The Locus of Power
Rulers of Empire: the French Colonial Service in Africa
Hoover Institution Press. Stanford University. 1971. 279 p.
IV. — The Locus of Power
Robert Delavignette entitled his work on the career of colonial administration Les Vrais chefs de l’empire. No title could have been more aptly chosen, for until World War II the colonial administrators were the men who shaped the empire, its almost undisputed masters. Their role until 1914 will be discussed in this chapter.
The importance of the administrators stemmed from three factors: the decentralized nature of the colonial administration, overseas French administrative doctrine, and the extensive powers given the commandants de cercles. All three ensured them a central position in the formation of the empire while in effect minimizing the influence of their superiors in the administrative hierarchy.
On paper the French overseas administration seemed a highly centralized organization. A very clear hierarchy of authority had been established: the minister of colonies in Paris; the governors-general who presided over the colonial federations in Dakar, Brazzaville, and Tananarive; the governors of the individual colonies; and finally the commandants de cercles. The reality, however, was quite different. Delavignette best summed up the situation when he wrote that in the colonial administration “there was none of this bureaucratic centralization that saps the energy. The commandant did not wait for orders from the governor of Zinder, [and] the f overnor of Zinder for those coming from the governor-general in Dakar.”
A number of factors disrupted the administrative pyramid. One of these was the geographic distance that separated the various levels of the hierarchy. Slow communications before World War I often made it difficult for authorities to see that their policies were executed by their subordinates. The higher an official stood on the hierarchical ladder, the less he knew about specific problems and the less capable he felt of solving them.
Colonial ministers in Paris were most helpless of all-they were not only separated from the colonies by the ocean, but also seldom technically equipped to handle the problems that arose. Not until the 1920s did any ministers have colonial experience . At least two ministers had been avowed anticolonialists before taking office. Etienne Clémentel, who served in 1905, won a certain notoriety for his naiveté in colonial matters. It is said that when Clémentel took over the ministry of colonies, the sight of the French possessions on a world map inspired him to say, “The colonies—I did not know there were so many of them!”
Some ministers, of course, made serious attempts to acquaint themselves with the colonies, even going so far as to visit them. But these official tours were usually limited to the colonial capitals and of little use in educating the ministers to their tasks. And even though a minister acquired some competence in colonial questions, he might lose office at any time; the instability of French governments meant that on the average his term of office was barely more than one year
The central administration in Paris had been organized to prevent the development of strong centralized authority. In fact, the law of 1894 which had established the ministry of colonies had declared that it should be an administration sufficiently decentralized not to strangle official initiative in the colonies or to stunt the development of the colonies . On the contrary, the law had stipulated that the ministry should establish institutions that would be suitable for each colony . As a result, rather than being organized along functional lines, the central administration was divided into regional bureaus. These bureaus did not keep close control over the colonies, and their responsibilities and powers were rather unclear. In 1910 Adolphe Messimy, reporter of the colonial budget and future minister of colonies, described the ministry as “a grouping of confused services.”
Six years later, Gratien Candace, reporter on the colonial budget and deputy from the Antilles, complained that the officials in Paris had to deal with such diverse problems that they had no expertise in any field and were forced therefore to leave full responsibility to the governors. Candace favored dividing the ministry of colonies along functional rather than geographical lines, so that officials might develop expertise in a given field. For example, he blamed the regional organization for the haphazard development of public instruction overseas: “for several years nobody [in the ministry] has had any interest in the spread of primary and professional education in the colonies.”
The personnel in the central administration were poorly equipped to advise the ministers on colonial policy, since few officials in the ministry had ever been in the colonies. Although a decree of 1896 had required two years of service in the field for all officials serving in the ministry, this provision was not enforced. A ministerial order in 1907 suffered the same fate; the staff members of the ministry at Rue Oudinot had no inclination to go to the tropics.
It is difficult to explain how the officials managed to flout the regulations of the ministry. General Messimy, who had been one of the most efficient ministers of colonies before World War I, observed in the 1930s:
The French functionaries do not want to go to the colonies; believe me, I … tried everything … but without success. I tried to introduce at Rue Oudinot the principle that all functionaries of the ministry would have to go overseas. The repugnance [to this order I was so lively that some of these gentlemen would have resigned rather than leave Paris, even for only six months
In 1917 Governor-General Van Vollenhoven of AOF suggested a possible remedy for the split between the functionaries in Paris and those in the field-that the Corps of Colonial Administrators and the higher bureaucracy be merged to form a single unit, and that the ministry be run by administrators temporarily serving in Paris. That method, he believed, would confront the central administration with the realities of colonial life
After 1919 a small number of administrators were called to serve in Paris, thus bringing some direct knowledge of the colonies to the ministry. But not until a quarter of a century later was Van Vollenhoven’s scheme implemented; in 1942 the Corps was merged with the higher bureaucracy of the central administration. Although slow in coming, the integration of the ministry personnel with that of the overseas officials-when it finally occurred in 1942–compares favorably with the British practice, which until the end of colonial rule continued to divide the men in the field strictly from the Colonial Office.
As in most other branches of the French bureaucracy, a corps of colonial inspectors was personally responsible to the minister of colonies and reported to him on the overseas administration. The Corps of Colonial Inspectors, founded in 1887, was an elite organization recruited through an extremely difficult examination; a number of its members were former administrators. The inspectors were the missi dominici of the ministers; their integrity and fairness were generally recognized. They were few in number; twenty-six in 1905, thirty-three in 1917, twenty-nine in 1935 10. Because of the immensity of the empire and the multifarious activities on which they were required to report they could visit only a limited number of colonies each year. The more remote colonies were often neglected; in 1930, for example, Niger was inspected for the first time-only partially-and Mauritania had never been inspected at all 11. As a result, the inspectors were of limited use in ensuring centralized control. At the most, they supplied the central administration with information for the exercise of the only function that Van Vollenhoven had thought necessary for the metropole: a veto over any action in the colonies that might “not be worthy of France or which might threaten her sovereignty.” 12
Even this function was sometimes too difficult for the metropole. When Brazza inspected the Congo in 1905 on a special mission, he discovered examples of severe maladministration about which Paris knew nothing. He wrote the minister of colonies:
During my voyage I have acquired the definite impression that the ministry has been kept ignorant of the real conditions of the natives and the manner in which they have been treated 13
Personal limitations and the nature of the administrative structure made it impossible for the ministers of colonies to keep themselves well informed about the colonies. In their ignorance they could scarcely formulate intelligent policy. The functionaries of the ministry complained in a collective letter that there was no long range direction; rather, colonial affairs were being handled on a day-by-day basis 14. Charles Regismanset, who served as director of political affairs of the ministry. of colonies, was even more definite: “It is abundantly clear that France has no colonial program, and in maintaining this negative attitude, she is faithful to a tradition. She has no program and has never had one.” 15
Planning of overseas policies might have developed through the interchange of information among the colonial powers, but this scarcely existed. Although comparative colonization was taught at the Ecole Coloniale and French officials participated in international colonial conferences, the ministry of colonies seems to have had little interest in the overseas experiences of other colonial powers. The association of functionaries of the ministry of colonies claimed in 1911:
The minister is completely uninterested in foreign colonial policy: England, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the United States, and Japan can conquer, administer, [and] lose half the globe without arousing his curiosity. He ignores the Anglo-Indian empire, the greatest colonial achievement in the world 16
In addition to his lack of interest, it was difficult for a minister to procure information about other colonial powers because the ministry lacked translators. Every time it sought to learn the content of a document published by another imperial power, it had to send the document to the ministry of foreign affairs for translation-a tedious process which thoroughly dampened curiosity 17
The ministry of colonies was not a highly desirable post; when cabinets were formed it was usually one of the last ones filled and usually fell to a time-server or a mediocrity. The personal qualities of the ministers, together with the structure of the administration at Rue Oudinot, made it unlikely that the ministry would closely control overseas officials.
