Rulers of Empire: the French Colonial Service in Africa

VIII. — The Corps in an Era of Change

“When Africa becomes independent, we will have to raise a statue in memory of a cursed person in history, Hitler,” Albert Tevoedjre, an African writer, stated in 1958 1. Hitler’s war, he said, prepared Africans for independence by making them conscious of the outside world and like the French desirous of an end to alien rule. Also, the war had weakened French power and made it difficult for France to maintain domination over the overseas possessions against the will of the inhabitants. Seen in perspective, World War II must be considered as marking the beginning of the end of the colonial empires, including that of the French. This chapter will consider the reactions of the Corps to the immense changes that began with the war and culminated in independence.
The war had important effects on the Corps. Like all French civil servants, the administrators were faced in June 1940 with the dilemma of either recognizing the Vichy regime and with it the armistice it had signed with the Germans, or of heeding de Gaulle’s call to continue fighting the Germans.
In AOF some administrators gave early support to de Gaulle. The chief administrator of Upper Volta 2, Emile Louveau, sent a telegram of adherence to de Gaulle on June 22, 1940. He gave public speeches in favor of continued resistance, and encouraged the military officers in his region to go to the Gold Coast, and from there to London to join de Gaulle. But Governor-General Pierre Boisson in Dakar, who was loyal to the Vichy regime, punished those administrators who had too hastily made known
their sympathies for de Gaulle 3. Louveau, for example, was lured to Dakar and then imprisoned in France.
Governor-General Boisson faithfully enforced the Vichy decrees that eliminated from the civil service all foreignborn, Communist, Freemason, and Jewish officials. Of the 400 administrators serving in AOF, twenty-one were dismissed for “political reasons” and ten because they were Freemasons. After this purge the Corps in AOF remained loyal to Vichy; only five administrators fled into neighboring British territories and Liberia to join the Allied forces, and four officials took a public position for de Gaulle. The administration in Madagascar also remained loyal to the Vichy regime, and since the country did not border on any British territories, fewer administrators were able to flee and join the Free French than was the case with AOF.
In AEF, the story was quite different. Almost immediately after General de Gaulle’s famous call of June 18 to continue resisting the Germans, Félix Eboué, a black man and the governor of Chad, had rallied his colony to the side of the general. Shortly thereafter the entire federation was brought under Gaullist control by a coup, and Eboué was made governor-general of AEF. He was born in French Guiana, had studied at the Ecole Coloniale before World War I, and in Oubangui, where he had been sent, he proved himself to be a remarkable administrator and ethnologist. A Socialist, Eboué was appointed governor of Guadeloupe during the Popular Front period, and in 1938 was appointed governor of Chad, by Mandel, minister of colonies.
This man, ruling in the name of France over other black men, was the perfect symbol of French assimilation. Because of his services in the liberation of France, he was signally honored after his premature death; he was buried in the Panthéon—the only black man and the only former colonial administrator so honored.
Most administrators in AEF remained loyal to the Eboué regime. Of approximately 400 administrators only forty refused to serve the pro-Gaullist regime, and they were duly repatriated to France, or allowed to go to AOF. While it is certain that many administrators felt sympathetic to the Vichy regime 4, the prime responsibility for that adherence in AOF must be seen as being due to the individual influence of Governor-General Boisson. Both in AOF and in AEF the members of the Corps proved loyal to their administrative superiors, adopting their political attitudes.
The war brought vast changes in the methods of colonial administration. In AOF the program of liberalization introduced in the 1930s came to an abrupt end. Forced labor service was increased, greater production quotas were imposed on the local populations to meet the needs of the motherland, and the code of the indigénat system was more harshly used. The few representative organs that existed, such as the Colonial council in Senegal and the elected city councils of the four communes in that colony, were dissolved. Africans in AOF who joined the Free French or were sympathetic to them were dealt with more harshly than were pro-Gaullist Europeans. Some cases of extreme brutality occurred. When the king of Abron and 1,500 of his followers left the Ivory Coast for the Gold Coast in January 1942, the French administration took reprisals against the indigenous notables who had remained behind.
According to Soustelle, they were subjected to “almost unbelievable sadistic cruelties: torture by fire, beatings, mutilations 5.”
Governor-General Boisson, because of his loyalty to the Vichy regime, is usually considered a reactionary. But most of his policies were very much within the colonial tradition of the Third Republic. His native policy was articulated in his Trois directives de colonisation africaine: “To colonize is essentially to make the native societies advance along the roads chosen by us…. The elites and the masses must follow us simultaneously 6.” In his circulars on education, agricultural development, and industrialization, Boisson even made new and constructive suggestions.
