William B. Cohen/The French Governors

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

William B. Cohen
The French Governors

French colonization in the New World began in the seventeenth century under the ancien régime. In establishing their overseas administration, the French, relying on a centralizing tradition, used a metropolitan model. Each region of overseas France, just as each province in France proper, was ruled by a governor who was in charge mainly of military and security affairs and had to share his powers with the intendant in charge of judicial and financial affairs. Their powers were interrelated, and there was often conflict between the two. The existence of both offices was seen as the best means for Paris to keep informed of what was going on in France’s distant possessions, thus thwarting their independence, since dissatisfied intendants and governors would inform the capital of a rival’s malfeasance. Because of their military functions, most governors were military officers, often men of the minor nobility; the intendants came from the bourgeoisie or at best the nobility of the robe. The office of governor overseas under the ancien régime was frequently a relatively humble occupation. Governor Pouancey of Saint-Domingue (later Haiti) had to demand in 1681 that he be supplied with two garrisons of twenty-five men each since “it is to lower the office of governor to force him personally to arrest a thief, a traitor, or a drunk .” The title of governor did not always give its holder the prestige and authority that should have gone with the office. In 1717 outraged settlers in Martinique forcibly sent the colony’s governor back to France. Nor did the office of governor assure the holder of much luxury; he was often housed modestly. Chevalier Boufflers, who served as commandant of Senegal (this office did not rate the title of governor until 1828), described his residence on the isle of Gorée as “the poorest, the dirtiest, and the most degraded of all buildings. ”
Officials chosen for such positions were not always the best men France had to offer. In the case of Boufflers, he was an unusually sensitive and intelligent individual; he had gone overseas in order to earn enough money to reestablish his finances so that he could support the beautiful Countess Sabran, whom he had secretly married. But of many other officials it was probably true, as Choiseul wrote of the officials he had sent to Guiana:
I have chosen subjects to govern who have thrown me into terribly misleading paths; some were greedy, others despotic, ignorant and unreasonable. One such … whom I thought had a super intelligence is nothing but a fool and a dangerous fool. … M. Turgot [brother of Minister Turgot] is crazy and dishonest at the same time
Although in part these complaints were intended to shift the blame for the disastrous colonization policies that Choiseul had attempted in Guiana to the overseas officials, they do ring a note of truth, however.

The Development of the Office

After the Ancien régime was overthrown the overseas administration was made more efficient and rational in its operations—just as was the government in France. Power was no longer shared between governor and intendant. The latter post had been abolished and the governor, like the Napoleonic prefect, concentrated authority in his own hands.
Algeria, a military conquest, was administered by the ministry of war and had army officers as governors. The remaining territories were administered by naval officers. That seemed natural; the colonies were seen as part of French maritime trade and they were administered by the minister of marine and colonies. Few civilians were interested in colonial posts. The colonies were considered unhealthy and not particularly prestigious assignments. Naval officers were accustomed to obey orders and would accept a posting to a colony; they went because they were ordered to do so and because they knew their term of service would be short.
In the thirty-eight years following the recovery of Senegal from England in 1817, thirty-three governors served, nineteen of them between 1839 and 1854, when Faidherbe was appointed. With the exception of three—two army officers and one lawyer—all were naval officers. Their administrations were not always the best. Habits and ambitions learned in the navy could not easily be shed on dry land. Some were impatient with their assignment; Lecoupé, a marine officer appointed governor in Senegal, complained in 1820 that he had been “called by the king to fill a post that had nothing to do with the career I have chosen. ” In Guadeloupe complaints were frequent about one particular naval officer serving as governor, of whom it was said, “during the two years he is serving here he continues to think himself aboard his ship .”
In black Africa the only colony with a governor was Senegal, which until the 1860s was but a collection of scattered forts. The other minor posts such as those of the Ivory Coast, Dahomey, and Gabon were headed by a commandant.
French territorial expansion in the 1880s resulted in a more structured administration. To begin with, all conquests inland from Senegal eastward and southward down the Guinea coast were placed under the authority of Senegal. But this was too large an area to administer and was therefore subdivided. In 1882 a separate colony of the Rivières-du-Sud (present-day Guinea) was created; as conquest spread further south the territory came to include Dahomey and the Ivory Coast.
Rivières-du-Sud was split into three colonies in 1893—Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Benin—each with a lieutenant governor, so-called because these officials were subordinate to the governor of Senegal, whom they had to keep informed . The Sudan region was at first under military rule and its superior commandant was nominally subordinate to Senegal; but in 1892 the region was placed under a same lieutenant governor, signifying more independence. The region continued to grow as a result of continued wars of conquest. After 1904 known as Upper Senegal—Niger, it was split in the early 1920s into Sudan, Niger, and Upper Volta, each with a lieutenant governor.
To the south the same process was occurring in Equatorial Africa. Gabon here filled the role Senegal had played in West Africa; it was the base from which further expansion occurred. With the acquisition of the Congo the post of commissioner general was created for that colony and for Gabon, which now had its own lieutenant governor. Expansion northward led to the establishment of the colony Ubangi-Shari-Chad, which in 1906 was split into Ubangi-Shari and Chad.
These colonies were joined into federations because of the French experience in Asia. Distant from Paris by many thousands of miles, the colonial governors of Cochin-China, Annam, Cambodia, and Tonkin resented the attempts of Paris to impose centralized administration, and the ministry of marine and colonies found these administrators hard to control. A solution was found to this dilemma in 1887 with the establishment of the federation of Indochina headed by a governor-general. He represented Paris, and his mission was to mediate between the metropole’s desire for central control and that of the local governors for more or less unimpeded power. In part Indochina served as a model for Africa, but there were local exigencies that forced the establishment there of the government-general.
The territorial boundaries of some African colonies were uncertain and in the war that several colonies had to wage against Samory—the Mandinké (Mandingo) warrior and state builder—their activities tended to lack coordination; it even happened that a governor would invade the neighboring colony. The most notorious example of this occurred in 1894 (?) when Governor Lamothe of Senegal invaded Fouta Djallon, placed under the authority of the governor of Guinea, and did so without consulting a third governor also very affected by the campaign against Samory: the governor of the Sudan. Friction between the governors developed to such an extent that the minister of marine and colonies was to say in 1895, “frontier violations which sometimes occur in Europe never cause as complicated and heated correspondence as that which occurred between the neighboring three governors .” To coordinate the military campaign against Samory and to prevent future border conflicts between the colonies, the minister appointed in 1895 a governor-general of Afrique occidentale française (French West Africa) to govern Senegal and at the same time oversee the military activities of the neighboring colonies. The governors surrendered to him their military powers; they had to send their political correspondence to Paris through him, but otherwise his role was reduced to a superintendent capacity. The appointment to this post of a colonial inspector general, Jean Chaudié, underscored the supervisory nature of this role.
The inspectorate founded in 1887 served as the missi dominici of the ministry, making sure that ministry regulations were followed throughout the empire. Inspectors were carefully selected, recruited only after a tough competitive examination. Their prestigious status as an elite corps derived from the stringent selection procedures and their renown as independent men. Humanitarians often were attracted to the service, and they tended to be on the lookout for the interests of the French treasury and the rights of the colonial peoples. Whereas London sent men of high qualifications out as governors and administrators of the British Colonies and did not feel it necessary to control their actions, Paris never trusted its colonial officials to the same degree. And this was not necessarily a reflection on the quality of men who served in the French overseas empire but rather reflected the continued concern of the French central administration for full control over its agents be they in the metropole or abroad. Chaudié’s real authority thus came from his office as inspector not from his role as governor-general.
The position of governor-general grew in importance when the office was separated in 1902 from that of governor of Senegal and the governor-general’s capital was moved to Dakar. To build the necessary roads, railways, and harbors in the conquered regions, a common plan of development needed to be worked out and some common source of funding established. By a decree of 1904 the government-general was given considerable power by henceforth having the benefit of receiving all the trade revenue collected; it also could borrow money and it paid for justice, customs, education, and, most important, public works throughout the federation. The new governor-general, Ernest Roume, was a forceful man who increasingly brought the colonies under control and attempted to assert Dakar’s right to close supervision of the entire federation . French West Africa served as a model for Equatorial Africa. Beginning in 1886 the commissioner of Congo and its dependencies administered the Congo and supervised the lieutenant governors under his authority. Then in 1903 a separate lieutenant governor was appointed for the Middle Congo and the commissioner’s sole function now became a supervisory one over the lieutenant governors under him. In 1908 the title of commissioner general was changed to governor-general and the federation in 1910 was rechristened Afrique Equatoriale frangaise (French Equatorial Africa). The government-general of Madagascar did not signify the federation of several colonies; rather, the person governing the island had the title of governor-general because of the size and importance of the colony.
By the 1920s, when various territorial shifts had ended, the federation of French West Africa consisted of Dahomey, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, and Upper Volta; Equatorial Africa embraced Chad, Congo, Gabon, and Ubangi.