Rather than being made in Paris, colonial policy tended to be made in Dakar, Brazzaville, or Tananarive. In their letter of 1911, functionaries of the ministry of colonies complained that “the minister avoids giving orders to the governors-general and the governors as much as possible.” Also–and this they found intolerable-the overseas officials were giving the minister orders 18. Fifteen years later the journalist Robert Doucet described the ministers as only rubber stamps for the governors-general 19. A former governor who served in the interwar years confirmed Doucet’s description:
In my thirty years in the colonial administration, I never received an instruction from the ministry of colonies. We were the real rulers of the empire; no one told us what to do. In theory, the ministry of colonies had control over everything, but in practice, it did not care to exercise this authority. Its only real function was to receive our requests and recommendations and transform them into decrees. Besides, the minister of colonies was a rather weak character; no one really cared what he thought or what he did. We were the ones who had the authority 20
In terms of experience, the governors-general were better equipped than were the ministers to supervise the administrative hierarchy beneath them. Of the nine governors-general serving in AOF between 1904 and World War II, for example, all except Ernest Rourne (1902-1908) had previously served overseas, and even he had acquired some knowledge of the colonies as director of political affairs at the ministry. All the other governors-general, in fact, with the exception of Joost Van Vollenhoven (1917), had at some time served in a cercle.
But the staff officers of the governors-general were as a rule less well prepared than were the governors-general to handle colonial problems. Until 1913 the governor-generals’ staffs consisted of a separate corps, that of the secretariat-general; its tasks were exclusively bureaucratic, and its members received no experience in bush administration. But after that time, the secretariat in the French colonies was merged with the Corps of Colonial Administrators. Gennan and British colonial administration, on the other hand, retained the division between the secretariat and the men in the field. In theory the merger of the secretariat with the Corps meant that the members of the secretariat received experience in the bush while the administrators served some time as desk officers. The members of the secretariat, however, made such deplorable bush administrators that the governors preferred to keep them at desk jobs. When Van Vollenhoven became govemor-general, he tried to have all his desk officers serve in the bush; such an experience, he thought, would “renew their ideas, would make them more effective.” 21 But others did not follow his procedure, and it was to be several years after World War I before desk officers and bush administrators were interchanged with any regularity.
Surrounded as they were by an inept staff, the governors-general found it difficult to supervise closely the work of their subordinate colonial governors, to say nothing of the individual commandants. Instead they spent most of their time coordinating the administration of the colonies that constituted the federation and acting as intermediaries between the individual governors and the ministry of colonies. Engrossed in these bureaucratic tasks, even the most experienced governors-general often had only a vague idea of what was going on in their colonies.
One might assume that the governors could supervise the commandants de cercles closely, for they were almost exclusively recruited from the top rank of the Corps of Colonial Administrators. Frequent inspection tours within the colony would have ensured close control over their subordinates, but for the most part the governors were tied down to the colonial capitals writing reports and compiling statistics and, thus like the governors-general, had little control over their subordinates. In any case, travel was difficult; many of the colonies were so large or their roads in such poor condition that during the rainy season some regions were virtually inaccessible. At the turn of the century, it took three months for officials appointed to Oubangui-Tchad during the rainy season to reach their destination. As a rule, the governor regularly supervised only the cercles located closest to the administrative capital.
The lack of control by their superiors led the administrators to practice various subterfuges. Eager to win fast promotion by mounting ambitious projects and fearful that these might be vetoed in advance by a cautious governor or an official in Paris, the administrators often kept their superiors ignorant of what they were doing until they had finished whatever project they had begun. One of the main explorers and conquerors of the Sudan, BorgnisDesbordes, told Leroy-Beaulieu: “When I am on an expedition, my first concern is to cut the telegraph line.” 22 Some civilian administrators also adopted this attitude; a number of them deliberately failed to report to their superiors for long periods of time. The commissioner-general of the Congo noted in the late 1880s that one subordinate “hardly writes to me and does not inform me of anything.” 23 A few decades later, Governor-General William Ponty described “the old school of administrators” as being composed of those who know “little about official regulations”; and, he could have added, nor care less 24
During this early period some administrators took on the airs of proconsuls. The governor of the archipelago of the Comores wrote in 1888 of one of his subordinates:
He does not understand, and never will, that he is not the real chief, nor the sovereign of the island, but that he is dependent upon the governor of Mayotte. … He is just like M … who was surprised at not being given the gun salute when he came to Mayotte 25
In at least one instance an administrator personalized his authority to such an extent that when he was away from his post, he left his wife in charge, with authority to tax, judge, and imprison the local inhabitants 26
The experience of Gallieni in Madagascar at the turn of the century is worth recounting because it illustrates how little the governors could control their subordinates. More than almost any other French colonial official, Gallieni constantly moved around and supervised his own men. Later he described his method:
In the Sudan I was constantly on horseback, stopping at the most ten days in important places in order to solve on the spot problems which were presented to me. Ten years later in Madagascar I also passed the greatest part of my time travelling by filanzane [a chair carried by porters] and later, when the roads permitted travel more easily, by coach, by car, and often by boat.