The tension produced by the war and the establishment in France of a government with definite racist overtones (witness the laws against Jews and the foreign-born) encouraged racism in the Vichy-controlled colonies. It was the “golden age” of the “true” colonialists 7. But Boisson, in the face of this situation, vigorously attempted to combat racist attitudes among both the French settlers and the officials 8.
The Vichy regime abrogated the traditional civil service codes, and could thus disn-fiss without regular procedures any of its civil servants. Those powers, of course, led to abuse, but also made it much easier for the central adnfinistration to dismiss administrators of poor quality. In several cases the Vichy regime rid itself of some of the older administrators who were brutal or lazy. Many of these men had been considered poor administrators in the 1930s, but because of the civil service code the ministry of colonies had found it difficult to dismiss them. The ministry also had been reluctant to dismiss some because of their political connections or because of their remarkable war records. As Boisson said, a tradition “had become deeply established” of rotating unsatisfactory officials, rather than ousting them from the service. As a result, “deplorable functionaries have during their entire career with impunity been guilty of maladministration.” Some officials have had “very honorable careers, while their services were less than honorable. 9” By using arbitrary power, the Vichy regime dismissed at various levels 140 unsatisfactory officials in AOF, and thus to some degree contributed to an improvement in the quality of the colonial personnel. Among those dismissed were a veteran wounded in World War I who suffered severe psychic disturbances, an extremely brutal official, and another administrator suffering from a persecution complex 10.
Since the defeat of France in 1940 was basically a defeat of the ground forces, the navy gained in prestige; consequently, naval personnel were put in charge of the colonies, as they had been half a century earlier, and the ministry of colonies was reduced to a secretariat, headed by an admiral. None of the admirals who served between 1940 and 1942 was well prepared for the task. In 1942 the undersecretary of colonies, Admiral Platon, was replaced by Jules Brévié, the former governor-general of AOF. Brévié was one of the few former colonial officials ever to head the offices of Rue Oudinot. Brévié brought to the undersecretariat the experience of several decades as an administrator in Africa, and he knew what it was to deal with Parisian officials who were ill-acquainted with the colonial scene. Applying his knowledge to the situation, he issued at the very outset of his regime a decree which merged officials of the higher administration of Rue Oudinot with those of the Corps of Colonial Administrators. Henceforth, there would be a constant interchange between the men serving overseas and those in the offices of Rue Oudinot. With the exception of this reform, the Vichy regime brought no changes of any consequence to the colonial administration.
At one point, however, the Vichy regime did consider in some detail the possibility of establishing a new relationship between France and the colonies. It studied the idea of drawing up a new French constitution; special provisions concerning the colonies were to be proposed by the Académie des sciences d’outre-mer, a scientific body composed of experts in all fields connected with the colonies, from distinguished colonial administrators to overseas meteorologists.
In discussing the constitutional draft, the Académie decided to concentrate primarilv on the complex problem of whether French
citizenship should be granted to the colonial populations. The overwhelming majority of the subcommittee studying this problem, which numbered among its membership such well-known figures as the colonial sociologist René Maunier and Jules Brévié himself, was against granting citizenship to the overseas populations in one broad sweep. French citizenship, they stated, must never be considered a right, but rather a privilege to be extended to those few who either by their actions or by their education deserved it. Furthermore, French citizenship could be extended only to those who would give up their personal legal status.
Paul Azan, a general who had served in Algeria and who represented a distinctly minority position, attempted to convince his colleagues that a Moslem with four wives (thus enjoying a personal legal status) should, if he reached a certain educational level, be given the chance to become a French citizen. “Surely,” he said, “we can ask that one broaden French laws sufficiently so that one can be both Moslem and citizen at the same time.” Speaking for the rest of the committee, a member answered: “No, no, I refuse absolutely 11.” Somewhat cynically Maunier suggested that if the Moslem “really has a great desire to be able to say that he is a French citizen, let us call him “honorary citizen.” 12 This was the germ for an idea to declare all the colonial people citizens, but at the same time to establish degrees of privileges that the dtifferent types of citizen would enjoy. The committee recommended three grades of citizenship: “Frenchmen enjoying all civil and political rights, those with partial rights, those who will have none.” Frenchmen living in France would be in the first category; the second would include the educated indigenous elites in the colonies; and the third would comprise the noneducated overseas populations. In the constitutional draft, the committee of the Académie indirectly provided for those categories by stating that the populations of the French motherland and of the colonies enjoyed, or could enjoy, the rights of citizenship. With amazing candeur the committee demonstrated the artifice lying behind its proposal:

M. Sambuc: Do you think that among the 38 million citizens there will be one who will make the distinctican between “to enjoy the rights of citizenship” and “can receive those rights”?
M. Maspiro: Exactly. He will not know. That is what we want. We want to give confidence.
M. Sambuc: Then, what we wish to put in the constitution is something that nobody will understand.
M. Maunier: In the constitution it is a question of proclaiming a
principle, and not to give a solution.
Admiral Lacaze: But then what will be done to leave the door open to them for citizenship?
M. le Près: That lies in the future.
Admiral Lacaze: But the future, you are leaving that out of the constitution.
M. Maunier: We shall be unable to avoid saying that among these 100 million Frenchmen there are some who are more French than others 13.

The formula recommended by the Académie was a compromise between the generous and egalitarian principlies of assimilation and the authoritarian principles of the associationist doctrine. Superficially, the constitutional draft regarding the overseas territories seemed to embody the most generous of principles: all the overseas populations were to be made into French citizens. But a closer study reveals that the intention of the Académie was to continue French domination over the colonies. The Académie’s recommendations are not of isolated interest.
The Vichy regime never did proclaim the constitution, but as later events were to show, many colonial experts continued to announce generous principles of full equality, while in reality wanting to keep the colonies subjugated. Neither the provisional government of General de Gaulle nor, later, most of the cabinets of the Fourth Republic were to be entirely free of such attitudes. In spite of the dramatic rhetoric on colonial affairs, successive French regimes ever since the Revolution have attempted to preserve their dominance over their overseas possessions. As Robert W. July so aptly put it, French colonialism was always a “unique blend of theoretical democracy and practical autocracy 14.”

While the Académie was debating possible Vichy reforms, some innovation and change did occur in that part of the empire controlled by the Free French. To coordinate his rule over the Free French colonies, de Gaulle in October 1940 appointed a Council for the Defense of the Empire. Eboué was a member of that council, and since the wartime situation did not allow close supervision, Eboué was left in full command of AEF. Through circulars drawn up in November 1941, which were issued collectively under the title La Nouvelle politique indigène pour l’Afrique équatoriale française, Eboué attempted to establish a new colonial doctrine for the Free French.
Eboué was primarily concerned with the erosion of traditional society which he blamed on the policies of assimilation and direct rule. What was needed, he wrote, was respect for the local societies. In his denunciation of the methods of direct rule and his advocacy of the traditional structures, Eboué echoed preceding generations of colonial officials, men like Governors-General Van Vollenhoven and Brévié.
He stated his doctrine in the following famous passage:

Who should be chief? I shall not answer with the Athenians, “the best
man.” There is no best chief, there is only one chief, and we do not have choice. The chief is not interchangeable; when we depose him
public opinion does not depose him. The chief pre-exists… Having distinguished the legitimate chiefs, we shall bring them all our efforts, and it is through them … that we shall get to the masses and shall be able to develop them 15.

What was new in Eboué’s doctrine was his genuine support of the indigenous institutions. For men like Van Vollenhoven and Brévié the stress on the respect for local institutions had primarily been dictated by the exigencies of their administration. But there was something new in Eboué’s words:

Instead of vague and inadaptable conceptions which seem to associate certain natives with the Government of all of France or all of the Empire, we advocate … transforming them first into excellent citizens of their own country 16.
In 1942 Eboué created the status of notable évolué for the educated chiefs. These men within their own colony were to have legal rights similar to those that Frenchmen enjoyed in the metropole. They would become the leaders of their own colony. Compared with British colonial developments, Eboué’s doctrines were a generation behind their time 17, but within the French colonial tradition they were an important new achievement. It was the realization of some of the concepts propagated a decade earlier by men like Labouret and Delavignette. Like them, Eboué evidently had in mind the development of autonomous colonial governments which would be linked with the French motherland into a federation.
Eboué drew up his suggestion to meet what he recognized to be the growing discontent among the educated African elites. The French defeat in the second world war and the rival claims of Pétain and de Gaulle did much to erode French authority overseas. In addition, the Free French felt they owed the overseas populations a threefold debt of gratitude. First, at one time more than half their military forces had consisted of indigenous recruits; second, the overseas populations had labored to produce foodstuffs; and third, de Gaulle’s control of part of the French empire had been for a time his only claim to legitimacy.
De Gaulle recognized that after the war the contributions of the colonial populations would have to be rewarded and reforms would have to be instituted to take into account the vast changes that had occurred. In 1943 when his provisional government moved to Algiers from London, it took important steps to satisfy the demands of the educated Algerians—reforms which foreshadowed later ones. In Algeria there had been two electoral colleges, one consisting of French citizens, the other of Moslems. The first college elected a large majority of the municipal and regional councillors and was qualified to vote for deputies to the French Parliament. De Gaulle decreed that several tens of thousands of educated Algerians should become members of the first college without having to abandon their personal legal status—that is, without having to renounce their traditional laws, such as the Moslem laws on marriage and inheritance. In addition, the prerogatives of the second college were made coequal with those of the first 18.
Thus, in Algeria and in AEF, the two major areas controlled by the Free French in 1943, some reforms had been made. And when toward the end of that year the Free French had seized control of all the French possessions in Africa, the moment seemed to have arrived to consider a comprehensive plan for the future development of the African empire. The time for change, de Gaulle’s commissioner of colonies René Pleven noted, was long overdue. While the colonies had undergone profound evolution since their conquest, the administrative system established then had been preserved with only a few minor changes. In January 1944 Pleven called a meeting in Brazzaville of all top colonial officials; its purpose was

to clarify, to organize, and to render French colonization more efficacious. We shall fight racial prejudice, excessive economic subordination of the colonies to the metropole, bureaucracy, fear of responsibility, laziness of spirit, respect for the letter [of the law] 19.

