delavignette, Paris, 14 November 1964.
14. Donal Cruise O’Brien, Saints and Politicians (Cambridge, 1975), p. 94; Cohen, Rulers of Empire, pp. 123-126.
15. Governor Ballay, note, 1901, Ponty personnel dossier; Governor Roume, notes, 1902-1907, ANSOM.
16. Governor Raphaël Antonetti, speech, JOAOF, 19 June 1915 (p. 425). The psychology of the moment is heightened by Antonetti’s postscript: “Il faut avoir assisté à une telle scène pour se rendre compte de l’émotion qu’elle dégage. Ce grand chef des blancs qui avait reconnu un tirailleur et lui avait serré la main.”
17. Denise Bouche, Les Villages de liberté en Afrique noire française (Paris, 1968), pp. 93, 101-102.
18. Paul Marty, “La Politique indigène du gouverneur général Ponty,” Revue du monde musulman 31 (1915): 12-13.
19. Pierre Mille, “La Fin du régime de 1’esclavage,” L’Action nationale (July 1912): 500-508; Marty, “La Politique indigène,” pp. 1-28.
20. Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 12.
21. Ponty also made available seed for African farmers in many of the villages, ARS, 21-G-127-108; see also Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 12.
22. Roume had never visited Africa before; he was a maître des requêtes in 1892 and director of Asian affairs in 1895 at the colonial ministry. Le Soir (Paris), 11 November 1904, irreverently observed:
“Il fallait un Africain d’expérience…. [O]n a choisi un Indo-Chinois de Paris.”
23. Delafosse, L’Afrique occidentale française, pp. 348-349; see also Colin Newbury, “The Formation of the Government General in French West Africa,” Journal of African History 1 (1960): 111-128.
24. Descriptions and quotations cited in JOAOF, 14 March 1908 (pp. 129-130).
Ibid. (p. 132); see speech by inspecteur général.
25. Charles Humbert, L’Oeuvre française aux colonies (Paris, 1913), pp. 9-11.
26. André Villard, Histoire du Sénégal (Dakar, 1943), p. 182. Villard observed that “Ponty, vieux soudanais … mena l’A.O.F. avec bonne humeur, esprit, et habileté.”
28. Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 23 November 1912 (pp. 740 Off.); L’Afrique française, June 1912, p. 232; Robert Cornevin, “L’Un des plus grands proconsuls français: William Merlaud-Ponty,” France eurafrique 197 (1968): 33-37.
29. Respectively, during their governorships, Roume raised loans of 100 million and 65 million francs; Ponty, 14 million and 167 million francs. La Quinzaine coloniale (Paris), 25 February 1908; Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 4 February (p. 87), 24 June 1911 (p. 365).
30. Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 26 June 1909 (p. 286), 24 June 1911 (p. 367), 23 November 1912 (pp. 738-739); see also Maurice Viollette et al., L’Afrique occidentale française (Paris, 1913), p. 12.
31. Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 3; Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 25 June 1910 (p. 406), 24 June 1911 (p. 364); also M. Masson, mayor of Dakar, speech, JOAOF, 19 June 1915 (p. 427). La Démocratie (Dakar) also carried laudatory articles on Ponty for several weeks after his death; this was during the editorship of Jean Daramy d’Oxoby, a vociferous spokesman for petit-colon interests.
32. L’Afrique française, July 1910, p. 232; Viollette et al., L’Afrique occidentale, pp. 33, 43; Raymond Leslie Buell, The Native Problem in Africa (London, 1965), 2:44-45,
33. Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 25 June 1910 (p. 409), 24 June 1911 (p. 364), 15 November 1913 (p. 1010).
34. Later governors-general, such as Martial Merlin, were instrumental in clamping censorship on French West Africa. The sobriquets for Ponty were used frequently in the columns of the pro-African elite newspaper La Démocratie; see issue of 25 December 1913.
35. Cohen, Rulers of Empire, p. 122. Ponty married in 1910, after twenty years in the field.
36. Ibid., pp. 62-63; “Voyage de M. le gouverneur général, » JOAOF, 25 March 1911 (p. 187).
37. “Informations,” JOAOF, 8 June 1911 (p. 392); Ponty, speech, ibid., 24 June 1911 (p. 371).
38. On the William Ponty School, which as a normal school antedates Ponty’s career as governor-general, see Peggy Sabatier (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, in preparation); Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 25 June 1910 (p. 405), 4 February (p. 88), 24 June 1911 (p. 370), 15 November 1913 (p. 1005).
39. Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 3; G. Wesley Johnson, “The Ascendancy of Blaise Diagne and the Beginning of African Politics in Senegal,” Africa 36 (1966):247-248; Humbert, L’Oeuvre française, pp. 33-34.
40. For Ponty’s original text see JOAOF, circular of 22 September 1909 (p. 447).
41. “Voyage de M. Milliès-Lacroix,” ibid., 19 April 1908 (p. 192).