“This is what has to be done. In one month I shall return to see if everything is executed.” That was the phrase that I constantly pronounced during my long and numerous inspection tours. In this manner all my people were always forewarned, and everyone competed to show me the progress accomplished when I returned 27
Yet in spite of all his activity, Gallieni failed to detect and to prevent some of the worst abuses. He had abolished slavery, but his subordinates in Madagascar virtually re-established it disguised as a harsh system of labor dues. Gallieni had ordered that the members of forced labor gangs should be paid and fed regularly, but his orders were so badly executed that during 1896-1897 one-fifth of the local inhabitants employed in public works died 28
Governor-General Roume of AOF was dissatisfied with the limited control that the governors were able to establish over their commandants, and in 1906 he ordered each governor to appoint an inspector of administrative affairs in his colony who would tour each cercle within the colony and report on its administration. The Corps of Colonial Inspectors, under the direct orders of the minister of colonies, was charged with inspecting the whole overseas French establishment, while the localinspectors of administrative affairs were limited to inspecting the administration of the commandants de cercles. Rourne’s plan was sound but, limited by a shortage of personnel, the governors were often unable to spare an administrator as inspector of administrative affairs, or could appoint him for only brief spans of time. In the 1920s and even the 1930s several cercles within AOF had still never been visited by an inspector of administrative affairs. Thus, even within the individual colonies, establishing a centralized administration had proved impossible. A high official visiting the Ivory Coast in the 1930s noted the relatively limited control exercised by the governors over the commandants; in fact, it seemed to him that the colony “now resembles a federation of cercles, which the commandants rule according to their own whim.” 29
Accounts of two eminent bush administrators illustrate the relative freedom from their administrative superiors enjoyed by the commandants. Maurice Delafosse, who served before World War I, described how he was unable to keep up with the stream of regulations and decrees that were pouring out from the different bureaucratic offices. Finally he decided to ignore them:
I fall peacefully asleep on the growing pile of official journals and explanatory circulars, leaving it to chance to guide me…. I administer haphazardly. Sometimes by a lucky coincidence I make the decision which should have been made. Usually I make one that no text, new or old, could justify; then my error usually passes unperceived 30
Delavignette approvingly gives an example of an administrator in the 1920s who “stuck departmental circulars in his trouser pockets before he had read them” and then at the end of the day threw them together with his trousers into the linen basket 31
The attitudes expressed by Delafosse and Delavignette were by no means foreign to the spirit of the French colonial administration. Both Gallieni and Van Vollenhoven had by their example and writing instilled into the colonial administration a doctrine stressing a maximum of personal initiative by the men serving on the spot. The honor and respect in which both were held by their contemporaries and by later generations of French officials assured for their doctrines an important role in the shaping of French administrative practice. Gallieni first attracted attention by his successful military expedition to the Sudan. Later he effectively established French military domination over the northern part of French Indochina, and in 1896 he was called upon to organize the French administration in Madagascar. His unique personality inspired many anecdotes. In the heat of battle he was known to take out a book of poetry and calmly read from it. His own writings and those of his admiring disciple, Lyautey, showed him to be a passionate man of action, possessing admirable self-control, intense selfreliance, and a deep distrust of red tape and French bureaucracy.
Gallieni wrote that at all points the policy-makers of the hierarchy must seek information and advice from local administrators and give them maximum leeway. “The higher administration must depend upon the good sense and the initiative of territorial commanders who are in direct contact with the local population.” 32 Disliking red tape, Gallieni declared in a famous dictum: “Our administrators and officials must defend, in the name of good sense, the interests with which they are charged, and must not fight them in the name of regulations.” 33 In an equally celebrated passage, Lyautey recounted how as a young man in Indochina he had first met Gallieni. He had been assigned to Gallieni’s headquarters, and on the first evening, Colonel Gallieni asked if Lyautey had brought with him the manual of regulations. When Lyautey said he had, the colonel asked for the manual, packed it up in gray paper and told his newly acquired disciple: “I shall send all of this to Hanoi. I do not want you to be tempted to look at it while you are with me; these breviaries would only confuse you; it is on the spot, while commanding men and things, that you will learn your profession.” 34 While encouraging trusted subordinates such as Lyautey to be independent, Gallieni still supervised closely the men under his command. If in practice he did not always adhere to his own doctrine, that doctrine gained importance in its own right, since it was widely read and admired by colonial administrators.
Van Vollenhoven’s message was similar to that of Gallieni. The son of Dutch parents living in Algeria who had become naturalized French citizens, Van Vollenhoven graduated at the top of his class at the Ecole Coloniale in 1903. The tall, blond, and quiet student won the admiration of his peers and teachers by his earnestness and brilliance. His law thesis on the Algerian peasantry was acclaimed by several colonial authorities. Rather than go overseas, Van Vollenhoven entered the central administration in Paris, where he impressed his superiors by his hard work. He received unusually rapid advancement and was made interim governor of Guinea and then Senegal in 1907, when he was only thirty years old. In 1914 he became France’s youngest governor-general when he was appointed to administer Indochina, and three years later he took over the post of governor-general of AOF. However, he soon resigned that position to fight in the trenches 35, where he died a hero’s death for his adopted country. This premature end to his brilliant career gave Van Vollenhoven a kind of sacrosanct position in the minds of most French colonial administrators 36. In brief and forceful circulars, which were cited by French governors until the very end of the colonial era, Van Vollenhoven expressed the need for an administration freed from theory and adapted to the realities of the local situation. He mistrusted desk-bound administrators, and emphasized the importance of giving a free hand to the men in the field who had daily contact with the local realities. “To attempt to administer a colony by decrees from behind a desk,” he wrote, “is really nonsense.” 37 At another time he declared, “Only one’s presence, personal contact, counts. The circular is zero.”38
If the nature of the administrative structure itself and an influential strain of colonial doctrine tended to emphasize the importance of the man on the spot-that is, the commandant-then we must note the formal powers delegated to him. He was given wide powers, because in the end he was the man charged with transforming into reality on the local scene the schemes of his superiors either in the colonial capitals or in Paris.