But if the imperial structures were to be reformed, Pleven made it clear that no parcel of French authority should be sacrificed. Before the conference met, Pleven instructed the delegates:

It may be convenient to remind ourselves that the political power of France must be retained so that it will continue to be able to control the empire. Whatever the local liberties or the attributes of a federal institution, the French government reserves to itself, or to its representatives, the right to choose the higher representatives of authority: governors-general, governors, prefects, residents-general, magistrates…. Thus, local initiative and a federal representative institution will not endanger or diminish the influence of France on its empire 20.

De Gaulle, to show the importance that he placed in the conference, flew to Brazzaville and opened its first session on January 30, 1944. In his speech he asserted that even at the outbreak of the war “the necessity appeared to create a new basis for the conditions of economic development of our African territories, to ensure the progress of the men who live there, and that of the exercise of French sovereignty.” The mission of France was “to elevate men step by step toward the peaks of dignity and fraternity.” France, de Gaulle said, was determined “to choose nobly and generously” the new and practical roads toward the future 21. Both Pleven, in his instructions issued to the delegates in late 1943 and in his speech, and de Gaulle, in his address to the conference, laid down the general framework for the members of the Brazzaville Conference 22.

The conference was attended by eighteen governors and governors-general, by administrative advisers from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco, by officials from the commisariat of colonies, and by members of the French Consultative Assembly sitting in Algiers. One striking feature of the conference was that although it had been called to decide the future of French Africa, no Africans actively participated in its deliberations.
At Brazzaville the Free French had a twofold task to perform: they had to draw up plans for the future evolution of the colonies, and to respond to the expectations of broadened liberty that had developed in Africa. Ever since the promulgation of the Atlantic Charter in 1941, an Allied victory had been identified with the end of all forms of suppression. The third principle of the Charter had been “respect [for] the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they live…” Also, it had promised the restoration of “sovereign rights and self-government … to
those who have been forcibly deprived of them 23.” Pleven in his opening speech attempted to answer those who urged that France divest herself of her empire. In the presence of the American consul in Brazzaville, Pleven told the conference:

We read from time to time that this war must end by what is called the liberation of the colonial populations. In the great French empire there are neither people to liberate nor racial discrimination to abolish. There are peoples who feel French, who wish, and to whom France wishes to give, an ever greater part in the life and in the democratic institutions of the French community. There are peoples whom we are going to lead step by step toward realizing their personality; the more mature will be granted suffrage, but they know of no other independence than the independence of France 24.

The conference echoed Pleven’s speech when it declared that France “refuses all idea of autonomy, all possibility of an evolution outside the French bloc of the empire; the eventual, even distant establishment of self-government is to be rejected 25.”
Having decided that the colonial populations should remain closely tied to the French motherland while enjoying greater liberties, the conference opted for the policy of assimilation. Although Eboué played an important role in the conference, many of his recommendations regarding the need to respect indigenous institutions were not accepted. Thus, the conference recommended a change in the lowly position of the woman, the abolition of polygamy, and the introduction of a uniform criminal code for all of Africa. French education was to spread, and through economic development the colonial populations were to be brought ever closer to the French level of civilization. The aim of French colonization, the conference declared, was “to make this native mass evolve in the direction of an ever increasing assimilation with the principles which constitute the common basis of French civilization 26.”
It is not surprising that a conference made up of French colonial officials would, while making such grandiose statements, remain very conservative in recommending the granting of political rights to the colonial populations. Representative assemblies were to be established in each colony, but they were to have deliberative powers only in voting the local budget. In all other matters, the assemblies were to be given only consultative powers. According to the recommendations of the conference, the local assemblies were not to have any powers of control over the administration; as before the war, the colonial bureaucracy was to be appointed from Paris and in the last analysis was to be responsible only to the minister of colonies. The conference declared, “It is desirable that the political power of France be exercised with precision and rigor in all areas of her empire 27.” The colonial populations were to elect members to the French Parliament, but their exact numbers and their powers were left undefined, to be decided by the future constituent assembly.
In the administrative field, the conference made several recommendations: it advocated administrative decentralization, an improvement in the recruitment of overseas personnel, and a greater access of the indigenous populations to administrative posts. But the conference declared at the same time that “the positions of command and direction cannot admit any but French citizens 28.” The conference echoed the recommendations that had been made by the GovernorsGeneral Conference of 1936 to abolish the agents of civil services, and to replace them by technicians or by indigenous personnel 29; it had been defeated then, but this time, the recommendation was followed, and the Corps of Agents of Civil Services was abolished.
Often considered notable as a new departure in French colonial policy, the Brazzaville Conference was more remarkable for its basic conservatism and its advocacy of the continuation of traditional policies. Many of the declarations of principle sounded generous, but the specific suggestions proved to be of minor importance, or were rendered inoperative by contradictory statements. Nevertheless the conference was a dramatic focusing on the empire and its problems. More strongly than ever before, members of the colonial administration had declared the need for a reform of the empire. As such it was an important step.
When the Free French took control of the empire, very few members of the Corps of Colonial Administrators were eliminated. At the most, about twenty were dismissed from the AOF administration after it passed under Gaullist control in late 1942, and these had either been members of an extremist group, the Serpice dordre legionnaire, or had made public anti-Gaullist speeches. Governors-General Boisson in AOF and Annet in Madagascar, who had ordered their troops to fire at the Gaullist forces when they tried to land in AOF and Madagascar, were dismissed and scheduled to be tried for treason. Boisson died before his trial, and Annet was sentenced to “lifetime national degradation.” Léon Cayla, who had also served as governor-general of Madagascar, was sentenced in 1946 to five years imprisonment, 10,000 francs fine, and “lifetime national indignity.” Some men who had headed the secretariat of state for colonies under Vichy were also dealt with after the war. Brévié in 1947 was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment, “lifetime national degradation,” and confiscation of his property. Admiral Platon was executed by a Resistance group in 1944, and Admiral Bléhaut was sentenced in 1948 to ten years’ imprisonment and “lifetime national degradation 30.” Lesser officials who had collaborated with Vichy, however, were dealt with less severely. Governors who had served the Vichy regime were usually pensioned. The administrators, however, as a rule, were retained, since it would have been impossible to replace them all. Even administrators who were rather closely identified with P6tain were retained and only delayed in their promotion; the Gaullist regime in 1944 knowingly promoted some officials who had compromised themselves with the Pétainist regime 31. The colonial service, just as the other French bureaucracies, was not-in spite of Resistance demands-heavily purged. Of one million civil servants employed by the central government in France, only 5,000 or one-half percent, were dismissed for collaboration 32.