42. Ponty, speech, ibid., 23 November 1912 (p. 736).
43. See text and commentary of circular of 22 September 1909 in Jean-Baptiste Forgeron, Le Protectorat en Afrique occidentale française (Paris, 1920), pp. 75-79.
44. Marty, “La Politique indigène,” pp. 5, 7, 8.
45. Ibid., p. 9; Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 24 June 1911 (pp. 369-370).
46. Robert Arnaud, L’Islam et politique musulmane française (Paris, 1912), pp. 3-4.
47. Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 25 June 1910 (p. 405).
48. Ibid., 24 June 1911 (p. 270), 23 November 1912 (p. 728); Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 17.
49. Complete documentation on the M’Baye-Brocard affair is contained in ARS, 13-G-17. It should be noted that Ponty was hypersensitive to metropolitan opinion and feared that if the indigénat were repealed it would complicate administrative tasks in West Africa. He favored modifying this system rather than abolishing it.
50. Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 26 June 1909 (p. 286); note, ANSOM, Sénégal VII-bis.
51. H. O. Idowu, “The Council General of Senegal” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Ibadan, 1966. p. 408.
52. See reports and minutes, governor-general to minister, 1 May 1914, ANSOM, Sénégal VII-81; acting governor of Senegal to governor-general, 10 June 1914, ARS, 20-G-21.
53. Governor-general to minister, 24 June 1914, ARS, 20-G-21; governor-general to minister, 15 June 1914, ARS, 17-G-234-108. Diagne became a Freemason in Madagascar in emulation of most important colonial administrative officials.
54. Merlin was criticized for setting up censorship laws in French West Africa, among other policies. Van Vollenhoven was been suspected of being a racist by some African observers; Angoulvant became infamous for his brutalities in the “pacification” campaigns in Ivory Coast; and Antonetti has been vilified, with good reason, for his inhumane treatment of Africans in the building of the Congo-Ocean railroad.
55. Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 23 November 1912 (p. 427).
56. Marty, “La Politique indigène,” p. 2; Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 24 June 1911 (p. 369); “Mort de M. le gouverneur g6n6ral Ponty,” ibid., 19 June 1915 (p. 419).
57. Ponty, speeches, ibid., 26 June 1909 (pp. 286-289), 23 November 1912 (p. 728). These resistance movements have not been fully studied, but dozens of reports are on file in the Senegalese national archives that testify to them.
58. “Mort de Ponty,” p. 420.
59. The standard work on the armée noire is Shelby Cullom Davis, Reservoirs of Men (Cham 1934), pp. 68-69.
60. Marc Michel, “Un Mythe: La ‘Force noire’ avant 1914,” Relations internationales 2 (1974): 83-9-0; also see L’Afrique française, May 1910, p. 163.
61. L’Afrique française, June 1910, p. 193; Ponty, speech, JOAOF, 25 June 1910 (p. 410).
62. Davis, Reservoirs of Men, p. 107; Viollette et al., L’Afrique occidentale, pp. 64-68, 109. See also Governor-general Clozel to minister, 17 September 1915, ANSOM, A.O.F. Affaires politiques, 2801-6; Clozel felt that Ponty’s enthusiasm for recruitment—especially after the onset of hostilities—was explained partially by the fact that Ponty (and others) thought the war would be short.
63. Davis, Reservoirs of Men, p. 112; L’Afrique française, September 1912, p. 376. See also La Quinzaine coloniale (Paris), 24 July 1912, p. 500; Le Temps (Paris), 18 July 1912.
64. L’Afrique française, September 1912, p. 376; Michel, “Un Mythe,” p. 89; Davis, Reservoirs of Men, p. 143. On Diagne, see G. Wesley Johnson, Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal (Stanford, 1971). For revised troop estimates see Marc Michel, “Le Recrutement des tirailleurs en A.O.F. pendant la première guerre mondiale,” Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer 60, no. 221 (1973):645.
65. Ponty, speeches, JOAOF, 8 July 1911 (p. 392), 15 November 1913 (p. 998); “Mort de Ponty,” p 420.
66. “Arrivée officielle du gouverneur général à Dakar,” ibid., 14 March 1908 (p. 132); Camille Guy, speech, ibid., 4 February 1911 (p. 86); Fournier, Pineau, Antonetti, speeches, ibid., 19 June 1915 (pp. 422, 423, 425).
67. Arnaud, Le Chef de porte-plume, pp. 50-139 et passim.
68. Ibid., pp. 97-241 et passim.



Bienvenue dans mon monde d'exploration et de découverte ! Je suis Ingrid Allain, une voyageuse passionnée avec une curiosité insatiable pour la riche tapisserie de la culture africaine. Pour moi, l'Afrique n'est pas juste une destination ; c'est une fascination de toute une vie et une source d'inspiration. Des rythmes vibrants des cercles de tambours d'Afrique de l'Ouest à la perlerie complexe des artisans Maasaï, chaque coin de ce continent détient un trésor de traditions à découvrir. À travers mes écrits, je vise à partager la beauté, la diversité et la résilience des cultures africaines avec le monde. E-mail: [email protected] / Linkedin
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