The instructions issued by the governor of the Sudan in 1897 give a vivid idea of the multiple functions the administrators were required to fulfill. These instructions informed the administrators that they were the governor’s representatives in all official business and were in charge of supervising tax collection in their cercles and of assuring “a wise growth in the revenue of the local budget.” They were the sole civil officers and drew up all official acts. Each administrator was expected to take a census, map his region, and draw up an inventory of its soil, agriculture, mines, and forests. Construction of public works-roae, bridges, caravan routes, wells, and marketplaceswas an important function. So also was education, for the administrator must direct the French primary schools and survey the Islamic ones. He was expected to help the local population by offering advice for the improvement of agriculture, by encouraging the growth of rubber and cotton, and by helping to destroy locusts. In the Northern Sudan he was even expected to establish ostrich farms for the plumed hats of Europe 39
A manual issued in the Sudan in 1911 established further tasks for the administrators. It ordered them to visit every village in their cercles at least once a year and to act as propagandists for French colonization by informing the local populations of the benefits they enjoyed as a result of French rule: light taxes, complete safety of travel, and liberation from former tyrannical rule. The administrators were also to encourage local self-improvement in the villages, preaching the merits of hard work, advising as to suitable crops, and encouraging the villagers to produce for the commercial market 40
These multifarious functions made the administrators truly “jacks of an trades,” as one governor called them. Delafosse drew up an imposing list of the many roles that the administrator was called upon to fill: “secretary, accountant, tax collector, judge, notary, bailiff, road surveyor, architect, mason, carpenter, gardener, postman, transportation agent, army supply sergeant , horse dealer, physician, meteorologist, male nurse, pharmacist, topographer, corporal, police commissioner, inspector of the sûreté….” 41 Even the many-faceted Renaissance man, he remarked, would hardly have possessed enough talents for the French empire.
In addition to his administrative tasks, the commandant combined executive and judicial functions: after apprehending criminals, he had to try them as well. In civil cases he presided over the traditional courts. By a decree of September 30, 1887 42, the indigénat code was established which gave colonial administrators disciplinary powers over all “natives” who were not French citizens. The indigénat code had already been in use in Algeria in the 1840s. In order to ensure their authority, the officers of the bureaux arabes had been given the right to impose fines or short prison terms without trial for actions that would not have been considered unlawful in France. The law of 1887 set the limit of punishment under the indigénat at fifteen days in jail or a 100-franc fine. The offenses punishable under the indigénat system were clearly defined. In time, the list increased; by 1888 it included sixteen different offenses 43
The indigénat was considered indispensable for the smooth functioning of the administration. Twenty-five years after its adoption, Governor-General Ponty described it as “a summary but indispensable means of repression in a country only recently occupied” whose population was “as yet primitive.” In time, however, Ponty hoped that the indigénat code would be employed less frequently and rigorously “as the country becomes civilized, as the natives evolve, and as the regular courts are charged with the cases.” 44
The indigénat code has often been indicted for its harshness. By specifying the punishable offenses and their respective punishments, however, the code was intended, within an authoritarian framework, to set limits to the powers which the administrators could exercise over the people they ruled. But too frequently they failed to respect those limitations. The indigénat did not allow flogging as a punishment, but it was used with some frequency before World War I. Although imprisonment was limited to only fourteen days, administrators were known to give cumulative sentences of several fourteen-day periods. In order to ensure that the administrators would not impose unfair fines, they were required to keep a book where they inscribed all cases in which they had used their disciplinary powers. Some administrators, however, hid their own excesses by not registering them in their books. In 1904 Governor-General Roume of AOF sent a circular to the administrators in which he charged them with having failed to utilize the indigénat in the manner in which it had been intended, and he called on the administrators to be more careful and systematic in obeying the limitations of the law 45. The main fault of the authoritarian judicial system which the French had established was the lack of recourse against the whims of the administrators, for, as Roume noted, “the native has no way of appealing his punishment.” 46 In 1912 Roume’s successor Ponty also found it necessary to admonish the administrators for their misuse of the indigénat; there had been too many cases of excessive punishment, he wrote 47. Two years later Ponty complained again about the same malpractices. He observed that there was no uniform application of the disciplinary punishments, but rather that they varied from cercle to cercle, depending on the whims of the individual administrators. The use of the indigenat in the Ivory Coast he singled out as being “incontestably too severe.” 48
If individual administrators may be blamed for acts of brutality the metropole also bears its fair share of responsibility. For Parliament, while proclaiming French ideals of colonization, provided only limited funds for the colonies.
In the 1820s the treasury of each colony paid its expenses from local tax and customs revenues; when these resources were not sufficient, the metropole paid the difference. After the middle of the nineteenth century the colonial treasuries were saddled with an increasing proportion of the expenses; the mother country paid only those that could strictly be considered “expenses of sovereignty,” such as the salary of the administrative personnel. After the expansion of the empire in the late nineteenth century Parliament considered even those costs too burdensome and by a law of April 13, 1900, it established the principle that “all civil expenses including that of the gendarmerie should be supported by the budgets of the colonies.”49
The French government financed a decreasing proportion of colonial expenditures. In 1896, the budget of the French colonies had totaled 175 million francs, of which 45 percent had been contributed by the metropole; in 1910 the total budgets of the colonies had doubled to 355.7 million francs. But in 1910, the metropole contributed nearly the same sum as fifteen years earlier-and now it represented only 25 percent of the colonial expenses 50
Only with the greatest reluctance did the metropole finance deficits. Since the governors were strongly encouraged to balance their budgets they minimized expenditures while heavily taxing local resources. As part of the tax burden, the French imposed forced labor on all colonies. In Madagascar during Gallieni’s rule part of the tax burden amounted to fifty days of labor a year for every adult male; later it was reduced to thirty days. In AOF the heavy contingents of forced labor drafted to build the Dakar-Niger railroad disrupted the lives of people in whole regions; in the words of the minister of colonies “villages have been partly deserted … and harvests nearly abandoned.” 51
The railroad, to be sure, was built for the purpose of helping the French West African colonies develop, but in some cases forced labor was employed for totally useless projects. In one instance an administrator used thousands of labor days to construct an imposing but unnecessary plaza in the capital of his cercle; another built bridges which, because of his ignorance of architecture, soon collapsed.