Once France was liberated and the war ended, a Constituent Assembly met in Paris. Even before it had drawn up a draft of the constitution, it adopted a number of laws regarding the overseas territories. Following the recommendations of the Brazzaville Conference it abolished forced labor and the system of the indigénat. In March 1946 it adopted the Lamine-Gueye law, sponsored by the Senegalese deputy, which proclaimed all the peoples of the overseas territories to be French citizens. These measures were incorporated into the constitution which was eventually adopted 33. Also, the constitution established local assemblies in the colonies which, as the Brazzaville Conference recommended, had the power to vote the local budget, but were otherwise deprived of any legislative powers.
While adopting the measure of French citizenship the assembly added that the rights connected with citizenship would later be defined. When this was done, only a limited number of inhabitants from the overseas territories, with specific educational and professional qualifications, were given the right to vote in elections, The overseas areas contained a population one and a half times as large as the mainland French population, but the overseas deputies who were to sit in the National Assembly held only seven percent of the total number of seats in the assembly, and the overseas councillors 15 percent of the Council of the Republic.
In addition to the National Assembly and the Council of the Republic, a third chamber, the Assembly of the French Union, was established in which the overseas populations had an equal membership with the metropole. This assembly, however, was of no consequence since it had only consultative powers. Symbolizing the ineffectiveness of the assembly was its location in Versailles, rather than in Paris, which of course was the center of power. The overseas territories had less political weight than had the metropole; the founders of the constitution had heeded the words of Herriot, who had warned of the danger that “France will become the colony of its former colonies 34.”
The Swiss journalist Herbert Luethy, a well-known critic of French institutions, summed up the case against the parliamentarians who had drawn up the constitution of the Fourth Republic:

They decreed in a vacuum that the French empire was “a freely consented Union” without making the least attempt to ask the consent of those concerned; they decreed that all the inhabitants of this empire were French citizens and would have to elect a certain number of deputies to the French Parliament, when these people did not demand the ridiculous honor of governing French domestic affairs, but rather wanted to govern their own affairs and to be citizens of their own countries 35.

The constitution of 1946, many colonial administrators believed, had abolished the colonial relationship. In fact, there were no longer any “colonies.” As Delavignette declared, “There are no longer any colonies…. Tomorrow we shall be the natives of a common French Union 36.” A whole change of nomenclature seemed to confirm this. The ministry of colonies was now the ministry of overseas France, and the Corps of Colonial Administrators became the Corps of Overseas Administrators. It was no longer fashionable to call the populations of the overseas territories “indigènes”; instead, they were called “autochtones.” These changes in name had great symbolic value. Asked when they had entered the colonial administration, several former officials denied that they had ever been in such an administration, saying they had been in “the overseas administration.” Added one former official, “I hope you understand the difference 37.”
The administrators identified the emancipation of the colonial peoples with the abolition of all forms of colonial subjugation, but they did not believe that this emancipation required the political independence of the territories. A liberal-minded student at the ENFOM wrote in 1947:

Colonization can … justify itself only if it is a transitory stage and a perpetual becoming, destined to favor the total emancipation of peoples…. The question is not whether there will or will not be an emancipation of the colonial peoples, but rather whether it will be done with us or against us.

Then, he added the hope common to nearly all administrators:

If our action is efficient and sincere, the natives will understand that the times are no longer favorable to blind nationalism and xenophobia, but to a freely accepted federalism and depending on our political intelligence, we may become the center 39.