The Powers of the Governor

The authority of the governors-general and governors was formally spelled out. The governors-general were the representatives of the ministry of colonies in the federations. On important matters they had exclusive right to correspond with the minister of colonies, and they coordinated orders from Paris for the entire federation. The governor-general had full military authority over his federation although he could not lead troops into battle. He had all civilian officials under his orders except for finance and justice, which enjoyed a degree of autonomy. He could appoint and dismiss all employees of the government-general; this included not only his staff in the federal capital but also members of the federation corps such as the teaching corps, customs services, public works, railroads, finances, medicine, police, and prisons. He had under his authority officials who were members of corps appointed and recruited by Paris, notably the corps of governors and the corps of colonial administrators. Although these officials were not recruited by the governor-general, he could influence their careers by recommendations he made to the ministry in quarterly personnel reports. The minister decided what colony a governor would occupy, and administrators were put at the disposal of the governor-general; he in turn would assign them to an individual governor, who then would appoint the administrator to a district
On paper, the system was highly centralized. But, in reality it did not work that way. Distances and a claim to local expertise made the governor-general almost independent of Paris, whereas the governor was little controlled by his superior in Dakar or Brazzaville. The complaint made by Doumergue, minister of colonies in 1902, might well have been made at any time until World War II: he lamented that his subordinates overseas kept him insufficiently informed, making impossible for him to give accurate information in Paris 10. The governor-general was supposed to promulgate laws passed in Paris in order to make them effective in his federation. Often he failed to do so and even carried out policies diametrically opposed to the regulations coming from Paris. An inspection of French Equatorial Africa in 1911 revealed that most of the revenue collected in that federation lacked legal standing and the customs collected went against the international treaties signed by France on trade in the Congo basin 11
The federations thus maintained considerable independence. Instead of following policy dictated by Paris, they usually initiated it themselves. Deschamps, who served as governor in 1939 and in the years preceding had served also in the government-general secretariat in Tananarive, explained that the ministry most often served as a rubber stamp by enacting into instructions suggestions it received from its overseas representatives. The texts emanating from Paris, he wrote, “had nearly always been proposed by the governors. The offices [in Paris only] modified them to fit legal provisions, to avoid economic or parliamentary sanctions, or simply to show who was master 12.”
With the exception of two or three, none of the ministers had had previous overseas experience and therefore did not feel capable of interfering in the activities of colonial administrators. The staff in Paris also lacked previous overseas posting; after 1930, when some overseas officials were brought to the ministry, it was nearly a matter of course that they were not assigned to deal with the colony in which they had served for fear they would be too partial 13
True, the ministry had the general inspectorate available to it to oversee the ways in which the rules and regulations of the empire were adhered to by overseas officers. But the empire was large, and the few inspectors available had to examine everything from finances to roads. They were usually good at ferreting out financial mismanagement but not always at noting other administrative errors. Thus, the French administration in the Congo had to become a national scandal in 1904 before the ministry apparently realized that something was wrong. Only large-scale revolts of the kind that broke out during World War I in the Sudan finally alerted Paris to the destructiveness of wartime recruitment and forced labor.
The inspectorate could never create the centralized system totally accountable to Paris that was desired. Inspectors on mission often behaved imperiously, not hesitating to give local officials a dressing down. It was ten years later that Delavignette heard from old hands in the Sudan of the angry rebuke that Inspector general Méray gave Governor Clozel in 1915 as they held a yelling match on the palace balcony in regard to the expense of the building’s construction 14. But after making officials nervous, the inspectors quickly departed; in 1919 the minister of colonies noted that there was very little follow-up on their suggestions and reports 15. Inspectors could only investigate on the spot and report to the ministry in Paris; they did not have the power to replace officials or to make decisions.
At times the minister recalled a governor-general in order to consult with him, but there was no systematic method for such encounters. The first conference of governors and governors-general was held in Paris in 1935 and then mainly to plan for the economic recovery of the colonies, which, like France, had suffered from the economic depression.
Centralization of control increased after World War II, however. As a result of political reforms, each territory sent deputies to Paris; the governments often had such slim majorities that, fearing a loss of support, they had actively to solicit the support of the African deputies. The particular complaints of a deputy about a governor had to be heard. Faster communications meant that Paris could inspect the overseas territories with greater dispatch, and cabinet ministers and the president of the republic went on tours of the empire. The new manner in which political personalities from France were able to make direct, on-the-spot policy was not always in France’s interest. Georges Chaffard convincingly demonstrated that it was de Gaulle’s personal visit to Conakry in 1958 that led to a worsening of relations between France and the leader of the Guinea government, Sékou Touré. The French governor, Mauberna, used to the exaggerated rhetoric of Touré, would have been able to maintain close relations with Guinea and perhaps even to assure that in 1958 Guinea would have voted for membership in the Community. De Gaulle’s visit to Conakry made the “no” vote a certainty, and personally piqued by what they felt had been mutual rudeness, both de Gaulle and Touré hardened their positions toward each other 16
In addition to the personal visit, improved means of communication also tended to diminish the authority of the governor and to concentrate power in Paris. There was the telegraph—but also the telephone. Seeing the instrument that directly linked Governor-general Chauvet of French Equatorial Africa to Paris, Deschamps on a visit to Brazzaville in 1955 exclaimed to Chauvet, “My poor friend, the profession is finished 17.”
Before World War II the governor-general’s control over his governors varied a lot. Sometimes, as a result of close friendship and bonds of loyalty, a governor made valiant efforts to carry out the policies of his superior. Examples would be Chavanne’s rule of the Congo under Brazza’s governor-generalship and Clozel’s of Upper Senegal-Niger under the governor-generalship of Ponty. At other times, though, governors could easily ignore the government-general; it was far away. Only the governors of Senegal and Mauritania, both of whom were located in Saint-Louis, Senegal, were under the close scrutiny of the governor-general in Dakar, distant only a few hours by train or car. Examples of the meddling in Senegalese affairs by the governor-general of French West Africa are legion. But that was not the case, for instance, of the governor of Niger or of Upper Volta.
Although the government- general did not have inspectors until World War II, it did exercise important control over individual colonies. Medical, education, and public works services all depended on Dakar and Brazzaville. The assigning of colonial administrators to a colony was decided by the government-general (but the governor determined the exact post the administrator would occupy in the colony. He supervised them and expressed his opinion on their contributions in quarterly personnel reports). The budget for each colony had to be approved by the government-general, and it gave grants of money to each colony. Thus, there were powers available to it, but they were not always exercised in a coordinated manner by the federal capitals. Hence, in 1933 the governor-general discovered that there was a “lack of coherence in building road systems. Every colony has built roads and track to its borders without considering whether the neighboring colony was disposed to extending them. From this sometimes there result roads that lead nowhere or at least roads without continuity 18.”
All the governors of a federation convened annually for the council of the government-general, an advisory body to the governor-general. But policy was rarely made here, and the council met mainly because it was supposed to; its only function was to pass on the budget of each colony. The possibility of an occasional all-governors’ conference to discuss mutual problems was never discussed; in 1933 Governor-general Brévié was to present such an idea as an original one that evidently had not been tried before 19. The main control that the governor- general exercised over his governors was the recall power; Paris would usually recall a governor when the governor-general insisted. But otherwise there was considerable freedom of maneuver for each governor. In a circular in 1934 the governor-general was to complain to his governors of their “manifest intention to leave the governor-general in ignorance 20.” And this complaint came from as forceful and experienced a governor-general as Brévié.
The governor usually viewed the secretariat of the government-general in a hostile manner, thinking of its multifarious offices as overly involved with red tape and divorced from colonial realities. That was true also of the individual colonial administrators and their relationship to each colonial capital and its governor before 1945. To the many stories told of the independence of the commandant, Deschamps’s memoirs add a new one. When a whale was washed ashore, he telegraphed Tananarive for instructions. The answer was so complicated that Deschamps decided to ignore it, cabling back that the whale had been devoured by sharks in the meantime and had decomposed 21. In effect, the governor was so busy with his bureaucratic tasks in the capital that he rarely had time to oversee the work of the commandants.
Over the years an elaborate bureaucracy sprang up in the colonial capitals. There was the governor’s cabinet, which included his closest collaborators; a bureau of political and administrative affairs; a bureau of economic affairs; and a bureau of finances. The daily work of the administration was supervised by the secretary-general, who usually served as acting governor in the latter’s absence. Until World War I there was a separate corps of the secretariat from which the secretary-general and his subordinates came; thereafter they were members of the corps of colonial administrators called to serve in the capital for various periods. The staff directly depending on the governor and his secretary-general was quite large. In 1916 in Senegal the staff numbered fifty-two; if one added those services such as education—located in Saint-Louis but really a local service of the government-general although also supervised by the governor—there would be roughly another fifty people in Saint-Louis. In Guinea the governor’s staff numbered forty-five officials and, again, approximately the same number of other officials less directly dependent on the governor but still under his jurisdiction 22
The supervision of these officials and the increasing bureaucratic tasks of collecting material demanded by either Dakar or Paris kept the governors busy at their desks in the capital. The governor of Dahomey noted in 1933 that since the establishment of the French administration the paperwork of administering the colony had tripled or quadrupled 23. Finding himself increasingly tied to headquarters, the governor could rarely go on tour. His visits were of short duration; as André Gide, who visited Equatorial Africa in 1925, noted:

When a governor goes on tour his subordinates usually present reports containing the facts they think most likely to please him. Those that I have to place before him are of a kind I fear that may never come to his notice; and the voices that might inform him of them will be carefully stifled 24

The size of a colony made effective inspection and supervision a near impossible task. When Eboué became governor of Chad he went on tour; it took him seventeen days to reach the northernmost areas of the colony. Bad roads made visits long and very tiresome: “The trip was more of an athletic event than an administrative tour 25.” A formal mechanism was instituted in 1906 for supervising the local districts, called cercles, when an inspection des affaires administratives was established for each colony. But the person appointed inspector—there was one to a colony—was usually one of the oldest and most senior men. His infirmities often prevented him from actively supervising the cercles, and as late as 1937 this inspection system was declared a failure 26. Some governors had particular programs they favored, leaning heavily on their subordinates to carry them out. Thus, Governor Lamblin of Ubangi decreed that all houses were to be built according to specifications issued in Bangui. This was evidently done and Gide, in traveling, said that he could tell when he had left Ubangi for the huts were “much less fine, less clean, and actually sordid” 27. But if Lamblin had control in architectural matters, it did not mean that he was fully cognizant of everything that went on in the colony—as Gide amply documented.
In general, it was difficult for the governor to exercise absolute supervision of the many cercles and subdivisions making up each colony. A colonial inspector wrote of the Ivory Coast that the colony “now resembles a kind of federation of cercles, which their commandants rule as masters according to their inspiration” 28. As in the case of the relationship between governors and governors-general, the best way of assuring a total adherence to the governor of the individual commandant ruling the district was by appointing men who felt special bonds of affection and loyalty toward him. When Deschamps became governor of the Ivory Coast in 1941 he was able to have the governor-general put at his disposal five administrators who had been his classmates at the Ecole coloniale, several of whom were Socialists like himself 29. He appointed them to head different cercles in the colony. This insured control over the commandants and gave the colony the strong imprint of the governor, but even here this method did not always succeed. Acts of brutality occurred of which Governor Deschamps was uninformed.
After World War II there was a change in the relationship between the center said the periphery. Improvement in communications and the instituting of representative political bodies at the government-general and the territorial levels (in addition to giving each territory representation in Paris) encouraged governors-general and governors to maintain closer control over their subordinates.