Frequently the administrators, insensitive to the needs of the local populations, imposed excessive taxes upon them. This practice was blamed by an inspector for the series of violent uprisings that broke out in the Sudan during World War I. To varying degrees, wrote the inspector, the French administrators in the Sudan conceived of the Africans’ duties
… to be boundless while their rights on the other hand are reduced to nothing. With what rigor taxes are levied in many cases! And in the cercles, the prestations, the portages, how often are they misapplied! It is so easy to impose them. … 52
In addition to a head tax, the administration taxed certain forms of property, such as cattle and rice fields, forcing the populations to enter a money economy. Colonial officials-French and others-made the necessity of raising taxes a virtue; they saw it as having economic, social, and educational value, since it forced the colonial populations to seek employment or to cultivate crops for a commercial market 53
In the French empire the taxation system was probably hardest on the Congolese-the poorest colonial people with the least means of providing goods or labor. Almost their only source of cash came from working for the private rubber plantations, which ruthlessly dictated prices for the rubber collected. Before the war, the head tax in the Congo was eight francs a year; it was estimated in 1919 that in order to collect enough rubber to yield this tax money, the inhabitants had to work between sixty and one hundred twenty days a year, depending on the area in which the rubber was collected 54
The dire needs of the budget in the Congo explain to a high degree some of the atrocities that occurred there. In 1903, Emil Gentil, the commissioner-general of the Congo, sent a circular to all administrators informing them that their promotions depended on their ability to raise taxes. Spurred by this incentive, officials resorted to harsh means. Often on their tax collection trips they found that all the males had abandoned the village at their approach and in reprisal they took children and women as hostages, releasing them only when the taxes had been paid. The system of hostages must have been sanctioned by the commissioner-general, for he had provided funds for the building of hostage camps in the colony’s budget. These camps were inadequate for the number of hostages they held, and a large number died because of maltreatment. In one case, a village that did not pay its taxes was raided and sixty-eight hostages taken; through the intervention of a doctor they were released five weeks later, but only twenty-one were found alive. The rest had died of asphyxiation and starvation 55. The administrator who was responsible for this camp was tried in court, but was found not guilty and was transferred to another post 56. Such incidents, as Brazza noted, were not isolated phenomena 57
Thus it seems clear that both the metropole and the administrators in the field warrant a share of blame. The mother-country by its niggardly economic policy forced the administrators in the field to be dependent upon the limited financial capacity of the colonies; and it did not show sufficient concern for the methods employed in raising the needed funds. The administrators, in their concern to raise their quota of the budget, forgot Gallieni’s dictum that their first obligation was to the people they ruled rather than to administrative regulations. The administrators often enough asserted their independence from superior rule, but they seem to have done so mainly to give themselves greater elbow room. Too few administrators used their independence for the benefit of the colonial populations.
This lack of concern reflected in part the absence of a clearly defined colonial doctrine which at most consisted of vague notions about the benefits that French rule bestowed on the colonial populations. Governor-General Ponty called the form of benevolent paternalism practiced by the French a policy of “taming.” 58 But ideas like Ponty’s did little more than stress the need for continued French control over its empire; the ideas were incapable of guiding or inspiring the administrators in their daily activities.
The Corps was recruited from too many sources to enable its members to share a common ideal. While many of the Ecole Coloniale graduates may have been filled with the mystique of humanitarianism which J. F. Reste described, too few recruits came from the school before World War I. Rather, most of the administrators were men who for one reason or another found themselves overseas; becoming an administrator provided but a convenient promotion rather than the opportunity for the exercise of a special vocation or mission.
A doctrine did evolve, however, regarding methods of “native rule”: this was the doctrine of association. The colonial theory of assimilation which assumed that the overseas territories would be made over in the image of France, had been formed in the metropole, and had been advocated by the Ecole Coloniale; but in the early 1900s the theory of association was adopted-an indication of the ascendancy gained by the men in the field-the colonial military officers and civilian administrators. These men had discovered societies that were fundamentally different both in their political and social organization and in their level of economic development from those existing in Europe. Rather than make Frenchmen out of the colonial populations, French rule, the associationists urged, should tutor the colonial societies and help them evolve according to their own potentialities. France was to associate herself with the colonial societies. The doctrine of association, claiming the need for respect of the local societies, implied the need for instituting indirect rule–that is, rule through the indigenous political structures.
There were a few French officials in Africa who advocated a shift to indirect rule. Most of them had served in Indochina in the 1890s, where they had come under the influence of Governor-General Jean Marie de Lanessan. Echoing the thought of a long line of French officials in Indochina, de Lanessan had established the classical French argument for indirect rule:
Instead of dissolving the old group of rulers, one should use them; govern with the mandarin and not against him. Since we are and always shall be but an infinite minority, we cannot attempt to substitute ourselves [for them] but at the very most [we can] direct and control [them]. Thus, [we must] not injure any tradition nor change any habits, [but] remind ourselves that in all societies there is a ruling class born to rule, without which nothing can be done 59
There were, however, relatively few disciples of de Lanessan’s doctrine, for although most administrators claimed to be advocates of the doctrine of association, only a few were willing to accept its logical correlate-indirect rule.
In stressing the uniqueness of the colonies, many administrators wanted only to ensure that the colonies would not, as in metropolitan France, be provided democratic controls over the administrative system. Thus, association was but the continuation of a policy of domination through the exercise of paternal authoritarianism.
Although a doctrine of indirect rule had developed, the men in the field often negated its basic assumptions. The French policy of association was similar to that of indirect rule advocated by the British, but it was less often practiced.
The differences in administrative practice of the two colonial services were due in part to different national traditions. In Britain the benefits of local rule in England were widely believed in–especially by the class of men who went overseas. This system, it was claimed, allowed local problems in Britain to be dealt with by men who were intimately acquainted with them. It saved the government from making excessive expenditures, and by limiting the central functions of the state, it limited its authority and thus presumably created the personal freedom which the British people valued. In France local rule was never seen in this light. In a continental country threatened by its neighbors, local rule was considered a centrifugal force undermining the unity of the nation. In its history the French people found ample evidence to show that local rights were upheld by feudal and retrogressive forces, while progressive forces were represented by central authority. In France, until recently, centralization has been considered a good system, and local rule a perilous one which gave the enemies of the state a base from which to challenge it. In effect, one can say that both colonial powers put into practice the policy of assimilation, for both powers attempted to establish overseas an administrative pattern similar to that existing in the homeland; the difference lay in the content of the policies, which was due to the differing traditions of the mother countries themselves 60
The original traditions of colonial rule for the two powers were also quite different. In British India and Nigeria-two areas which served as models for subsequent British rule-company rule had preceded government administration. Concerned with economical administration, companies in India and Nigeria established a minimal rule similar to that later labeled indirect rule. Government administration adopted company methods; in Nigeria, Lord Lugard drew heavily on administrative traditions established by George Goldie’s Royal Niger Company. In the eighteenth century there had been company rule in French Senegal, but it had limited itself strictly to trade and had not been involved in ruling the local populations. If there had been French company rule, its administration, out of purely economic considerations, would probably have adopted methods similar to those of British or Dutch company rule-preserving the public peace with as little interference as possible in local political structures.