Regardless of their political ideas, the French administrators were committed somehow to maintain the bonds between the mother country and the overseas territories 39. In the end, even independence was favored as an expedient by which to retain French influence. In a special issue, the ministry’s information bulletin refuted critics of French overseas rule. “Total evacuation” of the French Union, which contained peoples who were “insufficiently developed,” would, it argued, “without fad” mean that “they would fall under the direct or indirect domination of a foreign power 40.” Moutet, who again presided at Rue Oudinot, made it clear that while overseas reforms were desirable, the ties connecting France to its territories were of a permanent nature: “France maintains and means to maintain the rights acquired for her by so many gallant efforts … overseas by her schools, her administrators, her colonials, her workers, her soldiers, and her policy 41.”

The constitution ensured the control of the metropole over the overseas territories, but it radically altered the role of the overseas administrators. Because the overseas populations were now citizens, the administrators could no longer impose either the code of the indigénat system or forced labor. Before the war the administrators had been endowed with judicial powers in addition to their administrative powers. But after 1945 all 42 judicial powers were transferred to the overseas magistrature, and the overseas judges were often bitter rivals of the administrators. In spite of the fact that they had been trained at the ENFOM, they developed few contacts with the cadets going into the administration. They took few courses at the school and spent most of their time completing their law studies and gaining practical experience in the Paris courts. In the final analysis, of course, the clash between the administrators and the judges was determined less by their lack of contact with each other than by the different roles they were filling. For the administrators the smoothness and efficiency of their administration was the prime concern; for the judges the dictates of justice tended to predominate. Members of each branch had harsh words to say about the other. One former judge, in describing some administrators he had known, compared them with “oriental despots … who were the Stalins of their regions 43.” Many administrators thought of the overseas judges as being “stupid and meddlesome 44.” Without their disciplinary powers the administrators were henceforth unable to force the indigenous populations to cultivate their own fields or to work on projects of public utility. Freed from outside constraint, the local populations in some territories no longer worked, some administrators complained. One official wrote:

Anarchy rules in the bush where the people do not even cultivate the areas necessary for feeding a family. The old people work alone under the ironic gaze of the young citizens, whose principal activity resides in endless speechmaking. The level of production drops fast. The roads are no longer taken care of. The notion of a general interest has been completely forgotten 45.

Nevertheless, in 1951 this same official found that the people of his cercle had gone back to work, repaired the roads and even built new schools 46.
In any case, a much more sophisticated program of economic development than had existed before was planned by the Fourth Republic. In 1946, the French government established a massive investment program, the Fonds d’investissements économique et social (FIDES). In the ten-year period from 1948 to 1958 it invested a trillion francs, or eight percent of the national revenue, in the overseas territories 47. To carry out the development projects, a large number of technicians were appointed overseas. Engineers constructed roads, bridges, and public buildings; health officials combatted epidemics; agricultural experts helped develop crops; and census takers recorded the population level. No longer were the administrators the “jacks of all trades”; their tasks became increasingly limited to strictly administrative functions.
By establishing regional assemblies and giving the overseas populations the right to send deputies to the French Parliament, the constitution also diminished the power of the administrators by creating new rivals to their authority—African politicians. The territorial councillors and the deputies to the French National Assembly developed an increasing dominance over the local populations; and they began to supplant the authority of the legal government, the administration 48.
The political instability of the Fourth Republic meant that the existence of cabinets might depend on the votes of a few overseas deputies in the National Assembly. In order to appease those deputies and win support for the government, the ministers of overseas France often transferred officials who might have incurred the wrath of an overseas deputy. As a result of African pressures, administrators, governors, and even governors-general were often replaced. Under the pressure of local politicians, governors-general and governors also replaced or demoted their subordinates. The extent to which this occurred is suggested by the warning sent in 1949 by Paul Coste-Floret, minister of overseas France. Governors-general and governors, he ordered, must not demote their subordinates before investigating the veracity of complaints made by local politicians or interest groups. Also, the extent to which Rue Oudinot was open to political influence may be seen in Coste-Floret’s need to assure the Corps that he would not allow outside influences to be decisive in making promotions or reassignments 49.
Until 1952 the ministers were not always receptive to the demands of the overseas deputies, but thereafter they became increasingly accommodating. Writing about the period after 1952, an American political scientist has noted that in the Ivory Coast:

The French government replaced any officials, including governors, who displeased the PDCI [the dominant party in the Ivory Coast]. By 1956 … administrators knew their jobs depended upon the PDCI, and as a result, backed down or asked the party for help when they had to implement unpopular decisions 50.

As government coalitions in France shifted, governors and governors-general of the same persuasion as the government were named. In 1948, for example, as a result of a change in government, four out of the five governors-general and thirteen governors were replaced. Before the war the positions of the governors-general (but usually not governors) had been semipolitical posts. But after the war the colonial administration had become more politicized than before. When high officials were looking for young administrators as their collaborators, they chose officials of similar political leanings. ENFOM students were often approached by rival teams of governors, urging them to join a given political party; and administrators who had attached themselves to a governor belonging to the parties in power could expect interesting assignments and quick promotions.
After the war the overseas administration made a concerted effort to ensure continuity of personnel by not displacing functionaries too frequently, but earlier traditions of changing personnel remained. Frequent displacement was also due in part to the introduction of politics into the administration. At the top level it was very serious because it led to instability. In Oubangui, for example, there were nine successive governors between 1946 and 1951, and three governors in Chad between 1949 and 1951.