As the colonial administration matured regular channels of promoting people to governorships developed. But in the beginning no set pattern existed for the appointment of civilian governors. One of the most common means, of course was to put men in charge of the colony that they had helped to explore and acquire for France; this was the case with the appointment of Brazza as commissioner general of the Congo in 1886 and of some of the officials put under his command as governors of individual colonies—Ballay in Gabon in 1886, Chavanne in 1889 as governor of the Congo. After they had served for a few years as district adminitrators, other explorers who had come to the Congo with Brazza also took over as governors: Dolisie in the Congo in 1894 and Liotard as high commissioner of the Ubangi in 1894. Bayol shaped the territory of Guinea and became its first governor in 1883 after exploring and signing treaties for France with local chiefs, and Binger, having acquired the Ivory Coast for the metropole, in 1893 was appointed first governor of that colony. Archinard, who had been the main mover in the military conquest of the Sudan, became its first lieutenant governor in 1892; other military men who had also played an important role, such as de Trentinian, succeeded him.
These men knew the regions over which they were given control. Brazza had started off as an explorer of the Congo ten years prior to his appointment as commissioner general there; Binger had been on various expeditions in West Africa for eleven years prior to his appointment to head the Ivory Coast. Explorer-governors had often begun their careers as medical men: Bayol and Ballay had first gone overseas as naval physicians serving as expedition doctors; Liotard had been a pharmacist. Others were military men—Brazza had gone on his first expedition to the Congo as a naval ensign, Dolisie as a second lieutenant in the infantry.
Although businessmen were appointed to individual posts, none was appointed to a governorship.
Men with no prolonged overseas experience at times were sent to take over important posts. Chaudié, who was an inspector general, was appointed governor-general of French West Africa in 1895. He had some experience of overseas matters, having gone on missions of inspection, but he had not lived in French West Africa for any prolonged time. And Roume, appointed to the same post in 1902, had never been overseas; but in Paris he had headed the Indochina section of the ministry of colonies and was familiar with colonial matters. Governor Bertin, appointed to head the Ivory Coast in 1896, had been bureau chief in the ministry of colonies.
A common source of African governors in these early years were men who had proven themselves in the older French possessions—in small colonies such as the French Antilles, in the French possessions on the Indian subcontinent, and in the Pacific. The governor of Senegal in 1888, Clément-Thomas, had previously served as governor of New Caledonia, and his successor, Lamothe, had served as governor of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon. Grodet had served as governor of Martinique and French Guiana prior to becoming governor of the Sudan.
The most usual source of African governors in the early years, however, was the close administrative aides of the governors, the men who usually ran the secretariat of the colony. Mouttet had served as director of the interior (the early title for secretary-general) of both Guadeloupe and Senegal prior to becoming governor of the Ivory Coast in 1896; Pascal had served as secretary-general of the Ivory Coast and Dahomey before becoming governor in 1900 of the latter colony. Lemaire was secretary-general of the Ivory Coast and Madagascar prior to 1899, when he was appointed governor of the Congo. Cousturier did his apprenticeship for governor of Guinea (1891) as secretary-general in Gabon. As secretaries-general they had learned the administrative tasks involved in running a colony and often had occasion to serve as acting governor; they also had acquired knowledge about African matters. Some governors, of course, had merely acquired certain bureaucratic virtues, having gained knowledge of colonial affairs prior to reaching Africa. For instance, Martineau, prior to his appointment as governor of Somali in 1899, had been director of the interior of New Caledonia; Roberdeau had served briefly in Senegal, but more important he had headed the secretariat in Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, Guadeloupe, and Guiana before his appointment in 1896 as governor of the Ivory Coast.
Already at this early date one pattern originated that was to be maintained throughout French rule; namely, the surest route to being appointed governor was to serve in the secretariat, preferably as secretary-general of the colony. Service in that post developed bureaucratic expertise and the habit of forming an overall colonial view, which was thought necessary for a governor. The secretary’s proximity to the governor and his chance of serving in his stead during the latter’s absences gave the colony’s governor an opportunity to evaluate his secretary’s potential, and Paris often accepted these evaluations. Rare were the times, however, that a secretary-general would take over as governor of the same colony he had headed. The example of Pascal’s becoming governor of Dahomey in 1900 after he had been its secretary-general is unusual.
In spite of the recent acquisition of empire in Africa, the French made an impressive effort from early on to appoint men with some sort of colonial experience. But such experience in the early years did not mean formal training, so that one could be quite young when one first went overseas. Binger, with no education to speak of, went to West Africa in the rank of private soldier at the age of 26; eleven years later he was governor. Lagarde, after being secretary to the governor of Cochin China at 22, found himself governor of Somaliland five years later. True, it was a small and insignificant outstation of the French empire on the horn of eastern Africa, but a governorship was a governorship. Lagarde was the youngest man ever appointed governor. As the empire matured the ministry could ask a longer apprenticeship from its men before their appointment. The increased emphasis on long experience and formal education meant an advance in the governors’ age. The average age for those appointed prior to 1900 was 40; for those appointed between 1900 and 1920, 44.7; and for 1920-1940, 49. A dramatic demonstration of this difference is to note that whereas the youngest governor appointed prior to 1900 was Lagarde at 27, for the period 1900-1920 it would be Van Vollenhoven at age 30. Between the two world wars it would be Rapenne, who in 1938 became governor of Niger at age 37, closely followed by Deschamps in Somaliland, who was 38 the same year.
Although more selective in later years than at the beginning of the empire, the ministry in Paris initially was considerably more careful in picking governors than colonial administrators, the men who functioned at the district level. Having decided that men who were already in the colonies would be used as governors, however, the ministry was not able to recruit a group that was particularly distinguished in its education. Of the governors appointed before 1900, a third had a degree from an institution of higher education such as a law degree or a diploma from Saint-Cyr, the military academy; a fifth had the baccalauréat degree indicating successful completion of training at the lycée; and the remainder—nearly half—seem to have had no formal training beyond primary school. This roughly parallels the education of the men being recruited into the corps of colonial administrators. Since men were appointed as governors later in life than as administrators, the educational level of the governors still indicates some sort of elite seiection, for they were better educated than the cohort group from which they were selected 30
With time, as the colonial administration recruited men of some education, these were nearly invariably selected later as governors. Higher education was valued, and men who were trained had a greater chance of being promoted to governor than others within the colonial service. Those appointed after 1900 usually had already served in the colonial bureaucracy some fifteen to twenty years. Looking at persons appointed between 1900 and 1914 and comparing their education with that of men who entered the colonial service fifteen to twenty years earlier, one notices how formal education grew in importance as a criterion for appointment. Thus, whereas nearly half of the colonial administrators entering the service between 1887 and 1900 had less than a secondary school education, only fifteen percent of the governors fell into this category; a quarter of the administrators entering before 1900 had a university degree or diploma from an institution of higher learning, yet two-thirds of the governors appointed prior to 1914 had such degrees. The best training for service in the corps of colonial administrators was attendance at the Ecole coloniale. Prior to 1900 about seven percent of the corps came from the school; but of the governors appointed between 1900 and 1914 sixteen percent were graduates of the Ecole, among the most distinguished being Angoulvant as governor of Ivory Coast and Van Vollenhoven as governor of Guinea.
The way in which education helped serve for promotion can be seen in the ages at which men of differing educational backgrounds were appointed to their first governorship. The average age of the Ecole coloniale graduate appointed as governor prior to 1914 was thirty-eight compared to the average age of men with other educational backgrounds, which was forty-four. Another way this difference can be seen is by looking at the median age of appointment. For graduates of the Ecole coloniale appointed to their first governorship prior to 1914 it was thirtyfive; for men with other higher education it was forty-three; and for those with education less than the secondary level it was forty-five. Looking at the frequency of age of the governors, an even greater discrepancy may be noted.
Whereas none of the Ecole coloniale graduates appointed to their first governorship before 1914 had reached the age of fifty, a third of those with other forms of higher education and forty percent of those with no education were in their fifties before being appointed as governor.
The French emphasis on having educated men as governors never, however, led to a mandarinate system. Thus, some graduates of the Ecole coloniale who had been brilliant in school were not promoted; others who had done quite poorly were appointed as governors. Van Vollenhoven before World War I and Deschamps in the 1930s became governors and they had graduated at the head of their class at the Ecole coloniale; but others such as Eboué were close to the bottom 31
We do not have adequate information on the social class of the governors, but given the system of French higher education, which was heavily class-bound, it is safe to assume that they were recruited from at least the middle levels of the bourgeoisie. There were, of course, notable exceptions. Bernard Cornut-Gentil, who was a graduate of the Ecole navale, was the son of a modest commercial employee earning only 1,800 francs a year—that would be close to the poverty line; a manual worker earned over 2,000. After World War I the same selective mechanisms continued favoring the Ecole coloniale graduate. Whereas approximately fifteen percent of those entering the corps prior to 1914 came from the school, over a third of the governors appointed in the interwar period were graduates. Men with higher educational qualifications than their colleagues were chosen.
There were many reasons in addition to a prejudice in favor of the man considered cultured and hence capable of leadership. Although many governors at some time had served as a cercle commandant prior to their appointment, very few went directly from commandant to governor. Usually intervening between the two posts was service in the secretariat of a colony or in Paris at the ministry, and sometimes both. Ecole coloniale graduates and a large number of university graduates in general had legal training and were thus considered particularly qualified for administrative tasks such as those needed in the secretariat; once there, they acquired the experience and the contacts that opened the road to a governorship. The governors would spot a cercle commandant considered unusually capable and bring him to the capital to serve; thus was he launched on his career. In the 1930s this program was institutionalized when the brightest young administrators were brought to Paris for a stint in the ministry; there it was thought they would develop the outlook that would make them capable governors. Deschamps, for instance, was called from Madagascar to serve in Paris for a couple of years; he then returned to Madagascar and later was appointed governor of Somaliland. Paris had had time to take measure of the man. Henri d’Arboussier seems to have been the exception; he served all his career as a bush administrator and, with no experience in either a colonial capital or Paris, was appointed governor. But significantly, in spite of his great abilities as a cercle commandant—he was one of the most brilliant of the pre-World War I era—he was given rather insignificant posts: resident commissioner of the New Hebrides and of New Caledonia.
Service in both the colonial capital and Paris was the best means of being noticed and receiving a gubernatorial appointment; if a choice had to be made between the two, Paris was more important. The three youngest men in the different eras of French colonial administration before World War II had had long stays in the French capital prior to their appointments. Lagarde had gone out to Cochin China but had returned to Paris to serve the undersecretary of colonies as personal secretary. Van Vollenhoven, upon graduating from the Ecole coloniale, took his first position in the ministry, served there for two years, and then, at twenty-eight, was posted to Senegal as secretary-general; from there to governor of Guinea was a short step. Rapenne served in Paris for many years, rising in the central bureaucracy prior to his posting to Niger in 1938.