Much of British expansion overseas was pursued out of political and strategic necessity, but French expansion was to a larger extent actively motivated by a desire to affirm national vitality 61. And for this to become a reality seemed to require widespread and firm control over the colonies. The traditions of the ancien régime, of Napoleon, and of the Republic required that administrative control be pervasive and absolute. Anything less would be an abdication of power and influence. In a parliamentary debate in 1888, Eugéne Etienne made this point of view clear when he argued that officials in Indochina should exercise full authority, rather than serve as mere “advisers” to the local rulers. The latter, he declared, would be a “politique deffacement” (abdication of authority; loss of face) 62
The social backgrounds of the two colonial services also contributed to the differing manner in which they treated local authority. Although perhaps not sons of the most distinguished members of British society, nevertheless a very large number of British administrators could identify themselves with the gentry. And their education confirmed them in their aristocratic pretensions: a very large proportion were Oxbridge graduates 63. Perhaps an even greater sign of their gentlemanly education was the large number who were graduates of the public schools 64. Identified with the gentry and gentry values, the British administrators had a nostalgic sympathy for the local chiefs, while the French colonial administrators, most of whom came from the middle and lower middle classes, had a bourgeois disdain for everything that was reminiscent of feudalism or monarchism. The exigencies of colonial situations had their own ironies, sometimes requiring a French administrator of noble blood to crush a chief or unseat a king, and sometimes putting a commoner in the position of defending traditional rule. Delavignette described it best when he wrote:
Cavalry Sergeant de la Tour Saint-Ygest, who may have left France because he suffers from the equality brought by the revolution, goes to Upper Senegal-Niger to destroy the Tuaregs-that is, the feudality, the principles and feelings of which are dear to him. On the other hand, the representative of the powers of the Republic in Dakar, a member of French Masonry and the Radical Socialist party, will on the spot, in Africa, be an authoritarian governor, and he will use autocratic methods of rule to lead the natives toward progress 65
In general, however, the French administrators were ideologically hostile to the local chiefs. Even Delavignette stated:
Many administrators wanted to treat the feudal lords in the same way we had treated them during the French revolution. It was either break them or use them for our purposes. The British administrators had more sympathy for the feudal lords; it was aristocracy respecting aristocracy 66
Most French administrators were suspicious of the local chiefs and regarded them as backward, feudal elements of unreliable loyalty to France and exploitative of the local populations. The statement made by Louis Binger, the explorer and later governor of the Ivory Coast, about the desirability of suppressing the chiefs, was generally shared by the colonial administration:
When a chief is called Damel, Brack, Bour, Mansa, Almamy, or Naba [different royal titles in West Africa], once he commands a population of more than 25,000 people, he must be suppressed, for otherwise he will destroy instead of organize and regenerate 67
Republican officials going to the colonies had an inherent suspicion of feudal institutions. Many French officials overseas saw it as their mission to free the local populations from their feudal rulers. In Madagascar, where the Hovas had imposed their rule over the other ethnic groups, Gallieni instituted a policy known as la politique de race; he suppressed the Hova chiefs, replacing them with others chosen from among local ethnic groups. This policy was also carried out in West Africa; in the decade preceding World War I Governor-General William Ponty carried on an ambitious program to crush the chiefdoms. He advocated the need to fight the influence of the local aristocracies in such a manner as to assure us of the sympathy of the multitudes, and suppress the great native chiefs who are nearly always a barrier between us and the administered masses 68
Ponty’s attitude—as that of Gallieni and others-was formed in the Sudan. The struggle against El Hadj Omar in the 1860s and then against Samory in the 1880s and 1890s gave the French a unique view of the African chief. As Lombard writes, 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.” 69 In a speech to Parliament in 1894, Delcassé declared the need to free the colonial masses “trembling under oppression.” And he added, “We must substitute the beneficial unity of the French genius for the many violent tyrannies of kings … or chiefs.” 70 Later Governor-General Ponty, who had served in the Sudan for several years, wrote his governors in a circular:
My long experience in West Africa among the black populations has permitted me to conclude in the clearest fashion, and you have certainly made the same observation, that the native intermediaries between the mass of the population and the administrators of the cercles or their subordinates are usually nothing but parasites living on the population and existing without profit to the treasury 71
Ponty’s observation was reflected in the reduction of several important chiefdoms in AOF; in Guinea, for example, the prestigious chiefs of Labé and the Futa Djallon were removed. In some cercles his policy was so meticulously practiced that the chiefs were dismissed without being replaced; in one cercle an administrator abolished the chefs de canton, the intermediary chiefs between the village chiefs and the administrator, thus having to give direct orders to 1,085 village chiefs. He explained:
I am not in favor of creating a chef de canton. The more intermediaries there are between the taxpayers and the tax collector, the more chance there is that the money will be lost on the way. The notions of individualism of personal obligations and rights, must be spread among the Africans 72
For practical purposes of administration, except for rare instances as the above, the office of chef de canton was generally retained. But the administrators determined the geographic limits of the canton, the powers of the chiefs, and the persons who should occupy the position. Former kingdoms like the Futa Djallon were carved up into several cantons; the purpose of this division, as an administrative report put it, was to “Divide in order to rule.” 73
Where the cantons were allowed to be coextensive with the former royal territory, the ruling house was dethroned or at least an amenable member of the family put in place of the former chief. In some cases, the administrator appointed his own houseboy or an interpreter as chief 74. Village chiefs were usually not meddled with; they were allowed to stay on unless convicted of malfeasance.
