Rulers of Empire: the French Colonial Service in Africa/The Legacy

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

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

IX. — The Legacy

Once the new states had achieved independence they began to Africanize their administrations. In Senegal, all the French commandants de cercles handed over their power to Senegalese officials, many of whom they had helped to train, and in all cases the transferral of authority was carried out in an orderly manner. In some of the lesser developed countries, French administrators continued to rule until 1962-1963. By that date, however, Africanization of the regional administration had occurred. In Senegal, Africans taking over authority publicly recognized the contributions of their French predecessors; the first Senegalese governor of the Casamance region in March 1960 spoke enthusiasticallr of his predecessor as having served “with much devotion of heart.” 1 A member of the Senegalese cabinet, supervising the transferral of power from a French to a Senegalese administrator in eastern Senegal, made the following peroration about the members of the French colonial service:

For more than a century French administrators have directed Eastern Senegal, they have built the schools and dispensaries, they have built roads, dug wells and have succeeded in making … [this] region a developed area. I wish, in the name of the Republic, to give them vibrant homage for the work they have accomplished here with much devotion and disinterestedness, because they believed in their mission and had confidence in our country and its men 2.

For the French administrators independence meant an end to the career that they had intended to pursue for a lifetime. For them independence was, of course, a painful episode. Considering the circumstances, however, the administrators were treated in the most generous manner possible by the French government. Some former administrators think that their favorable treatment was a reward for the Corps’ loyal service to the French state. This may be true, but one must note that many influential members of the Corps had important contacts both with Parliament and with the de Gaulle government. One of the main guardians of the corporate interest of the administrators, the alumni association of the ENFOM, had the adroitness to prevail upon Prime Minister Michel Debré to become its honorary president.
Having abolished the Corps of Overseas Administrators in 1959, the government offered the administrators three alternatives. The one chosen by a majority of the members of the Corps was integration into the metropolitan civil service. Those not taking this alternative and not wishing to retire could enter either of two newly formed Corps. One, the Corps of conseillers des affaires d’outre-mer, was under the ministry of state for the overseas departments and territories, but most of its members worked for the ministry of cooperation, the special ministry then in charge of channeling aid to the former French territories in Black Africa. The other Corps was that of the administrateurs des affairs doutre-mer, which was reserved for senior officials, also acting as advisers to the Affican states, but entitled to retire with five years’ full pay whenever they wished 3.
In the British colonial service the administrators had to decide whether they wanted to retire under a lump sum scheme, or, if offered the opportunity by the new states, become part of their civil service. Given only those alternatives, nearly all British officials returned to Great Britain, or en-dgrated to North America or Australia. But French officials could reserve the right to be integrated into the metropolitan civil service while serving for an indefinite period in the former overseas territories en service détaché. This arrangement encouraged hundreds of French administrators to remain in the former territories. Although withdrawn from local administration, a large number of French administrators continued to play important roles in the central administrations of the newly independent states; in some they even became cabinet ministers. In the Ivory Coast and in Senegal former French administrators became ministers of finance, in Chad one became minister of information and tourism. In some states they helped draw up the constitution; in one a French administrator designed the national flag 4.
A large number of administrators remained overseas because of the flexible alternatives offered them. Also, the newly independent states found it convenient to employ the French officials since their salaries were carried by the French technical assistance budget. Except for a small monthly fee for each expert, the new governments were not required to pay pensions or other expenses 5. In the British territories some colonial officers were retained, but it was at far greater cost to the independent states, than in the case of the French, and it lasted for a shorter period than in most of the former French territories.
The French method of ensuring the continuation of efficient administration in the successor states has generally won praise from outside observers 6. In 1967 the alumni association of the ENFOM listed 186 of its members still serving in the successor states as technical assistants 7, and forty-five former administrators served in Paris in the secretariat of foreign affairs in charge of cooperation.