Given the distances that separated the overseas territories from Paris, one of the best ways of insuring discipline seemed to be to appoint men who would be loyal to the minister and his program because they shared his political outlook and knew they had been appointed as a result of patronage. Such links could develop from service at the ministry. Political influence was important, too. Grodet, appointed governor of the Sudan and later commissioner general of the Congo, was a singularly incapable man; his successive appointments led one biographer to speculate that only political influence explains his advancement 32. This suspicion may be confirmed by his later political career: he was to serve as deputy from French Guiana. Some officials had close political ties to influential members of the Colonial party in Parliament, which seems to have helped their career. This was the case with Antonetti. His stepfather was an official in Algeria and had an excellent relationship with the head of the French Colonial party, the deputy from Algeria, Eugène Etienne, who apparently intervened several times on Antonetti’s behalf. Antonetti had a brilliant career as governor of Upper Senegal, Niger, Ivory Coast, and between 1924 and 1934 as governor-general of French West Africa. When Delafosse sought a governorship during World War I, it was through Etienne and Lucien Hubert, family friends, that he hoped to attain the appointment. Although Delafosse’s superior in Dakar was opposed to such a promotion, the politicians’ influence prevailed in the end and Delafosse was given a governorship 33. Van Vollenhoven, when he was appointed governor-general of French West Africa in 1917, had had the political support of two influential parliamentarians: Lebrun and Clémentel, two former ministers of colonies 34
Before World War II there were few politicians who served as governors of African colonies; but Indochina was a different matter. A posting there was prestigious and was considered an honorable consolation prize for an also-ran or for someone Paris wanted out of the country. Bert in the 1880s and Sarraut in the 1910s served as governors-general of Indochina. The only deputy who served as governor in Africa before 1945 was the Radical Socialist Victor Augagneur, who went to Madagascar as governor-general in 1905. After returning to France to serve again in Parliament and as a cabinet minister, he went back overseas in 1920 as governor-general of French Equatorial Africa. But Augagneur was an unusual individual, who joined to his leftist political program an authoritarian outlook that suited a proconsul.
Political links seem to have been important if not in achieving governorships at least in securing promotions. Membership in the freemasonry was considered a sign of political reliability and many men who reached the pinnacle of success as governors-general were Freemasons. In the Third Republic such membership was the sign of having “advanced ideas,” meaning especially anticlericalism and commitment to the republic. Freemasons could be found at all levels of the administration. The ministry of colonies in Paris had many Freemasons on its staff and they tended to help along the careers of officials overseas who were fellow Masons. The director of personnel in the 1920s, Gaston Joseph, was a Freemason; in fact most of the bureau chiefs in the Paris ministry belonged to one order or another of the Masons. When Delavignette, a Catholic, became director of political affairs in 1947 he was, he claimed, the first non-Freemason ever to occupy that post 35
Freemasons had their own network of contacts and friendships. Finding his acting governor in Ubangi hostile to freemasonry and “advanced ideas” in general, Félix Eboué—then an administrator—signaled to his friends in Paris to contact the minister of colonies, Louis Perrier, a brother Mason, to prevent the titularization of the acting governor. The latter was not named governor 36. Membership in the freemasonry was secret, but many officials did not hide it; Governor-general Ponty had carved on his tombstone the three dots in a pyramid symbolic of the freemasonry. Colonial gossips were relatively well informed on these matters; according to Delavignette, of the eight governors-general of French West Africa between 1908 and 1940, six were Freemasons 37. In the other colonies freemasonry was also important; in French Equatorial Africa governors-general Augagneur, Reste, and Eboué were Masons.
One of the largest transfers of governors in Africa occurred as a result of the Popular Front’s coming to power in 1936. Of the sixteen colonies in black Africa, eleven received new governors in 1936. The minister of colonies, Marius Moutet, a Socialist, decided to attempt overseas reforms, and one way he did so was by appointing new governors. Unlike postwar ministers, who did not hesitate to appoint as governors men without any previous foreign experience, Moutet appointed men who already were overseas. He promoted the Socialist governor Coppet to be governor-general of French West Africa; nevertheless he also promoted to governorships many colonial administrators who were not Socialists but, because of having received a promotion from Moutet, would presumably prove loyal—among them Lefebvre, who went as governor to Senegal, Court, who went to Niger, and Mondon to Ivory Coast. In other cases, men who already were governors were given new assignments: Blacher was appointed to Guinea and Masson de Saint-Félix to Ubangi. Promotion to the post of governor or reassignment would remind the appointees of their dependence upon Paris and make reforms easier to impose. Thus, a political change in Paris had a dramatic effect on gubernatorial appointments. Such changes were not necessarily bad, and political considerations here tended to facilitate reform overseas.
Sheer political patronage based on the spoils system, however, also existed, becoming increasingly common after World War II. The war itself politicized governorships. Because their loyalty to Vichy was suspect, governors were replaced during World War II, and those colonies that were under the authority of the Free French also replaced the politically questionable. Nearly every governor appointed after 1945 had won some resistance medal. Few of the colonial administrators were purged after the war for collaboration, but for governors it was considered an inexcusable crime. Governors-general Boisson, Cayla, and Annet were tried for treason, and many governors were dismissed from the service. The governorships after the war—as, incidentally, most of the positions of responsibility in the French bureaucracy—now were retained by former resistance workers. Some of them had accomplished heroic feats such as Messmer in North Africa and Indochina, others had less dramatic records—for instance, service in the colonial administration in French Equatorial Africa during World War II, which, under the leadership of Governor-general Eboué, had rallied to the Free French. Reliance on Freemason or resistance credentials demonstrated the continuing importance of political fealties.
In colonies that had well-developed local politics—Senegal was the only one in Africa before World War II—opposition of a deputy could prevent a governor from being posted to that colony or could hurry his departure. By his membership in freemasonry and the Radical party, the Senegalese deputy Blaise Diagne maintained close political contacts in Paris; his goodwill was also necessary to recruit black troops during World War I. The political influence of Diagne was such in the colonial administration that Angoulvant, appointed governor-general of French Equatorial Africa, was to rejoice, “Think of it, in [Equatorial Africa] there is no deputy, not even a white one.” 38
Colonies with deputies, except for Senegal, were the “old colonies” such as the Antilles, Réunion, New Caledonia, and the Indian possessions; the men appointed governors there had to enjoy the support and confidence of local politicians in order to serve effectively. Eboué was named governor of Martinique and then Guadeloupe as a result of the support given to his candidacy by political groups and personalities alternately having good and bad relations with whichever minister of colonies happened to be in power 39
Politics became even more important in the selection of governors after World War II. The unstable political coalitions of the Fourth Republic made it necessary to distribute cabinet and junior cabinet posts to members of various parties in order to insure parliamentary support for the coalition governments. To extend its fragile support, the government proffered governorships to men with known political memberships. To bolster the tripartite governments—made up of the Socialists, the Communists, and the Catholic MRP— of the early Fourth Republic the empire was carved up into political fiefs: the Ivory Coast was administered by personnel with Communist leanings, Senegal by Socialists, and Upper Volta by MRP governors. When the Communists left, tripartism included the Radical party, which also enjoyed the division of spoils. In 1948 three new governors-general were appointed: Béchard, a Socialist deputy, was made governor-general of West Africa: Chévigné, an MRP deputy, governor-general of Madagascar; and Cornut-Gentille, a Radical, became governor-general of Equatorial Africa 40. After World War II, when political rights were extended to the inhabitants of other colonies, political pressures were also exercised by local politicians. When Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast came to a political agreement with the French government to abandon his program of opposition both in the territory and in Paris, he was able to effect the recall of Governor Péchoux, who had carried out a lengthy program of repression against Houphouet-Boigny and his Parti démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire 41
The intrusion of politics in the selection of governors may not have been as unseemly as it appears for the role of the governor was often political in nature. Before World War II he already played a semipolitical role in having to juggle the interests of various regions, in trying to strike a balance between the interests of the trading houses and those of the African populations, and in arbitrating the inevitable feuds between various administrative services. After the war, of course, his role became increasingly political. He had an elected territorial assembly with which he had to work; it passed on the colonial budget and finally in 1957 it acquired full legislative powers and he had to share his authority with the elected African executive branch. The governor needed to maintain cordial relations with the local politicians to exercise effective control over the territory.
Often the territories were viewed as rotten boroughs, as a means of creating additional political support for the government in power in Paris or at least for political parties the governor favored. In 1946, when the National Assembly failed to elect the president of the republic on the first ballot, the Socialist minister of overseas France, Marius Moutet, had the overseas parliamentarians flown into Paris and they broke the deadlock by helping to elect the Socialist Vincent Auriol president. It was when Houphouet-Boigny promised to dissociate his political party from the Communist party and henceforth support the Union Démocratque et Socialiste de la Résistance (UDSR), the political party of the minister of overseas France, François Mitterrand, that the administrative harassment of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA) ceased. The overseas administration was heavily politicized; often governors functioned as electoral agents, much as the nineteenth-century French prefect, who in metropolitan France was expected to insure that the election in his department was favorable to the party in power.
Many governors became heavily involved in local political squabbles and deliberately fostered politicians’ careers or even the fortunes of whole parties. The governors were not beyond bribery, and journalist Georges Chaffard has claimed that in 1958, in order to win a “yes” vote on membership in the short-lived Communauté Frangaise (a loose confederal arrangement), governors transferred large sums of money to the main political parties in their colonies. In every colony but Guinea they succeeded. Of course it was not just money; rather a whole network of fine political contacts was necessary for success. In Senegal the governor and the governor-general had been able to cultivate the main religious leaders of the territory and win them over to a “yes” vote in 1958. In Niger the governor was able to split the opposition 42. It turned out, of course, that this election did little to stop the oncoming independence and by 1960 all the African territories were free, except Somalia. But during these two years the role of the governor was especially political as he prepared for the devolution of empire. Close collaboration with the African leaders allowed for peaceful transition and independence came without too large a shock. Only in Guinea were the bonds of empire abruptly broken. In the postwar period, British governors strictly adhered to the notion that as civil servants they were to be politically neutral and refrain from any partisanship. But this was not the case with French governors. They were following a tradition that had been adopted even among higher civil servants in France proper, who increasingly played a semipolitical role in the Fourth Republic. This tradition continued into the Fifth Republic in which it became even more difficult to draw a convenient line between politicians and civil servants 43
The political skills and acumen that the governors needed after World War II led to a lessened emphasis on recruiting officials with a long colonial career. Rather, men often were chosen who, in France, had shown political skill. More frequently than before World War II, governors were chosen not from members of the corps of colonial administrators but rather from men foreign to it. For example, not a single governor-general of French West Africa between 1946 and 1958 had ever served as a colonial administrator. Barthe, who had served between 1946 and 1948 came closest—he had been a colonial inspector; Béchard (1948-1951) had been undersecretary of armaments and a Socialist deputy; Cornut-Gentille (1951-1956) was a prefect; Cusin (1956-1958) had been member of the Indochina Bank and the Cour des comptes. Such appointments, however, probably allowed for greater flexibility of the colonial administration; these men infused into the administration a new spirit. They played the role the French sociologist Michel Crozier has called “authoritarian reform figures.” Like the castes of higher civil servants making up the grand corps in France, these political appointees overseas tended to play the role of brokers between the civil service and the local political parties 44
The increasingly political nature of the governor’s office after World War I is evident in the subsequent careers of former governors. Far more than before the war, governors entered national politics after overseas service. Before World War I Governor-general Augagneur, after his tenure in Madagascar, had become a cabinet minister (but he had been a deputy prior to his appointment to the governor-generalship). The only other governors prior to World War I who entered national politics subsequent to their governorship were Bayol, governor of Rivières-du-Sud (1883-1889), who was elected in 1903 to the French Senate, sitting on the democratic left, and Grodet, governor of Sudan (1893-1895), elected in 1910 to the National Assembly as deputy from Guiana under the party label Independent Socialist.