It was obviously not only policy drawn up in the colonial capitals or the different appointments and dismissals of chiefs by the administrators that influenced the evolution of the French policy toward the chiefs. More important were the attitudes exhibited by the administrators themselves in their daily contacts with the chiefs. They felt a keen pride in French culture, and usually refused to show public respect or pay homage to the chiefs. Many of the administrators serving before World War I shared the feelings that Binger had expressed in 1892 after having made his exploratory trip in the lower Sudan region:
I feel that a white man travelling in this country, whoever he may be, should not prostrate himself before a black king, however powerful the latter may be. It is necessary that a white man should inspire respect and consideration wherever he goes; for if the Europeans should ever come here, they should come as masters, as the superior class of society, and not have to bow their heads before indigenous chiefs to whom they are definitely superior in all respects 75
And this kind of pride was not necessarily triggered by ignorance of local institutions or by an exaggerated dedication to assimilatory values. A man like Messimy, who could speak with feeling of the value of local institutions and traditions in the colonies and the need to help the indigenous populations evolve within their own civilizations 76, announced in a flight of rhetoric in the very same book:
We must make countries out of these empty spaces, we must make nations out of these agglomerations of halfcivilized or barbarian peoples, we must organize new states, give them traditions, morals, a political and social organization 77
There were few colonial officials who at heart did not consider the traditional political institutions undesirable. And they made no effort to show the chiefs any special mark of deference. Van Vollenhoven noted that chiefs were sometimes made to wait for hours outside the French administrator’s office, only to be received brusquely by the latter’s subordinate 78. In a number of cases the administrators did not hesitate to slap the chiefs publicly 79. When suspected of malfeasance, the chiefs were treated as common criminals; in Madagascar, former Hova chiefs who had been convicted of embezzlement were put into the same chain gangs as their subjects. An administrator who served in the 1920s attested to this general lack of respect for the indigenous chiefs:
We did not take the feudal lords very seriously; we found them rather ridiculous. After the French revolution we could not be expected to return to the middle ages…. We just used to slap them on the back and were rather familiar with them 80
Of course, this attitude was not always transformed into policy. In certain areas the French found it convenient to preserve the traditional authority and to try to rule through it. In Upper Volta the office of Mogo Naba (emperor of the Mossi) was preserved; in acephalous societies in the Congo, chiefs who had performed only religious functions were given a political authority which they had never previously possessed. A chief’s power in the precolonial era was sometimes limited by local intrigues and the potential of popular revolt. The establishment of French rule automatically removed these former restraints and thus in a sense strengthened the chiefs 81. Nevertheless, even when this occurred, the administrators hardly ever thought of the traditional structures as having intrinsic and lasting merit, as did the British proponents of indirect rule.
Whatever the French administrators’ perception of power may have been, as Professor Brian Weinstein so brilliantly demonstrates, the local realities of power may have been quite different 82. In Oubangui, for example, Félix Eboué, while serving as an administrator in the years immediately preceding World War I, thought he was exploiting local rivalries to consolidate French rule. At the same time, however, the local inhabitants were conveniently invoking French aid to liquidate traditional feuds. It would be hard to decide whether the local inhabitants, or the representative of the French republic, held the upper hand in this particular relationship. Administrators did not always manipulate local chiefs; sometimes it was the chiefs who manipulated the French officials. And administrators could not, because of limitation in their number and turnover of personnel, be as all-powerful as some of them desired 83
In several regions French rule led to the breakdown of the chief-system. In the precolonial era the chiefs had often been able to rule by means of consensus but under French pressure they were forced to squeeze taxes and labor dues from their subjects. Their traditional basis of rule was further undermined as they became little more than French functionaries, and the loss of the chief s traditional prestige and authority sometimes made it difficult for the French to use them to control the local populations effectively 84. In 1912, after having reduced the chiefs, French administration in Labé, Guinea, “gave the impression of being completely powerless.”85
If chiefly traditional authority broke down, it is worth repeating that the French presence often bolstered and strengthened the powers of chiefs in some regions, especially those in which chiefly power had been on the wane, or in which there had been no previous tradition of a larger political state. But in the face of the breakdown, or alleged breakdown, of the traditional chief-system, a number of colonial officials advised that the local hierarchies be preserved. But this advice was qualified in such a manner that it continued to limit the chiefs’ authority; they were to be considered only as auxiliaries of the French administration. Gallieni, generally considered an advocate of indirect rule, wrote his administrators:
The native chief [is] to be closely watched, and to be controlled in all his acts, which sometimes are directed by insatiable greed and by personal interests. Whatever the inconvenience they may cause us, it is generally better to conserve this ghost of power to which the native is more accustomed and behind whom we can maneuver more conveniently. A little judgment in choosing him, a little ability in knowing how to incite his self-interest and ambition, will even sometimes make him a useful auxiliary 86
And Joost Van Vollenhoven, who as governor-general of French West Africa in 1917 did a great deal to encourage better treatment of the chiefs and a strengthening of the chieftain system, nevertheless concluded:
There are not two authorities in the cercle, the French authority and the native authority. There is only one; the commandant de cercle commands; only he is responsible. The native chief is only an instrument, an auxiliary 87
The adoption of the doctrine of association after 1900 had meant for the metropole the establishment of an administration more sensitive to the local needs of the colonial populations. The colonial administration, purposely decentralized, left nearly full powers to the local commandants. Often hostile to the local political structures they rejected indirect rule, although it was implicit in the doctrine of association. Using the full powers entrusted to them, many French administrators crushed the old political structures in the colonies and substituted their own autocratic rule.
While the metropole proclaimed vague goals about the French mission of civilization (for which, incidentally, it refused to make any serious financial contributions) the administrators were permitted to govern according to their whims and inclinations.
The decentralized administrative structure virtually gave a free hand to the man who wanted to build a bridge, establish a schoolhouse, or help increase local peanut production; it also gave the administrator in the bush nearly the same freedom to wreak destruction around him. Alone, living without supervision, and possessing nearly total powers, some of the officials serving in this early era were prone to strange impulses. Like Kurtz, the fictional character in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, some administrators, freed from the inhibitions of Europe, found a world of unlimited possibilities in which nothing was forbidden. Delafosse well described the process:
These [brutal men] are … in our midst, we meet them constantly in the street, and also in the best frequented salons, but their instincts are not revealed, because they are repressed; therefore, these people while in Europe may five and die with an unblemished reputation for perfect honesty. Throw them into the bush without control, freed from the obligations which in France controlled every one of their acts, every one of their gestures; give them an authority which turns their heads, and beyond that demand results without specifying the normal means of attaining them, and these same men who had been honest in Europe, become criminals in Africa 88
Too seldom was the administration in Paris, or even the higher administration in the colonies, able to check acts of serious brutality. The investigations made after World War I of the events that led to the uprising in D6dougou, Sudan, in 1915-1916 read like a catalogue of horrors. The report found the commandant guilty of the following activities:
- Serious maltreatment in several cases, followed by death.…
- Young native girl raped….
- Villages partially burnt in 1914 …
- Inhabitants imprisoned or transferred to Dédougou for forced labor. .
- Natives beaten in December 1914.
- Arbitrary detention of one of these natives.
- False judgment of the court….
- Fine irregularly levied….
- Native prisoner strangled in January 1916.
- Two native prisoners strangled in February 1916.
- Accounting irregular.