In a number of cases, especially in the first few years after independence, the former administrators performed as advisers very much the same function they had in the colonial period. Although the African minister made the final decision, in many cases he relied heavily on his French adviser. In Gabon, the American ambassador found to his consternation that he could not hold a private discussion with the minister of education; a partition which did not go entirely to the ceiling separated the minister’s office from that of his French administrative assistant 8. The latter presumably overheard all discussions and then advised the minister. Also, because of lack of interest or of expertise, African ministers, it is alleged, often delegated their authority to the French advisers, who thus were vested with nearly as much power as they had held in the colonial era.
Other ex-administrators retained considerable power in the former colonies by being appointed into the diplomatic corps as French ambassadors to the independent state. Some served as ambassadors to the areas they had previously helped administer; for example, in 1962 the French ambassadors to Niger and Gabon were its former governors. In June 1965 three former administrators were serving as ambassadors to states that had formerly been under French rule: Gabon, Dahomey, and Togo. Former administrators have also served as ambassadors to foreign countries with no previous colonial ties to France: in 1967 the French ambassadors to Malaya and to Albania and the permanent representative to the Council of Europe were former administrators. Indeed, a very large number of former administrators have served in the French diplomatic corps; the alumni association of the ENFOM in 1967 listed ninety-two of its members as serving in embassies and consulates, of whom one fourth were assigned to the French African states, and more than half, to the central administration of the Quai d’Orsay.
In France the former administrators occupied important posts. Approximately 350 former overseas functionaries entered the Corps of Civil Administrators, which fills the higher executive positions within the metropolitan civil service. The ministry of finance and economic affairs had sixty civil administrators formerly belonging to the Corps of Overseas Administrators, the largest number of any of the ministries. The rest were scattered among numerous ministries and public agencies. Some of the very top posts within the French administrative system were occupied by former overseas administrators. In 1967, thirty members of the prefectoral corps, of whom four were prefects, were former administrators; eleven were members of the Conseil dlgtat; one, of the Cour de cassation; and eight, of Cour des comptes. In 1964 two former administrators occupied cabinet posts. Pierre Messmer was n-dnister of the armed forces and Jean Sainteny minister of veterans and war victims. The latter left his post in 1966, but another former overseas official, Yvon Bourges, joined Messmer in the cabinet as state secretary in charge of information. In the 1968 elections eleven exadministrators were elected to Parliament, most of whom belonged to the UDR, the government party.
In other ways too, former members of the Corps played an important role in French fife. Several were overseas, working for private organizations involved in business or having cultural or social functions. In France in the private sector former administrators occupied the most diverse posts imaginable. One was an executive of a packaging firm, another headed a private detective agency, a third was a monk. Former administrators also served actively in international organizations; in 1967 the alumni association of the ENFOM listed sixty-five of its members as working for international organizations, of whom twenty were employed by the United Nations.
Marty Africans who had served in the Corps were appointed after independence to important posts in their countries. In 1967 two of the cabinet ministers in the Central African Republic (formerly Oubangui-Chari), two in the Ivory Coast cabinet, and one in the Senegalese cabinet were former African administrators. Because of their close ties with France several Africans who had been members of the Corps served as ambassadors to Paris; in 1964 they represented Chad, Mali, and Togo. Others served as their country’s ambassadors to other nations: the ambassador of the Ivory Coast to Morocco, the permanent representative of the Central African Republic to the United Nations, and the ambassador of Niger to Belgium were all formerly members of the Corps. The personnel of the Corps thus still plays an important role in France, in the former colonies, and in the world as a whole.
It is striking that in most instances the French adntinistrative pattern has been retained in the successor states. The names of the administrative units have changed in some areas; for example, there are no longer cercles in some states, but rather regions or prefectures. The boundaries of some of the administrative regions have been redrawn, but the basic hierarchical structure has been retained. The orders go out from the capital to the regional representatives of the central government who then pass them finally down to the village level. In Senegal, for example, the country has been divided into seven regions, administered by governors; each region is divided into several prefectures. The prefects keep in touch with the chefs d’arrondissements, the administrative equivalent of the former chefs de cantons. Most of the traditional chiefs were initially retained, although many of them were appointed to different areas. Of the eighty-four chefs d’arrondissements appointed in 1960, forty-nine had been chefs de cantons and sixteen had been assistant chiefs. By 1965 fewer of the traditional chiefs, only half, served as chefs d’arrondissements 9.