The instability of the governments of the Fourth Republic meant that any event of the least significance could topple a cabinet. No issues connected with Black Africa ever caused the downfall of a government, but the ministers of overseas France feared such an eventuality. “Surtout pas d’affaires (above all-avoid trouble),” was the slogan of the day. Therefore, the ministers of overseas France, unlike their predecessors, kept a tight rein on the overseas administration.
Communications improved in the 1950s and as a consequence the offices at Rue Oudinot could be kept in close touch with officials in Dakar or Brazzaville, the federal capitals with the territorial capitals, and they in turn with the commandants de cercles. At the same time, the improved communications limited the freedom of action that the administrators had previously enjoyed, as is illustrated by the experience of an official who served in 1949 in an isolated region in Chad. During the rainy season, the roads eroded and his mail could reach him only by river, taking three weeks from Fort Lamy, the capital. “When the governor sent me instructions with which I disagreed,” the administrator told the author, “I would act as if I had never seen them, noting down in the diary of the post, ‘mailbag seems to have fallen into river, governor’s mail arrived wet and illegible 51.’” But when the same administrator served in that district a few years later, he was unable to use this strategem, since his region was now regularly connected with the capital by plane. Earlier he was sure that there would be no inspections of his cercle during the rainy season, but with the establishment of air communications he had to take into account the possibility of an inspector’s—or even a governor’s— arrival on an unannounced visit 52.
The division of what once had been absolute power, the sharing of authority with other officials, the intrusion of politics into the Corps, and the establishment of more intense supervision by superiors considerably weakened the administrators’ freedom of action. They were no longer the “real chiefs of the empire.” The administrators, aware of this situation, suffered from what Coste-Floret called a “crise de confiance 53.” Coste-Floret while minister of overseas France attempted to strengthen the position of the administrators, but the forces unleashed after 1946 were too strong to restore their former power. A former administrator has described in a colonial novel the experience of a young man entering the service as an administrator after the war. He writes:

He enthusiastically began his career, but he noticed after a few months that he was living at the end of an epoch, and that he arrived too late to enjoy for long the sweet taste of absolute power. If authority survived, it was already a forbidden fruit. The commandant exercised less authority every day and the grandeur of the profession disappeared fast, while the duties became heavier 54.
When two decades earlier, reforms similar to those introduced by the French in Africa had been instituted in British India and the Dutch East Indies, giving greater political authority to indigenous bodies, a corresponding decline in morale had occurred among the members of the India Civil Service and the Dutch East Indies service 55. De Kat Angelino argued that this decline in morale was due to the British and Dutch administrators’ desire to have “a man’s full job, a real task, an active share in the process of evolution 56”. With the French colonial service the cause for dissatisfaction was the same. Even if the role of the administrator had legally changed, those who were in the Corps and even those who were just entering it still wanted to think of themselves as the main force shaping the destiny of the overseas territories.

As to the timeliness of the reforms of 1945-1946 administrators themselves have overwhelmingly declared in the affirmative (See Table 11)

The figures show that the bulk of the Corps accepted the reforms. On the other hand, they also show that very few administrators had been impatiently awaiting or agitating for reform. What really occurred was an adjustment by the Corps to what was considered inevitable. A few die-hards in 1965 still regretted the reforms that had been instituted two decades earlier. One administrator wrote: “Even today in 1965 they seem to me to have been premature 57.” An older administrator, who began his overseas service in the 1920s, deplored the abolition of forced labor, since “it made the natives lazy.” Still another official wrote, “Democracy is not for export 58.”
The number considering the reforms to be premature closely balanced the number who believed that they should have been instituted earlier. The main argument of the latter school is that expressed by an old official who entered the service in the 1920s: “The reforms should have been carried out before we were forced to grant them.” A younger man who entered the service in the early 1940s wrote, “We had to destroy the colonial institutions and build new ones.” Two officials, still serving when the reforms were instituted, seem to have been entirely unaffected by them; they did not remember that any had been made 59. While the different answers may not have been representative of the entire Corps, nevertheless, it is clear that the Corps eventually became reconciled to the reforms.
As a result of reforms with which they had little to do in formulating, the administrators had been deprived of their former positions of omnipotence. This loss of power represented a real crisis to most administrators. Writing in 1945, a high official serving in AOF only dimly perceived the consequences of the reforms which were beginning to be applied.

AOF is in the process of seeing a substitution of a social order founded on the rights of the African for a social order founded on the African’s duties and on his need to obey. It is a real revolution whose effects are only imperfectly felt, but which makes the present period rather difficult to define. It seems, however, to be decisive for the future of this country 60.