- Expenditure of 11,995 francs supported by counterfeit receipts 89
In spite of the evidence, an administrative court of inquiry acquitted the commandant, putting the blame on his subordinates. Enough charges, however, remained for the administrator to be tried by a civil court for the murder of one of his prisoners and for the embezzlement of local funds. In reply to the murder charge, his defense cited as extenuating circumstances the administrator’s overwork. As for the embezzlement, that evidently was common enough not to be noticed. The administrator was acquitted, later promoted, and upon his retirement in the late 1920s, was allowed to reach the top rank 90
Less serious offenses such as embezzlement, or at least false book accounting, seem to have been relatively common in the French colonies before the war. Some administrators apparently had two accounts, one official, and another secret, known as the caisse noire. Sometimes an administrator might have a pet project, a road, a bridge, or an agricultural project that did not receive sanction from the governor’s office. In order to finance it, he would falsify his account, or raise illegal taxes. In a particular case the act might’be useful, but such irregular bookkeeping meant that the administrators could also pocket cercle funds. The problem of the caisses noires was so serious that when Angoulvant became governor of the Ivory Coast in 1908 he questioned every administrator in the colony about his particular accounting. He was able to get “from several among them confessions of occult accounting,” and he ordered them to surrender all their secret funds to the colony’s treasury. Angoulvant promised the administrators immunity from prosecution, but he warned them of the consequences if they persisted in their activities. Seven years later Angoulvant noted that there had been little change; the administrators were still continuing the practice of double bookkeeping 91
The ministry in Paris and the governors in the colonies seem to have accepted with relative resignation the irresponsibility and brutality of many of the overseas functionaries. An administrator in the Congo in the 1890s had been certified by the colony’s doctor as not being “in full possession of his mental faculties because of an overdose of certain drugs and alcohol”; he had burnt down two villages and his favorite sport seems to have been taking pot shots at people imprudent enough to walk past his residence. He was retained in the service, and he continued to spread terror 92. An administrator in Senegal, noted as a chronic alcoholic in 1911, was allowed to serve fourteen more years until his death in 1925 93
Since most of the colonies were only recently conquered and “pacified,” the administration did not seem to think they required better functionaries than they had. When in 1909 the governor of Dahomey was asked to describe the morality of one of his administrators serving in what was then a solitary post, he wrote, “Acceptable for Ouidah.” 94
Because so many of the administrators were of poor quality, a governor when dissatisfied with his subordinates found that his only option was to recommend transferral to another colony. When practiced by all colonies, this policy—baptized by one governor the “politique de débarras” —could lead to some ironic situations. The governor-general of AOF transferred an administrator accused of megalomania and rape to Madagascar 95; in exchange he asked for an administrator from the island colony. The governor-general of Madagascar in turn used this opportunity to rid himself of one of his worst administrators, an embezzler with a former criminal record 96. Thus neither governor-general had gained very much.
No matter how inefficient or brutal, most administrators were considered good enough for service in the Congo. That colony until 1914 was the receptacle for administrators unwanted in other French territories. When an administrator in Guinea was noted as having become “bizarre,” he was transferred to the Congo 97; another was sent there when his governor discovered that he was a neurotic 98; and a drug addict and several alcoholics were banished to that colony 99
According to Corps regulations, an administrator suspected of malfeasance was to be investigated by a commission of inquiry consisting of fellow administrators within the colony. But as the governor of Dahomey angrily observed in 1915, these commissions nearly without exception were prejudiced in favor of the accused functionary, and mitigating circumstances were found for nearly every act of maladministration 100. Because of the leniency of the commissions of inquiry, dismissal from the Corps was rarely recommended. Of 891 administrators joining the Corps between 1887 and 1910, only five were dismissed; twenty-two resigned but undoubtedly some of those did so under duress. In addition to its poor quality, the colonial administration also frequently suffered from a shortage in personnel. In 1898, for example, the commissioner-general of the Congo informed the minister of colonies that out of nineteen officials assigned to the Congo, six were in France, or preparing to go there; the four best were in Chad and Oubangui; three were occupied with special nonadministrative functions; of the six remaining, one had to be dropped from the service, one was being investigated for suspicious activities, two were in poor health, and one could not be trusted alone. “There remains,” as the commissioner put it, “only one administrator capable of exercising a command.” 101 A small number of administrators thus carried the burden of administering a colony. Their duties and the climate often took its toll. When Brazza visited Gabon in 1905 he found the administrators there to be “physically and mentally exhausted and incapable of serving.” 102
The deficiencies of the French administration before World War I were probably not peculiar to it. No study on a fideby-file basis has been made, for instance, of the entire British colonial service, but such an enterprise might yield unexpected results. Historians may have adopted too uncritically the self-image that British administrators had of themselves as being “plain, tolerant, gentlemanI men; they were on the whole just, and they were totally incorruptible.” 103
The rather negative picture presented here of the French administrators who served overseas before 1914 should not obscure the men of high quality and character who were members of the Corps. There was Henry d’Arboussier, a graduate of the Ecole Coloniale in 1898, who served most of his career in the Sudanic regions. He spoke fluent Arabic, Fulani, and Bambara. A good horseman, he frequently toured his cercle and knew it intimately. According to his superiors’ reports, he was very popular in his region. While administering the area which later became known as Upper Volta he established friendly relations with the Mogo Naba-so cordial that during the war the Mossi emperor offered d’Arboussier a cavalry force of 500 men with which he won Togo from the Germans 104
Some administrators were deeply interested in encouraging local crop production. An official serving in Senegal who entered the Corps in 1910 had planted and developed fruit trees, peanuts, and manioc in several cercles. He and others like him helped develop the local econorny 105. An administrator in Guinea who entered the Corps after serving as an agent in the Sudan was described in 1918 as “loving the natives and exercising great authority over them. He desires to see them evolve rapidly, especially economically.” 106 The top graduate of the Ecole Coloniale in 1904 served fourteen years in Madagascar before going to the Ivory Coast where he won his superior’s praise as “the ideal of what an administrator can be: just, thoughtful, untiringly active, loyal, of superior intenigence.” 107 Educated administrators were not the only ones of high quality. A judge’s son with no secondary education served for nine years as an agent before entering the Corps in 1908; his governorgeneral characterized him as a “good administrator. Likes the natives and knows how to be liked by them.” 108
One can multiply the examples of hard-working, conscientious men who served as colonial administrators. Unfortunately, however, a large proportion of the administrators before World War I were men of relatively poor quality. Fortunately for the empire, the methods of recruitment and training that had been developed on the eve of the war produced after 1920 men who were better qualified and had a more abiding concern for the welfare of the colonial populations.
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