In all the French-African states the chiefs have become full-fledged government functionaries. They no longer are cast in their ambiguous role of the colonial period, when they were considered both the traditional representatives of their people and agents of the government. As the Senegalese minister of interior declared in 1960, “It is not because of their family influence in the region that they can administer, but rather because of their personal qualities. They should be able to serve in any region just like any other functionary.” 10
In Senegal many of the chefs de cantons were retained, but in some of the other French successor states, such as Mali and Guinea, all the former chefs de cantons were disn-dssed. The local regional chiefs were elected by members of the ruling party. And the chiefs did not regain any of their former powers after independence; on the contrary, the African countries have carried out more fully the process begun by the French of destroying the traditional power of the chiefs and transforming them into government auxiliaries.
Originally, there was some reaction against the omnipotence that administrators had enjoyed in the colonial period. In Senegal, regional assemblies were established with which the regional governors had to share power. Also, municipal powers were increased, and the role of the representatives of the central government in the municipal councils was significantly reduced. But experience showed that the most efficient personnel was in the central administration, and that the regional and municipal bodies were often inefficient and even corrupt. Therefore, in 1966 the Senegalese government strengthened the prerogatives of the central administration by enlarging its powers of control and inspection over the regional and municipal bodies. Centralization had originally been described as a colonial atavism, but the Senegalese government found it the only method of ensuring the continuation of a reasonably efficient administration. Other FrenchAfrican states tried experiments similar to those in Senegal, and as in Senegal, nearly all of them by 1966 had strengthened their control over regional and communal governments, thus returning to an administrative system more like that of the colonial era 11.
Each of the French-African states has fallen under the control of one political party. As a result, the administration has been politicized, and many officials seem to have been appointed or promoted merely because of their political loyalties. In Guinea where politicization of the administration has gone furthest, civil servants and party officials are often considered to be interchangeable. A Guinean official declared that “the administrator who is governor of a region should be able to perform the political functions of the party leader at the regional level and vice versa.” 12 But in most of the African states a division has been preserved between administrative and political functions, because administrators faced with distinctly administrative problems find it necessary to preserve a separation between these two spheres of activity. A regional governor in Senegal, who was at the same time a high party official, complained of his troubles with local political party members and stated his determination to keep them from meddling in what was strictly administrative business 13.
Some of the former French administrators regret the politicization of the administration in Africa 14, but in fact the French Corps of Overseas Administrators had faced similar problems toward the end of the colonial period, certainly as early as the 1950s.
French administrators erroneously feel that they have left behind a tradition of nonpolitical administration 15; for they have really left to the successor states the tradition to politicize administration. Only the British administrators left a tradition of strict neutrality in political affairs in a relatively pure form to its successor states. Again this is not necessarily a reflection of the different colonial services as much as of the different national traditions.
While administration both in Britain and in France has tended to be politically neutral, nevertheless certain segments of the French administration have played distinctly political roles: for example, in the case of the prefectoral corps. The French overseas administrators seem to have emulated prefects of the nineteenth and even in some cases of the twentieth century in their manipulation of elections, in their repression of opposition candidates, and support of candidates friendly to the government. It might be considered somewhat unfair to blame the politicized administration in the French successor states on the colonial tradition, for in the former British territories-heirs to a different tradition-there also has developed a politicized administration, although it seems to be less pronounced than in the former French territories.
Writing about the general effects of European rule, James Coleman has remarked:

As there was no provision for alternation in governments, colonial officials tended to be regarded as agents of the prevailing power group and not as independent and neutral civil servants. Insofar as the colonial experience produced such perspectives-and there were exceptions-it tended to weaken respect for the laws and regulations governing the public service 16.

After 1945 the French administrators lived in a transitional era; and their successors also are performing their tasks in a period of relative instability 17. But with the spread of education and the development of national schools of administration (there is one in nearly every former French territory), probably a civil service tradition will emerge which will tend to be more committed to administrative efficiency than to political expediency 18. The force of French tradition and the example of administration within France may, however, lead to the continued retention by the administration of a certain political role.
The lack of well-trained personnel and of a genuine civil service tradition has meant that many of the successor states have suffered from corrupt and inefficient administration. The dishonesty and inefficiency of the Senegalese administration has been criticized by the Senegalese themselves. A high official of the Senegalese Supreme Court in 1967 described “le building administratif,” housing most of the government services, as “the place where people come, go, gossip a lot, and hardly work.” 19 Another Senegalese denounced the Senegalese civil service as inefficient and uninterested in “promoting the common good.” 20
In the Central African Republic, Michel Legris, a correspondent for Le Monde, reported in January 1966 that more than twenty prefects and subprefects had been arrested since 1963 for embezzlement. A few had to be released “since they are needed.” Corruption was so rampant that the inspectors of administrative affairs have been suspected of following an unwritten rule that they report only officials having a deficit above 250,000 CFA francs ($ 1,000). The fate of dishonest prefects seemed to be so well known that students in the Central African Republic, when asked which profession they would like to enter, stated, “I don’t want to be a prefect, I don’t want to be a subprefect, because I don’t want to go to jail.” 21
The very top echelons of the civil service in the French-African states are usually filled with conscientious, educated, and hard-working men. But nearly all of them are employed in the capital cities, while serving below them in the central ministries and in the interior are men who are less well qualified. A French observer, writing about the middle and lower levels of the civil service in Niger in 1964, commented:

The cheerful indifference of the lower and middle grade official is not a disease confined to Niger…. For thirty months or so it has been afflicting most of the young independent African states. And in Niamey as in Senegal, Dahomey, or the Congo many officials discharge their duties capriciously without worrying about efficiency or production 22.

The officials are often insufficiently imbued with an administrative tradition. Thus, in Senegal, the prefects have been somewhat unaware of the value of regular written reports to the central government. In 1965, of the 162 written reports that they were supposed to send to the ministry of interior in the first six months of the year, only sixteen were received. Thus the Senegalese ministry of interior sometimes had difficulty in knowing what was occurring in some of the districts and as a result of this lack of information found it difficult to plan or to create a coherent policy for the whole country 23.
Throughout the colonial era there tended to be insufficient contact between the administrators and the people they ruled, and independence has not entirely solved the problem. A chasm still exists between the representatives of the government and the local inhabitants, especially in rural areas-a chasm caused in part by the dramatic difference in living style between the government functionaries and the majority of the population 24.
In the independent African states the high salaries paid functionaries in the colonial era have, in part, been retained. In spite of repeated efforts to economize, the countries have been unable to resist the demands of the civil servants to retain high salaries. Remuneration of civil servants was so high in Senegal and Dahomey that two-thirds of the national budget was absorbed by salaried functionaries. The regional administrators in Senegal were paid less than the French administrators had been paid; in 1960 their salaries varied from 15,000 to 25,000 CFA francs monthly ($60-$100), but nevertheless it provided a strikingly higher standard of living than that enjoyed by the Senegalese peasant who was fortunate to earn in a year what the local administrator earned in a month 25. In 1969 the total benefits of Senegalese administrators varied from 64,598 to 152,033 CFA francs monthly ($258-$608) 26.
African administrators prefer living in urban areas, where they can lead a more European style of fife, to serving in the interior. While most of the French administrators tended to glorify bush administration, and expressed a certain contempt for desk posts in the colonial capital and in Paris, their African successors tend to long for posts in the capital. An unusually high proportion of all functionaries are located in the national capitals because governments have had difficulty convincing officials to serve inland. In Senegal, President Senghor in a public speech denounced those functionaries refusing to serve their fellow citizens and threatened that officials “not joining the post to which they had been assigned would be automatically dismissed 27. But neither this speech nor other efforts have been very successful. In 1965, 41.2 percent of all Senegalese functionaries were located in Dakar 28. The African functionaries behave very much like their counterparts in France, who have a certain contempt for the “provinces.” But in comparison with their predecessors-the members of the Corps of Overseas Administrators—the African functionaries are inclined to be somewhat sedentary and insufficiently concerned with the bush. In Senegal, a circular ordering the prefects to spend ten out of every thirty days on tour of their regions was never implemented 29. Of course, with time, this situation will probably change. As a former French administrator has remarked, “it will have to change.” 30
Perhaps the younger generation of men currently entering the administration will speed the trend. In 1961, 72.1 percent of Africans studying in France intended to enter government service 31. Among them a very small number made their choice because of the financial security or material comforts involved in government service. Most of them stated that they wished to enter public service because it would permit them to serve their people 32. Undoubtedly a certain amount of time will have to pass before one can tell whether these answers were mere rationalizations for choosing a comfortable position, the product of youthful idealism, or really represented a profound commitment to the rural masses of their states.
The poor quality of adn-dnistration has become acute only because of the lack of genuine traditions of local government. French rule carries much of the blame, for direct rule destroyed the traditional means of government, substituting for the local institutions a reasonably efficient and well-trained administration recruited in France. Independence meant that the new states would have to have an equally efficient administrative apparatus, and there really was no alternative to a modem administration, since the time for a possible restoration of traditional authorities was long past. In any case, the independent African states did not wish to resuscitate the power of ancient chiefdoms. They wanted to assert the power of the central government over the countryside; in so doing they found relatively little resistance from the traditional structures, unlike their English-speaking neighbors. None of the French-speaking African states experienced the same degree of violent struggles between central government and traditional power that until recently racked Ghana and Uganda. The French spared their successors those struggles, having to a large degree successfully overcome traditional power nearly half a century earlier. By crushing the traditional political structures and ignoring ethnic divisions, the French left behind relatively more homogeneous areas.
Although a certain amount of ethnic strife persists in the French-speaking African states, it seems less pronounced than in their neighboring English-speaking countries. It is somewhat premature to make a definitive judgment, but it seems at present that the French policy of direct rule has prepared the colonies better for national unity after independence than have the British.