The Personality of the Governor

Though the heads of colonial federations and colonies were constrained prior to 1945 by the great independence that their subordinates enjoyed and after the war by the careful supervision that they received from their superiors, governors-general and governors were never mere figureheads. They were important men who helped shape the spirit and direction of the territories they ruled. Their attitudes were often molded by personal convictions that had developed as a result of their experiences overseas. Governor-general Ponty’s African policies were strongly influenced by his experiences as an administrator in the Sudan. As Jacques Lombard has written, the Sudanese experience gave French officials the impression of the African chief as a “fanatic warrior, tyrannizing the populations around him and dominating them by force.” 45 Ponty’s membership in the Radical party and his anticlericalism also help explain his hostility to traditional African rule.
In his style of administration Gallieni in Madagascar drew on the principles of governing that he developed during military expeditions in the Sudan and Indochina. Gallieni emphasized the decentralization of power and the granting of initiative to local French administrators. His native policy, la politique des races, assumed that indigenous peoples were to be ruled by chiefs from their own ethnic group; a large number of traditional chiefdoms had been dismantled because the Hovas had gained ascendency over much of the island. Brévié had been an administrator in Niger, where native authorities were still strong, and he had closely studied Islamic institutions in West Africa. When he became governor-general in the 1930s he was to show respect for and sensitivity to traditional rule and was to try to rebuild the native authorities, which, under pressure from the French, had been considerably weakened.
Political affiliations and even his profession before becoming governor had an impact on a man’s overseas career. Augagneur was a Radical and an anticlerical and had been a medical doctor, When he became governor-general of Madagascar in 1905 he instituted a violent anticlerical campaign, which the missionaries in the island were to feel; he also showed a great concern for health questions, helping to organize a medical service 46
The temperament and human attributes of each governor also helped color his administration. De Coppet, the Popular Front governor-general of French West Africa, invited young African students for lunch in the government-general’s palace in 1936; it was the first time this had been done, and the educated African elites greeted it as a signal honor to them. De Coppet also insisted on the attendance of all governors at Moslem high holiday celebrations, thus showing French respect for the single largest indigenous religious group in West Africa. After World War II, Governor Orselli of the Ivory Coast attempted to break the social segregation of black and white in the colony and invited Africans to social functions at the gubernatorial palace. One of his successors, Messmer, also valiantly tried to fight the pernicious segregationist policies of the white settlers in Abidjan and sponsored an interracial social club, the Cercle d’amitié 47. In the Sudan Governor Louveau in the early 1950s, on his own initiative, without waiting for appropriations from Dakar, established a school in Bamako for public works professionals. Such acts helped considerably to define the quality of Franco-African relations.
The effectiveness of governors was in part circumscribed by their limited stays in a colony. The French administration put little value on permanence; the moving around of governors and other officials was seen as a way of preserving effective control from the center and preventing the governor from developing too much of a local bias. With the passage of time the average stay of the governor went down; between 1900 and 1919 it was 3.0 years, in the interwar years 2.7, and in the dozen years of the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) it was 2.0. There, of course, were exceptions: thus, in the years 1900-1919 the average length of stay in Gabon and Chad was 2.0; for the Sudan, Somaliland, and the Ivory Coast, 4.8; in the interwar period the governor’s term in Gabon and Niger was 1.8 years on the average; for Sudan and Madagascar it was 5 years. During the Fourth Republic, Senegal, Mauritania, and Ivory Coast had governors stay an average of 1.5 years; Madagascar and Sudan enjoyed average terms of 3 years.
These stays are calculated on the basis of formal appointments of governors but do not signify that the officials actually spent their terms entirely in the colony. Governors absent for consultation, vacation, or sick leave kept the title of governor, being replaced only temporarily by an acting governor. If the long term of service of Governor Lamblin at first seems impressive—he was officially governor of Ubangi-Shari from December 1921 to October 1928—it is less so when one realizes that of the seven years he was absent for a total of three. Governor-general Antonetti, officially governor-general of French Equatorial Africa from 1924 to 1934, was in France a total of forty months on vacation, consultation, or sick leave.
The rapid turnover of governors made it very difficulat for them to leave a personal mark on a colony. Although Gallieni’s energy and abilities had much to do with the impact he had on Madagascar, his ten-year tenure in that colony, three times the average term of French governors contemporaneously serving elsewhere, undoubtedly contributed to his effectiveness.

Table 1. Average Stay of African Governors and Governors-general
Area 1900-1919 1920-1950 1946-1958
French Equatorial Africa 3.1 3.3 2.0
French West Africa 3.1 5.0 3.0
Cameroons 2.5 1.7
Chad 1.9 2.5 2.0
Congo 2.7 2.2 1.5
Dahomey 2.7 2.5 2.0
Gabon 1.9 1.8 2.0
Guinea 2.7 4.0 1.7
Ivory Coast 3.8 2.5 1.5
Madagascar 2.7 5.0 3.0
Mauritania 2.7 2.8 1.5
Niger 1.8 2.4
Senegal 3.1 2.8 1.5
Sudan 3.8 2.8 2.0
Togo 2.8 2.0
Ubangi 2.7 2.5 2.0
Upper Volta 3.0* 2.4
*Upper Volta had no governors between 1932 and 1947;
the averages for 1920-1940 are calculated for the years 1920-1932.

In the movement of governors certain patterns developed. As a rule, governors in a West African colony would later be moved to another colony in the same federation. French West Africa was considered more prestigious than Equatorial Africa, and it would have been slightly demeaning for a governor serving in the former to be transferred in the same capacity to the latter. This did not apply to the governor-generalship of Equatorial Africa, however, which did attract governors from West Africa: of the fifteen governors-general of Equatorial Africa in the fifty years during which the post existed seven had previously served in French West Africa. Governors in West Africa in fact had a better chance to be promoted to governor-general of Equatorial Africa than did governors in Equatorial Africa. Only one governor-general of this federation, Eboué, had served as governor within Equatorial Africa prior to his advancement. In contrast, some of the most promising governors began their careers in West Africa and were then transferred to Equatorial Africa: de Coppet, for instance, served in Chad before going to Dahomey and then becoming governor-general of French West Africa. The hierarchical relationship between the two federation may also be gauged by noting that three governors-general of West Africa previously had been governors-general of Equatorial Africa, their posting to Dakar being a promotion. But not a single governor-general of French West Africa subsequently served as governor-general in Brazzaville.
The status of Madagascar is less clear. Merlin, after serving in French West Africa, transferred to Madagascar in 1917, then went to Equatorial Africa in 1919. Augagneur served in Madagascar, returned to France for several years, and went to Equatorial Africa in 1920. De Coppet went to Madagascar in 1939 after serving as governor-general in West Africa. On the whole it seems safe to say that Madagascar and West Africa were on a par.
Some colonies seem to have served as testing grounds for governors. Between 1880 and 1940 the average of all colonies receiving a man on his first overseas gubernatorial posting was sixty-three percent. In French Equatorial Africa Chad received eighty-seven percent of initial postings, the Congo eighty-three percent, and seventy-six percent for Gabon. Similar percentages did not apply to colonies in West Africa: Niger, with seventy-seven percent, was the only colony in this federation exceeding seventy percent. Some, colonies seem usually to have been given men with previous experience as governors: in Cameroon, sixty-seven percent of the governors had had earlier appointments; in both Dahomey and Guinea the figure was fifty-six percent.

Table 2.
Previous Gubernatorial Experience, 1880-1940
Cameroons 67* Mauritania 50
Chad 13 Niger 23
Congo 17 Senegal 40
Dahomey 56 Sudan 30
Gabon 24 Togo 25
Guinea 56 Ubangi 34
Ivory Coast 47 Upper Volta 34
*Expressed as a percentage of the governors for each colony.

Saint-Louis had been the center for Senegal and, initially, all of French West Africa. As new colonies were established, each territory acquired its own colonial capital to house the governor and his staff; but in the early days it was possible to do without a cumbersome central bureaucracy. Victor Liotard, commissioner for Ubangi in the 1890s, was able to explore the area and still administer it from wherever his camp might be. He traveled with his files and thus could “decide on affairs in the area he was visiting and those of which he was informed from other regions 48 ” And his superior, Brazza, commissioner of the Congo, was able to absent himself for two years from the capital; he, too, was on exploration trips 49
But bureaucratic burdens soon tied the governor down to his capital, the latter developing into an urban center, often charmingly laid out. Governors competed with each other in building splendid capitals. Bangui, on the river of the same name, was a lovely city whose architecture was reminiscent of that in southern France; it took the place of Liotard’s tent. Conakry, the capital of Guinea, was unusually elaborate for the size of its population and available financial resources. A colonial inspector wrote critically, “The plan of the city was conceived with a certain exaggeration; the avenues and boulevards stretch for 48 kilometers, this for a population of 8,000.” But in the end even he was moved by Conakry’s charm: “These defaults are compensated in part by the seductive general impression of the City.” 50
The construction of avenues and public buildings constituted a heavy drain on the budget of each colony in the early years. The capital of the Ivory Coast, Bingerville, was estimated to cost 1.5-1.8 million francs. In the Sudan, Governor Ponty built an elaborate administrative city on the plateau of Koulouba above Bamako overlooking the Niger river, evidently under the assumption that the plateau would be healthier than the valley. Koulouba, including its plush governor’s palace, was estimated to have cost 5 million francs, a sum equal to the entire income of the colony during 1905-1909, the years of the city’s building. And this does not include non-remunerated services such as heavy levies of forced labor and foodstuffs from surrounding villages to help feed the laborers 51. Koulouba served as a model for the Upper Volta when it became a colony in 1919; the new governor, Hesling, set up the administrative offices in Ouagadougou, also on a slight hill (which he called “Koulouba”). With forced labor he built within six months eleven administrative buildings to house the new capital 52. Because it was so sparsely populated and had few funds, Mauritania did not have a capital; its governor resided in Saint-Louis, Senegal. To affirm his rule Governor Gaden made frequent tours of Mauritania, and his return by camel was a common sight in the Saint-Louis of the 1920s. Only after independence was the capital city, Nouakchott, established.
The locations chosen for capitals were often important trade centers whose populations expanded as commerce grew. In addition, the civil servants—white and black—required a host of new services so that the expansion of government in itself stimulated urban expansion. Ouagadougou, which at the turn of the century had 5,000 inhabitants, in 1926 had 12,000; Bamako in 1888 had 800; in 1907, 6,000; in 1920, 15,000; Dakar in 1904 had 23,500; in 1921, 32,500; and fifteen years later, 92,600 53
In these growing urban centers, the French presence was symbolized by the palace. Yet the early gubernatorial residencies were not elaborate. In the Sudan in 1893, Governor Grodet found himself housed in three barely furnished rooms, the main furniture being eight chairs; a split barrel served as a bathtub 54. Even later some residencies were still very humble. When he took over as governor of Chad in 1938, Eboué found the “palace” to be a two-story cement building with cracked walls; the first floor consisted of two large rooms, the second of two bedrooms and a bath. It had no electricity and the water had to be pumped up into the bathroom each day. The furniture lacked in elegance, being locally made 55. Delavignette arriving in the Cameroons in 1946 described his palace as “nothing but a great cabin, the roof of which is threatening to collapse.” 56
Palaces therefore varied; that of the governor-general in Dakar was deliberately imposing to impress what were considered the sophisticated inhabitants of Dakar. Governor-general Roume spent 3 million francs to build his residence on the plateau of Cap Vert overlooking the Atlantic. The palace in Ivory Coast also overlooked the ocean but was impractical; although the building had a beautiful balcony, which dominated the lagoon, Governor Deschamps, who served in Abidjan in 1941, wrote that he found the rooms “gigantic, dark, and lacking air.” One day, just after he and his guests left the dining room, the room’s ceiling fell in; two enormous wooden columns had collapsed from termite damage 57. In the Sudan, in line with his generally elaborate schemes for Koulouba, Governor Ponty’s imposing palace, with its magnificent view of the Niger River, was sixty-two meters long, fifteen meters wide, and thirteen meters high—more imposing than the palace of the governor-general in Dakar, noted a colonial inspector:

It is sumptuous, even too sumptuous.… On the first floor the palace has a large dining room joined to a salon and billiard room, three offices, a guards’ room, a waiting room, a pantry, and a linen room. On the second floor are three bedrooms, three baths, and a small living room. An interior gallery connects to a magnificent terrace as long as the building and forty meters wide … from where one has a view of the entire Niger valley 58

The palace and the administrative city were seen as striking ways of revealing the French presence. In his person the governor represented this power, and he was provided with a stately uniform, as spelled out by the regulations of 1905:

  • Jacket: navy blue with gold embroidery, and triple rows of embroidery on the collar.
  • Pants: navy blue with a gold or white stripe.
  • Hat: general’s model embroidered with gold, a cockade, and a white plume.
  • Belt: gold or white silk.
  • Sword 59

Palace guards were issued special uniforms, again to emphasize the pomp of the gubernatorial office. Servants filled the palace grounds. In 1946 the palace in Duala had a butler, a cook, five “boys,” countless scullery hands, gardeners, and a chauffeur. They enjoyed a special sense of importance by serving the governor, and sometimes it was they who imposed ceremony upon their employer. Delavignette, as high commissioner of the Cameroons, invited a cardinal to lunch and was asked to make the meal simple, some boiled eggs and fresh fruit. He gave his butler the order but was disobeyed. The two were served the eggs and fruit, but as they rose from the table the butler burst in to ask them to wait; he returned in triumph with a succession of plates of fish, roast meat, salad, cheeses, desserts, and wines. The butler had decided that the “cardinal must dine like a prince … and that I owed it to myself as high commissioner to have a table worthy of my status,” wrote Delavignette about this incident 60
The French government recognized the distinction of the office of governor by awarding its holders various honors, the most common being the Legion of Honor. This Napoleonic award was deeply sought after in France and granted to men of distinction in all walks of life, including outstanding actors, writers, and businessmen. To have reached middle age without having received the Legion of Honor was thought of as a slight, hence Gide’s quip that every Frenchman over fifty has the Legion of Honor and gonorrhea. A man usually had had a distinguished career before being named governor and therefore already was a chevalier of the Legion; once he occupied his post he would be “promoted” to officer and finally commander of the Legion.
Individual colonies also bestowed medals. Ivory Coast had the order of Benin; Somali, the Nichan el Anwar. Such medals were, as a matter of course, awarded the governor by the minister of colonies. Governors visiting from other colonies would award their host a medal for his hospitality. When Governor Deschamps hosted the governor-general of Indochina, he was given the medal of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol, and the empress of Annam bestowed upon him the Dragon of Annam 61. A governor who had established a school or in other ways shown his solicitude for education would often receive the Medal of Public Instruction given by that ministry in Paris, and the ministry of agriculture would award the Mérite agricole.
There was no lack of medals to bedeck a governor’s chest, and some seem to have made a real art of acquiring them. Governor Grodet in the 1890s somehow was able to get himself awarded, among other medals, the Spanish Order of Merit of the Navy and the Officer Cross of Orange Nassau 62. Although several times offered the Legion of Honor, Deschamps writes that he turned it down, feeling that it would be improper to accept such an award since he had been in charge of its distribution while in Paris. But when he became governor of Somali, he found himself painfully outranked by other officials bedecked in splendid medals—especially the Italian consul—and he wired Paris to grant him the right to wear the Nichan el Anwar 63
A civilian corps of governors was established in 1887 to help supervise the running of a growing empire. There were five classes of governorship with pay commensurate to class. Colonial assignment depended on how a colony was ranked, its classification reflecting the colony’s importance to Paris. Such a system of posting governors limited the ministry’s choice of personnel and in 1893, although ranks were retained for salary and promotion purposes, the classification of colonies was eliminated. Now a governor first class could serve in one, colony, only to be succeeded by a governor fourth class. And a governor could be promoted in rank without having to leave the colony 64
In 1900 the corps of governors was limited to three ranks and it would remain that way. The salary of a governor first class in 1903 was 30,000 francs; that of second class, 25,000; and that of governor third class, 20,000. The governor-general earned twice as much as the governor first class; his salary was 60,000 francs. The governor first class earned twice as much, and the governor-general nearly four times as much, as the most senior official in the corps of colonial administrators who staffed the French districts, the cercle commandants 65. The same ratio was maintained in 1920; but by 1930, in the face of massive inflation and budgetary constraints, the salary of the governor-general and governor had declined in relation to each other and to that of the highest paid colonial administrators. The governor-general earned 150,000 francs; the governor first class, 125,000 francs; and the senior administrator, 67,000 francs 66
These salaries compared favorably with those in the metropole. Although the lower ranks of the overseas administration did not compare well with the army at home, governorships did. The lowest rank governor earned as much as a general; governors-general earned three times as much. Throughout the colonial era governors’ salaries were close to those paid the highest members of the metropolitan civil service, the directors general of the ministries. Though they performed some of the same tasks as the prefects and were regarded by Paris as a special form of overseas prefect, the overseas governors were paid less; for example, in 1914 the prefect of the Seine earned 50,000 francs and the prefect of the Paris police 40,000, as compared to between 20,000 and 30,000 francs for the governor. The governor-general, on the other hand, with his 60,000 francs, was earning more than the prefects. Governors were thus relatively well paid but were by no means the highest paid civil servants, as was the case with British governors, who tended to receive the very highest salaries granted by the English government. In 1914 the governor-general of Nigeria received £7,500 annually, the secretary of state for colonies received £5,000, and the chief of the imperial general staff received ? 3,000 67
Emolument additional to salary was in costs of representation, which helped defray the official expenses involved in presiding over a colony. In 1888 the governor of Senegal received 15,000 francs yearly for representation costs. In 1921 the governors-general received 216,000 francs; the governors received between 30,000 and 45,000 francs a year 68. These funds allowed the governors to carry on a relatively extensive social role as head of the colony. They were nearly always hosts to visiting dignitaries and officials of various sorts and were expected to entertain lavishly. In the Cameroons, Governor Delavignette on Joan of Arc Day had 400 visitors at the palace; in one afternoon they consumed ten cases of champagne, five cases of whiskey, and uncounted cases of beer and soft drinks 69. Such social duties quickly exhausted the representation costs and undoubtedly also absorbed some of the governors’ salaries.
The salaries do not seem to have made anyone rich. The expenses of maintaining a home in the colonies as well as in France and of educating their children in boarding schools in the metropole absorbed much of the governors’ income. When Governor Dolisie of the Congo died in 1899, his family was left penniless and his former superiors and political friends had to try to obtain for his widow a tobacco license 70. Even after he was named governor, Eboué seems to have continued to be plagued by financial problems. In general, however, the salary allowed for a comfortable existence and seems to have been a financial attraction even to individuals not within the colonial service. A recent biographer of Victor Augagneur claims that the salary and other emoluments, which totaled as much as 100,000 francs, help explain why this Radical Socialist mayor and deputy was willing to resign the mayoralty of Lyon to become governor-general of Madagascar in 1905 71
After retirement from active service some governors, because of the experience they had acquired overseas, were appointed to lucrative posts in the business world. Of the governors-general, Roume went to Le Nickel Compagnie and the board of directors of the Suez Canal; Angoulvant, to the Compagnie générale des colonies; Governor Merlin joined the Banque française de l’Afrique and Governor Bobichon the Banque coloniale d’études (he also held interest in cotton companies in French Equatorial Africa) 72. After World War II former governors also occupied significant posts in the business world. The possibilities of occupying such positions made the colonial officials potentially receptive to pressure from the business community. However, not all governors subsequently appointed to the boards of companies had favored business interests while in office; whereas those who had done favors to firms were not necessarily rewarded with commercial jobs upon retirement.

