William Cohen
Rulers of Empire: the French Colonial Service in Africa

Hoover Institution Press. Stanford University. 1971. 279 p.


This work was begun at Stanford University in 1965 initially as a dissertation; it developed from an interest in the history of French bureaucratic organizations, and was further stimulated by Alexis de Tocqueville’s affirmation that French colonial administration was a kind of caricature of the metropolitan bureaucracy.
It is true that the men sent out to Africa from the late nineteenth into the middle of the twentieth century, who had been recruited and trained in France, were imbued with values they often shared with their metropolitan colleagues, and many of the assumptions and rules under which they operated had their counterpart in metropolitan bureaucratic organizations. But as the study developed I became less certain that Tocqueville’s generalization was a useful tool of analysis. For the problems which the overseas bureaucracy faced in the tropical milieu were unique, in that only in the most general way could the colonial service be viewed as a paradigm of the metropolitan administration.
The study thus originally intended only as an illustration, developed into a history in its own right of the Corps of men who commanded in the century to half century—depending on the areas—the French possessions in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. The book emphasizes administration in French West Africa both because that region was the largest and most populous administered by the Corps, and because of the extensive published and archival material available in Paris and in Africa. Nevertheless, since administrators were rotated to the federation of French Equatorial Africa and to Madagascar, the study also illuminates the functioning of the entire Corps.
The service numbered approximately 4,000 members from the time of its inception in 1887 until its demise in 1960, and it ruled nearly a third of the African continent. To write about a bureaucracy of that size which administered such a large area is clearly a hazardous venture, but perhaps the study will encourage further in-depth regional histories of French rule and lead others to write biographies of individual administrators. Such histories would undoubtedly teach us much about French colonial rule
Imperial history has rightly been castigated because it assumed to be African or Asian history, when in fact it was little more than a history of European activity in those continents. Nevertheless, imperial history has its value in helping understand the origins and development of the dominant relationship that Europeans established and maintained over non-Europeans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While taking into account the African setting, the book is also intended as a contribution to the history of French imperialism.
The sources for the study include published material, archival and oral sources, as well as respondents’ answets to the questionnaire (see Appendix II) sent out to most of the foreer administrators living in France. Unfortunately, only a few biographies and autobiographies of French overseas administrators exist. Compoed with members of the British colonial service who left a rich published record of their thought and action, the French have been taciturn.
Monographs on colonial administration aod colonial policy provide some fragmentary information. Official publications such as the Bulletin officiel des colonies and the Journal officiel of the French government and of the various French possessions give useful details on regulations concerning recruitment and promotion. Those publications also include some of the circulars sent out by ministers of colonies and governors to their administrative subordinates. Other replations and circulars not published are available in the archives of the former ministry of overseas France and in the archives of the colonies.
The most important archival sources for the study were the former administrators’ personnel files, of which pproximately 1,000 were examined. Of these, 250 relating to administrators who finished their overseas service before 1915 were available in the French national archives and the rest were in the archives of former French West Africa in Dakar, Senegal. In both archives official reports Vritten at all levels of the administration give important information op the administration and at the same time reveal the attitudes of those in fle colonial service.
The research and writing of the dissertation were made possible by grants from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Stanford University, the Hoover Institution, and the Foreign Area Fellowship Program. Preparation for publication was facilitated by a grant from the Indiana University West European Studies Prograjo and the Research and Advanced Studies Program. I should like to opress my appreciation to all of them for their generous assistance.
I owe several individuals also a debt of gatitude. Professor Gordon Wright as dissertation adviser always gave thojough and helpful criticism, in spite of his heavy duties at the United States Embassy in Paris. Professor G. Wesley Johnson, of Stanford University, acted as second reader and also gave invaluable advice. Mr. Robert Lumsden of Evanston, Illinois, offered many useful suggestions for the improvement of the manuscript. Professor RÈmi Clignet of the Northwestern University Sociology Department permitted me to draw on his ideas and French overseas experiences during pleasant weekly luncheons in the academic year 1966-1967.
In Paris, Governor-General Robert Delavignette gave unselfishly of his time and offered many useful suggestions. He answered innumerable questions both in personal conversations and in correspondence. Other former members of the French colonial service were also most helpful &emdash; notably Pierre Alexandre, Robert Cornevin, Hubert Deschamps, and Pierre Gentil. Governor-General Louis Pignon, president of the Association des anciens ÈlËves de l’École nationale de la France d’outre-mer in 1965, contributed an introduction to the questionnaire. I also wish to express my thanks to those members of the association who responded to the questionnaire, and to Editions ‡ la page, Montreal, Canada, for permission to reproduce passages from Jacques Kuoh Moukouri, Doigts noirs: Je fus Ècrivain-interprËte au Cameroun, 1963, pp. 28-30.
I am grateful to Mlle. Antoinette MÈnier and M. Jules Laroche of the Archives nationales, Section outre-mer, and MM. Jean Francois Maurel and Oumar Ba of the Archives de SÈnÈgal for their help. The final stages of the manuscript received the useful criticisms of Lewis Gann, Hoover Institution, and of my colleague, David Pletcher, Indiana University. And finally, a word of thanks to my reliable typists Mrs. Mary Jane Gormley and Mrs. Mary Anne Fugelso.

.A good beginning in this field: Martin A. Klein, Islam and Imperialism in Senegal: Sine-Saloum, 184 7-1914 (Stanford, Calif., 196 8) Brian Weinstein, “Governor General Félix Eboué—A Short Biography” (unpublished manuscript, 1969).

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.