The French imposed a certain uniform method of administration on all the territories. In the British territories administrators might be serving for twenty years in one post; in the French colonies the personnel was frequently rotated. The institutions in all French colonies were similar; eventually all the French territories were given the same political institutions.
After independence the French successor states continued to have similar institutions. They all have adopted governments styled on the presidential regime of the French Fifth Republic. They have kept most of the administrative features of the colonial period; and their administrative personnel is trained in their own national schools of administration, which are all modeled on the Ecole nationale d’administration in Paris, or on the Institut international d’administration publique. Although the French did not succeed in joining the colonies to France, Pierre Alexandre has suggested that they did assimilate the different territories to each other by a process he has called “lateral assimilation.” 33 After independence this process continued. More than in the British territories, there seems to be ground for the development of some sort of political bond among the former French territories in Africa. In 1961, 87 percent of the African students in France favored such a development (53.5 percent favored a federation, 33.5 percent a confederation 34.)
In 1960-1961 a common organization was formed by Madagascar, the Cameroons, the former AEF states, and the former AOF states, with the exception of Mali and Guinea which remained aloof for ideological reasons. Together those states formed a consultative group known as the UAM (Union afficaine et malgache), which in 1965 changed its name to OCAM (Organisation commune afficaine et malgache). The members of the organization have in common the fact that they were once part of the French empire in Africa.35 French language and culture also connect them. At the conference of ministers of education of the UAM in 1964, the minister of national education of Madagascar observed:

French language and culture constitute the most solid cement of our national unity and on the international level they are also the base of our mutual understanding, the guarantee of friendship, and one of the essential factors for African unity 36.
Other groupings also related to the colonial past and to regional proximity have developed. The Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Dahomey, and Niger had already formed in 1959, even before achieving independence, the so-called Conseil de Pentente. In 1965 a common nationality was proclaimed in the four states, giving the citizens of each state equal access to public service in all four nations. This move may, however, have been too precipitate, for it raised strong opposition and was therefore not implemented. Another organization devoted to the possibility of joint economic development is the Riverains du Sen6gul, consisting of the nations bordering on the Senegal River (Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, and Guinea); it was formed in 1964. The common colonial past and the use of the French language played an important role in the development of those organizations. Lately President L6opold Senghor has become the spokesman for the establishment of a Francophone commonwealth, connecting not only Black African states, but also the Maghreb and France 37.
Independence has by no means broken the close ties between the French and their former colonies. The legacy of assimilation has continued. France more than any other former colonial power feels committed to aiding her exdependencies. The French government gives her former colonies in Black Africa more aid than does Britain to her entire commonwealth, which contains fifteen times as large a population 38.
The aim of assimilation, in the sense of wanting to join the overseas populations to France culturally, still persists. Although economic and political imperialism belong to the past, the French government still carries on a policy of “cultural imperialism.” In a debate on aid in the National Assembly in June 1964, the French prime minister, Pompidou, said:

Of all countries, France is the one that care’s most about exporting its language and culture. This characteristic is genuinely specific to us. When a Frenchman travelling abroad meets someone who speaks French, who has read French authors, he feels as if he has found a brother. This is a need of our thought, perhaps of our genius. Our cooperation is undeniably oriented, and ought to be so, towards this expansion of our language and our culture. 39

The success of the French language and culture is seen by many thoughtful Frenchmen as being dependent on the economic and social success of the newly independent states. French culture is closely identified with the present rulers of the African states; their failure to achieve social and economic justice for their peoples, Delavignette warned in 1965, may create a reaction against French culture 40. The director of cultural cooperation of the ministry of cooperation said in March 1965:

The attraction that French exercises on young Africans today is directly connected to their hope of achieving a better life…. The future of French would be compromised if Africa fell into misery and chaos. A fundamental tie connects the use of our language and a certain mode of life 41.

In his memoirs, published in 1970, de Gaulle made clear that the main reasons the ex-dependencies received economic aid was “so they will speak our language and share our culture.” 42
The French administration never did succeed in assimilating the overseas populations; only a restricted elite was successfully assimilated. Through education and participation in French political life after the second world war, an elite developed overseas which identified very closely with France. Independence has by no means put an end to this assimilationist phase. The younger generations continue to identify closely with France; few wish to see France reduced to a second-rate power like Spain or Italy 43. Among their reasons for wishing France to remain a great power, African students wrote:

In spite of the colonial fact, I have a certain esteem and even gratitude for France. (Senegalese student)

That would be a shame because France has a brilliant past; it was the carrier of democracy (1789). (Guinean student)

It is a people which by its sons (Robespieffe, Descartes, etc.) has done much for humanity. I do not have the right to wish it evil. (Senegalese ,student)

In spite of it all, an eternal bond connects us with France by its culture, its civilization, and its language which has become the national language in each former colony. (Malian student)

I am of French education and culture. (Dahomean student 44)

Not only the political leadership but also the students, most of whom are in opposition to their home governments, favor continued, close ties between France and their countries 45.
In the colonial era, the effort to assimilate the colonial populations, in the sense of raising them econon-dcally and culturally to the French level, failed. But the heirs of the French are continuing that particular phase of the assimilationist tradition. The leaders of the independent states are committed with less ambiguity than were their predecessors to a program of economic development on Western patterns. Although the academic standards seem to have been lowered under the pressure of numbers, the new states have developed a program of mass education. While in the Ivory Coast only 24 percent of the children between the ages of six and fourteen attended school in 1959, 44 percent attended in 1965; in Chad the number of students receiving elementary education tripled in the same period 46. The curriculum is entirely in French and with a few exceptions, namely in the teaching of history and geography, the education is largely modeled on the curriculum of French schools.
With the help of foreign (mainly French) economic assistance, and a substantial effort on their own part, the African states are continuing their effort to modernize themselves 47.

In many ways administrations in the African countries have to face some of the same problems that faced the French colonial service. Like Faidherbe and his immediate successors, the African governments are faced with the problem of finding efficient and honest functionaries. Although the French by 1920 had succeeded reasonably well in creating an efficient bureaucracy, they were less successful in relating effectively to the needs of the local populations. That problem still seems to persist, to a certain extent, in the independent states.
Coups d’états, social revolts, ethnic strife, and economic decline have beset a number of the French African states. Nevertheless, regardless of the changes in regimes, the announced aim of each new government has been the same: to unite and to ensure the economic modernization of its country. Thus some of the aims that the administrators had hoped to achieve are still being pursued today. But the very difficulties that the independent countries have in fulfilling national unity and prosperity show that the legacy left by fifty—in some places seventy—years of rule is precarious. Only the future will tell whether French rule was a short parenthesis in the history of Africa, or the harbinger of a new and different world.

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