Unfortunately we know very little about the social life of the governors or their day-to-day work because they did not write their memoirs like some of their British counterparts. The first one to be published was in 1975—Hubert Deschamps’s Roi de la brousse—and of the twenty years he served overseas only four were in the capacity of governor. While British governors have published over twenty memoirs, the French have not been as willing to write of their overseas experiences. This reticence is curious. The memoir is nearly as popular in France as in England. Politicians, generals, and metropolitan civil servants write their memoirs.
French colonial officials shunned such a tradition probably because they were trained in law and the legal outlook hindered the development of a literary tradition. British officials, educated in the classics, had a far richer literary culture, which permitted them to write with greater ease—and probably also made them more prone than their French counterparts to see their careers as heroic and fascinating, worthy of being told to their contemporaries. Significantly, the one memoir writer, Deschamps, was not trained solely in law but also had had a liberal arts university education. There was, moreover, less interest in colonial questions in France than in Britain, a lack of interest that discouraged French overseas officials from committing their memories to paper. The market for colonial books was thus limited, and publishers did not leap at the opportunity to publish colonial memoirs. Historians, therefore, have to rely almost exclusively on official files in reconstructing the social milieu of the governors.
The main function of the governor was as the representative of the republic in his colony. This often meant a ceremonial role; it was he who laid the wreath on the unknown soldier’s tomb, who gave speeches on July 14. He was the head of the European community in the colony and played an important social function in giving dinners, attending banquets, and generally providing for the social life of the European community.
The wives of governors frequently set the social tone. Governor-general Ponty late in life married an actress from a visiting troupe that came to perform in Dakar. Several of his subordinates followed suit and also wedded members of that troupe. Although Ponty married the leading actress, his marriage still reveals a egalitarianism of which his British colleagues would not have been capable. Before World War I the actress was regarded as a desirable sex object but hardly a suitable marriage partner for a man of prestige and power like a governor-general. But that did not hinder Ponty and his aides in their choice of wives. Madame Ponty was a consummate performer and set off a long series of skirmishes for rank and precedence among her former colleagues from the troupe, much to the amusement of everyone except the governor-general. Indeed, Robert Randau, under the pseudonym of Arnaud in his novel Le Chef de porte-plume, savagely satirized the Dakar of pre-World War I.
Getting along with the governor-general’s wife was important. Arriving in Dakar in late 1915, Madame Delafosse endangered her husband’s chances of being promoted to governor by responding coolly toward the insistence of Madame Clozel, the governor-general’s wife, on a close friendship—colonial gossip said the latter was a lesbian 73. Some of the governors’ wives behaved in bizarre ways. Madame Ponty had a carriage of which she was so fond that when she went on leave she would take the carriage wheels with her to France to insure that no one would ride in it while she was gone. Madame Clozel also considered such action 74. Yet the latter, in France during World War I, selflessly devoted herself to nursing wounded soldiers 75
Governors’ wives played an important role supervising the domestic functioning of the palace. Their value was most obvious when they were not there. Delavignette, who went to the Cameroons without his wife, found that he could not keep track of his cook’s expenditures. “In six days 130 eggs! Admittedly small eggs and all of them were not fresh. But 130 eggs for one omelette and a few cakes, that’s a lot … In three weeks, four jars of jam have been consumed, but I can’t remember having eaten any,” he wrote his wife 76. In addition to their domestic duties, the wives filled other roles. We know very little about their lives; unlike their British counterparts, none wrote memoirs. And, probably unfairly, only the most outrageous examples of their behavior have been recorded. Some by their contacts and relations seem to have played a role in promoting their husbands’ careers, but in general they were of secondary importance.
Pettiness was not limited to the circle of official wives. The men, too, got involved in intricate struggles for precedence and protocol. In 1846 the officials surrounding Governor Ollivier in Senegal drove that desperate man to suicide by their constant bickering 77. A little over half a century later the governor of Gabon was ill-tempered and overly harsh with his subordinates because he felt slighted when a younger man was appointed acting governor-general of French Equatorial Africa. He actually refused to obey the latter’s orders 78. As the colonial societies became larger some of this pettiness disappeared; often it was less the reflection of the personalities involved than a reaction to the boredom that prevailed in the small, restricted, European colonial milieu.
The improvement of communications with France and the increasing comforts that became available in the colonies, especially in their capitals, made it possible for the governors to bring their families with them. In the bush, however, before the 1930s French district administrators still had African female companions. In a governor’s palace the last time a permanent African mistress had been installed was in the mid-nineteenth century with the governorship of Faidherbe. He had married a la mode du pays and—although not his wife according to Napoleonic law—his companion received the honors of a governor’s spouse. They had several children. The administrator d’Arboussier was legally married to a Fulani woman from a distinguished family. One wonders why d’Arboussier, who was an experienced African administrator—he spoke several languages and knew much of West Africa from personal experience—was not given a post as governor in West Africa. He and his family went to New Hebrides and New Caledonia, where he served as governor. Was he refused an African post because it was thought his wife’s connections might make him partial to a particular ethnic or religious group? It is unlikely that her color would have deterred the administration from appointing d’Arboussier, however. Before World War II there were two black West Indians who became governor: Eboué went to Chad in 1938 and was governor-general of French Equatorial Africa in 1940; Blacher served in the interwar years in Dahomey, Niger, and Guinea.Retirement

After World War II it became more of a pattern for former governors to seek national political offices, revealing the essential political proclivities of their office. Lapie, after serving in Chad during World War II, became a prominent Socialist deputy, who in 1950-1951 was minister of education and in 1956-1958 was vicepresident of the National Assembly: Bernard Cornut-Gentille, governor- general of Equatorial Africa in 1947-1951 and of West Africa in 1951-1956, served as French representative to the United Nations Security Council (Algeria was then in the forefront of debates in the international organization) and then as ambassador to Argentina before being called back to Paris to become de Gaulle’s minister of overseas France. Yvon Bourges, governor-general of Equatorial Africa (1958-1960), was a Gaullist deputy, a junior cabinet officer under de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou; President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing appointed him minister of defense. Messmer, governor of Ivory Coast and Cameroons and governor-general of Equatorial Africa (1958) and West Africa (1959-1960), held the highest political position of a former governor: minister of defense under de Gaulle and Pompidou’s prime minister. At Pompidou’s death Messmer considered running for president.
After serving overseas ex-governors also entered nonpolitical careers. Some went into private business. Some began distinguished scholarly careers; Deschamps occupied the first chair in modern African history at the Sorbonne and wrote prolifically on subjects related to overseas history and Madagascar. Jore, who had been governor of Senegal in the 1920s, forty years later was writing about the history of the French presence in that colony; in spite of his advanced age, he remained an active member of the Société française d’histoire d’outre-mer. Durand, who served in the same colony in the 1940s, retired and became a novelist; he lists his current profession as homme de lettres. Delavignette served at the ministry of overseas France after his tenure in the Cameroons and then taught at the colonial training school, the Ecole nationale de la France d’outre-mer. He also continued to write about colonial questions.
Other governors who served at the very end of the colonial era had the pleasure of being ambassadors to the newly emancipated colonies. In 1962 the ambassadors to Niger and Gabon were its former governors. This was quite different from the British, who, though in some cases integrating onetime colonial governors in the foreign service, never sent them as ambassadors to their former colonies. Even more unusual, some French ex-governors were appointed as ambassadors to France from the African states; this was the case with Ramadier, former governor of Guinea, Cameroons, and Niger, who was named by Mali as its first ambassador, Délégué général, to Paris, and Mauberna, the last governor of Guinea, who was Niger’s first ambassador to France.

A Balance Sheet

In the colonies they had ruled, many governors left behind concrete memorials of their efforts. Even after independence their names still are affixed to street signs. The largest avenue in the center of Dakar is Avenue William Ponty; Faidherbe rates a wide street, and the early nineteenth-century Governor Blanchot has a smaller side street in a neighborhood of fading reputation. Not only men long since dead but even ex-governors who were still alive were paid tribute by the independent states. In 1964 the Ivory Coast invited on an official visit Governor Latrille, who had valiantly stood up for the Africans against the white planters between 1943 and 1947. Latrille was feted for his sense of courage and devotion, and one of the most important streets was named Boulevard André Latrille. Such appreciation for the work of former governors was not limited to regimes that were notably pro-Western and continued to maintain close ties with France. Thus, in 1961 Sékou Touré invited the last French governor, Mauberna, to attend the congress of the Parti démocratique de Guinée; to large applause, Touré declared: “If today in a formerly colonized country, now independent, a former colonial governor is acclaimed by all those whom he had to rule, it is incontestably because M. Mauberna has left nothing but good memories in Guinea.” 79. And in independent Mali, President Modibo Keita drove through the streets of Bamako with a former governor, Louveau, rendering him homage for his brilliant services as the head of the former colony.
The governors themselves have in different ways judged their efforts overseas. Reste, who served in the 1920s and 1930s as governor in Africa, painted in brilliant colors the accomplishments of his fellow governors and other French officials in Africa:

“We gave enlightenment to these men who lived in poverty amongst riches they ignored. Until our arrival they had not participated in the common tasks that mankind has been pursuing for millennia, the work of progress.” 80

Governor Deschamps, twenty years his junior, a man who had imbibed Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in addition to the classics of the Enlightenment, set up maybe a more balanced view of the accomplishments of the governors and their men. He listed on the positive side the establishment of a pax francese throughout the empire, protection of the indigenous people from exploitation, economic development, an opening up of the colonial peoples to the rest of the world, and a spread of Western culture and education, which introduced the colonial peoples to modern technology and also laid the foundations for unity in states that most often were multilingual and multiethnic. Deschamps, after making this listing, adds:

All of this was never accomplished consciously or perfectly. I can well recognize what was missing and what could have been accomplished. But such shortcomings came from a general policy or lack thereof [in Paris]. We did our best with the means put at our disposal. And what we left behind was not without use.…

In the short run our colonization may have been oppressive here and there (less as a result of what we did than as the result of economic exploitation, and it was far less oppressive than certain governments in Europe and elsewhere); in the long run colonization was part of the march toward world unity 81
The governors had all the varying foibles of men. Some were cruel and insensitive. Gentil in the Congo at the beginning of the century promoted his subordinates on the basis of the amount of taxes they collected. This led to wide-scale abuses, which he condoned. Governor-general Antonetti of French Equatorial Africa pushed a ruthless program of rail building, which decimated countless villages and killed thousands. Some governors were corrupt and venal. Governor Woelfel of Togo, the first French commissioner in the mandate, was involved in land speculation; Governor Hesling of the Upper Volta pushed cotton growing, which benefited relatives associated with European commercial houses but pauperized the African populations 82
Others were humane and principled, often taking the defense of the African. To use but a few examples after World War II: Governor Latrille in the Ivory Coast defended the rights of the Africans against the settlers; in the Cameroons, Delavignette upheld the political equality of the black legislators with the white ones. Governor-general Barthes lucidly spoke out at the governors meeting of 1947 in behalf of extending to Africans all the economic, political, and social rights of Frenchmen regardless of the cost to France of such a policy 83
By their administration the governors introduced into the colonies a certain sense of commonality that has become the basis of the national feeling in the successor states. Although at times it has been hard for the central governments to uphold the unity of the state, their ambition has always been to maintain the territorial confines of the former colony. The territorial shape of present-day African states is thus one of the legacies of the colonial governors. On the debit side, the governor acted as an unfortunate model for African political leaders. Copying him they often resorted to elaborate and expensive ceremony. They also tried, as did their European predecessors, to establish over the country a rigorous central control, which often stifled initiative and self-expression.
In his summing up of the contributions of the governors, Deschamps emphasized their role as economic modernizers. They certainly played a role, but it should be noted that until World War II the French administration—bereft of funds—did little more than erect the most rudimentary infrastructure for some of the colonies. In education remarkably little was accomplished, especially for a nation that prided itself on its culture and mission civilisatrice. Most of the remarkable and lasting economic accomplishments in French Africa occurred in the last fifteen years of colonialism with the institution of the economic development program FIDES. Economic development in Africa and the spread of Western education and technological knowledge were very uneven in the colonial period, creating social and ethnic tensions that persist.
It is by no means certain that colonial rule was necessary to the economic development that has occurred in Africa 84. It is possible that European trade and technology would have penetrated more successfully without colonial rule. If European techniques and values had not been identified with foreign conquest, Africans might more eagerly have embraced them. In the manner of the Japanese they might have readily adapted the Western technology they thought useful for their own society. All of this is possibly true, but it did not happen that way. Rather, it was under the colonial impact that the most important social and economic transformations occurred. Although the governors were not alone in effecting these changes, they played their role and share responsibility for the accomplishments: and shortcomings of twentieth-century Africa.

1. In Pierre Vaissière, “Origines de la colonisation à Saint-Domingue,” Revue des questions historiques 79, n.s. (January-April 1906):485 note.
2. In Léonce Jore, Les Etablissements français sur la côte occidentale d’Afrique de 1758 à 1809 (Paris, 1964), p. 86.
3. In John R. Singh, “French Foreign Policy, 1763-1778, with Special Reference to the Caribbean” (Ph.D. diss., University of Oklahoma, 1972), p. 164.
4. In Pierre Gentil, “Soldats du Sénégal” (unpublished paper, available at the French Archives nationales, Section outre-mer (hereinafter cited ANSOM),
5. In Josette Fallope-Lara, “La Guadeloupe entre 1848 et 1900” (unpublished thèse de 3ème cycle, Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines, Paris, n. d.).
6. Decree of 1 August 1889, Bulletin officiel des colonies (hereinafter cited BOC) (1889); 806-811; decree of 10 March 1893, BOC (1893):209-210.
7. In Colin W. Newbury, “The Formation of the Government General of French West Africa,” Journal of African History 1 (1960):115.
8. Ibid:111-128; Cakpo Vodouhe, “La Création de l’Afrique occidentale française, 1895-1904” (unpublished thèse de 3ème cycle, Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines, Paris, 1973-1974).
9. Pierre Charmeil, Les Gouverneurs généraux des colonies françaises: leurs pouvoirs et leurs attributions (Paris, 1922).
10. Circular of minister to governors-general, governors, and the commissioner general of the Congo, 6 September 1902, BOC (1902): 905906.
11. Inspector general Frézouls to minister, Brazzaville, 19 April 1911, Inspections des colonies, Rapports d’ensemble, Archives du Service d’inspection de la France d’outre-mer (hereinafter cited ASIFOM).
12. Hubert Deschamps, Roi de la brousse: Mémoires d’autres mondes (Paris, 1975), p. 128.
13. Anon., Réalités coloniales (Paris, 1934), pp. 176-177.
14. Interview with Robert Delavignette, July 1975.
15. Circular, Henry Simon, colonial minister, Paris, 3 February 1919, Affaires politiques 2553/9, ANSOM.
16. Georges Chaffard, Les Carnets secrets de la d&olonisation (Paris, 1967), 2:165-268.
17. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 324,
18. Letter, governor-general to minister, 10 February 1933, 18G141, Archives de l’Afrique occidentale française (hereinafter cited AAOF).
19. Ibid.
20. Circular, 14 September 1934,18G56/17, AAOF
21. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 122.
22. Annuaire de gouvernement général de l’Afrique occidentale française, 1915-1916 (Paris, 1916).
23. Lieutenant governor of Dahomey to governor-general, 29 May 1933, Porto-Novo, 18G67/17, AAOF.
24. André Gide, Travels in the Congo [and] Return from Chad, trans. Dorothy Bussy (New York, 1937), pp. 57-58.
25. Brian Weinstein, Eboué (New York, 1972), pp. 216-217.
26. Governor- general to governors, 6 January 1937, 8G54/17, AAOF.
27. Gide, Travels, p. 50.
28. 1931 report, 4G34, AAOF.
29. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 237.
30. On the education of the members of the corps of colonial administrators see W. B. Cohen, Rulers of Empire: The French Colonial Service in Africa (Stanford, 1971), pp. 34-35.
31. Weinstein, Eboué, pp. 26-27.
32. Marcel Blanchard, “Administrateurs d’Afrique noire,” Revue dhistoire des colonies 9 (1953): 411-420.
33. Louise Delafosse, “Comment prit fin la carrière coloniale de Maurice Delafosse,” Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer 61 (1974):94-97, 101-102.
34. Ibid., p. 92.
35. Delavignette interview, July 1975.
36. Weinstein, Eboué, p. 111,
37. Freemasonry also had its adherents in the officer corps of the Armée coloniale and especially in the Republican and anticlerically inclined infanterie de marine.
38. Delafosse, “Comment prit fin,” p. 99.
39. Weinstein, Eboué, p. 115.
40. Philip Williams, Politics in Postwar France (London, 1954), p. 388; Aristide R. Zolberg, One-Party Government in the Ivory Coast (Princeton, 1964), p. 97.
41. Ruth Schachter Morgenthau, Political Parties in French-speaking West Africa (Oxford, 1964), P. 101.
42. Chaffard, Carnets secrets, 2:289.
43. Ezra N. Suleiman, Politics, Power, and Bureaucracy in France: The Administrative Elite (Princeton, 1974).
44. Michel Crozier, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (Chicago, 1964), pp. 197-198.
45. Jacques Lombard, Autorités traditionnelles et pouvoirs européens en Afrique noire (Paris, 1967), p. 106.
46. Charles Richard, “Le gouvernement général de Victor Augagneur à Madagascar, 1905-1910” (unpublished thèse de 3ème cycle, Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines, Paris, 1974), pp. 300, 330.
47. Morgenthau, Political Parties, pp. 186, 204.
48. Anne Claude de Mazières, “Victor Liotard et la pénétration française dans le Haut-Oubangui” (unpublished thèse de 3ème cycle, Ecole pratique des hautes Etudes, 1975), p. 135.
49. Général de Chambrun, Brazza (Paris, 1930), p. 186.
50. Inspector general Phérivong to minister, Dakar, 31 May 1911, Rapports d’ensemble, ASIFOM.
51. On Bingerville, Inspector of colonies Lapaly to minister, Bingerville, 31 January 1908; on Koulouba, Inspector general Maurice Méray to minister of colonies, Koulouba, 4 March 1910, Rapports d’ensemble, ASIFOM.
52. Elliott P, Skinner. The Transformation of Ouagadougou (Princeton, 1974), p. 29; idem, The Mossi of Upper Volta (Stanford, 1964), p. 161.
53. Skinner, Transformation, p. 33; Claude Meillassoux, Urbanization of an African Community (Seattle, 1968), pp. 3-10; Sérigne Lamine Diop, “La Situation Démographique et son évolution,” in M. Sankalé, L. V. Thomas, and P. Fougeyrolles, eds., Dakar en devenir (Dakar, 1968), p. 80.
54. Blanchard, “Administrateurs d’Afrique noire,” p. 413.
55. Weinstein, Eboué, p. 216.
56. Delavignette to his wife Annie, Duala, 17 March 1946, Delavignette Archives.
57. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 245.
58. Inspector general Maurice Méray to minister of colonies, Koulouba, 4 March 1910, Rapports d’ensemble, ASIFOM.
59. Decree of 10 October 1905, BOC (1905):1086-1087.
60. Robert Delavignette, “L’Offrande de l’étranger: Mémoires d’une Afrique française” (unpublished memoirs, 1975), pp. 368-371.
61. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 205.
62. Blanchard, “Administrateurs d’Afrique noire,” p. 413.
63. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, p. 205,
64. Decree of 5 September 1887, BOC (1887):653-654; decree of 2 February 1890, BOC (1890):245248; decree of 14 March 1893, BOC (1893):215-216.
65. The amounts cited here are the colonial salaries; there was a base salary, 15,000, for a governor first class and he received an additional 15,000 francs as a colonial supplement. Decree of 4 July 1896, journal officiel, lois et décrets (1896):4361; Alfred Viénot, Personnel des gouverneurs, des secrétaires géneraux (Paris, 1913), p. 3.
66. Decree of 10 July 1920, BOC (1920):1931-1947; decree of 21 July 1921, BOC (1921):1311-1314; decree of 29 August 1930, BOC (1930):1547-1550.
67. Henri Montarnel, Les Salaires, l’inflation, et les charges (Paris, 1925); pp. 27-30; Roger Grégoire The French Civil Service (Brussels, n.d.), pp. 261-265; Paul Carcelle and Georges Mas, “Les Traitements et la situation financière,” Revue administrative 7 (January-February 1949):19; L. H. Gann and Peter Duignan, The Rulers of British Africa, 1870-1914 (Stanford, 1978).
68. Annuaire colonial (Paris, 1888), p. 21; Charmeil, Les gouverneurs généraux, p. 28.
69. Delavignette to his wife, Duala, 13 May 1946, Delavignette Archives.
70. Blanchard, “Administrateurs d’Afrique noire,” p. 392.
71. Richard, “Gouvernement général de Victor Augagneur,” p. 55.
72. Jean Suret-Canale, Afrique noire, occidentale et centrale, vol. 2: L’Ere coloniale, 1900-1945 (Paris, 1964), 396.
73. This is discreetly handled by Delafosse, “Comment prit fin,” pp. 80-81.
74. Ibid., p. 88.
75. Ibid., p. 91.
76. Delavignette to wife, Duala, 7 April 1946, Delavignette Archives.
77. P. Marty, “Le Suicide d’un gouverneur de Sénégal (1846),” Revue d’histoire coloniale française 8 (1920):129-144.
78. Inspector general Frézouls to minister, Brazzaville, 15 March 1911, Rapports d’ensemble, ASIFOM.
79. Quoted in Chaffard, Carnets secrets, 2:268.
80. F. J. Reste, “Grands Corps et grands commis de la France d’outre-mer,” Revue des deux mondes (15 March 1959):334.
81. Deschamps, Roi de la brousse, pp. 350-352.
82. Hesling’s actions led to an inspection and eventual recall.
83. “Conférence impériale,” February 1947, copy of minutes in Delavignette Archives.
84. That the economic trends that we have come to associate with colonialism had already begun before imperial conquest is convincingly demonstrated by Anthony G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), chaps. 34.



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
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.