The official noted that the administrators were feeling “some bitterness” at the discredit into which they had fallen as a result of being told “that their reign is from now on finished.” Although praising the administrators for maintaining “under difficult conditions the functioning of an administration in which they remain the base,” the official wrote that “most of them have difficulty in understanding and applying the policy of assimilation that France has very resolutely engaged itself to follow 61.”
Delavignette, serving as high commissioner of the French Cameroons, also seemed to feel that some of his subordinates were having trouble adjusting to the new reforms. He told the administrators in his territory:

If you resent your loss of personal or public authority because there is a representative assembly, because your subordinates are unionized, because the indigénat code is suppressed, because you no longer possess judicial powers, because the Cameroons of 1946 no longer is that of 1920, you are really demanding the impossible. Catch up with the times 62.

French bureaucracy, an eminent sociologist has remarked, is unusually resistant to change. But when faced by crisis and the need to change, it proves remarkably adaptable 63. This seems to have been true of the Corps of Overseas Administrators. It is true that some of the liberalization occurring in the 1930s, the writings of men like Labouret and Delavignette, and the decisions of the Brazzaville Conference foreshadowed in part the coming changes. But it was one thing to postulate the need for such changes, and quite another to have to live with them once they had been effected.
The adjustment of the Corps to the changes overseas was facilitated by a relatively rapid infusion of new blood into the Corps. Out of 1,620 administrators in the Corps in 1957, 793, just slightly less than half, had
been appointed after 1944 64. These young men were generally able to adjust to the shift away from the authoritarian, paternal type of rule that had been practiced before the war. But there were many influences tending to continue prewar attitudes. During their apprenticeship the young administrators were assigned to learn the profession from their elders, who often inculcated in them their own values. While times had changed, the elders still held fast to doctrines and methods of rule that had become anachronistic. The experience of a young urbanist in Morocco was surely not unique; when he arrived in Morocco in 1946, he remarked, “The first concern of the administration … was to give me the circulars of Lyautey about urbanism. ‘You have to do nothing but follow them,’ I was told in an imperious tone 65.”
Even the most liberal administrators were not immune to the temptation of exercising the kind of unlimited authority that their elders had possessed before the war. At times circumstances also seemed to dictate that the administrator exercise powers that he no longer legally possessed. Administrators were not permitted to build roads with forced labor, but the road needed building, the local populations would not volunteer, and there was no money in the local budget to hire the labor. Clandestinely, the administrator used coercion to build his road 66. A young administrator who served in Chad after the war noted that there was a divorce between the principles and the facts: “the principles were those of the Constitution and of the reforms of 1946, while the ‘reactionary’ facts were the slowness in applying the texts and the difficulties of doing so, which led easily to their non-application 67.” The divorce between “principles” and “facts” was most marked until the late 1940s; in the following decade, under closer control of their superiors, the administrators conformed more in their actions to the liberal principles enunciated in Paris.
How could the changes that were envisioned and desired in Paris be forced on the overseas bureaucracy? The governments of the Fourth Republic did so by politicizing the colonial service. Administrators who were promoted or otherwise favored because of their membership in a political party tended to be more loyal to the principles of that party than to the set of ideas held by the Corps of which they were members. Thus some of the solidarity of the Corps was broken. A former administrator, in expressing his attitude toward reform introduced by a Socialist minister of colonies, said that as a Socialist he, of course, had been in favor of it since it had been proposed by a government of his party 68.
The appointment of “outsiders,” of men who had had no previous colonial experience, to the very highest administrative posts again enforced change. Between 1946 and 1957 more men without colonial experience served as governors-general than in the entire period since the post of governors-general had been founded at the beginning of the century. They were undeviatingly loyal to the government that appointed them, and they did not share the values of the Corps 69.

While changes were introduced into the overseas territories as a result of the laws of 1945-1946, the method of rule through the chief-system was retained. The reforms had been basically assimilationist and presumably were intended to make the overseas populations into Frenchmen with the same rights and privileges as those held by the inhabitants of metropolitan France. If this policy had been followed to its logical conclusion, what was left of the chief-system would have been dismantled. But the needs of effective administration took precedence. And this, it seemed, could be ensured only by retaining the chiefs. The ideas of Eboué regarding the need to respect local institutions were especially influential after the war; Delavignette serving as high commissioner of the Cameroons, advised his administrators to study and to heed the doctrine elaborated in La Nouvelle politique indigène. Eboué was also closely studied at the ENFOM.
Reliance on the chief-system was dictated by the lack of sufficient administrators. Even though direct rule had been practiced ever since the first decades of the twentieth century in most regions, in the sense that the administrators had been able to transform the local chiefs into their subordinates, the French administration had never been sufficiently large to dispense with the chiefs themselves. During the war the Corps serving in Africa had gained two hundred additional administrators. In 1949 the Corps of Overseas Administrators, which since 1942 also included the upper officials of the ministry of overseas France and the officials of the Civil Services of Indochina, numbered 2,028 administrators, but as a result of economy measures the size of the Corps was reduced to 1,820 members by 1951, and to 1,600 by 1959. In spite of the growth in personnel over prewar days, many overseas territories were still understaffed. In 1947 the ministry of overseas France had decided to assign 406 administrators to AOF on active service, but in 1949 there were only 370 serving-forty-six fewer than there had been before the war. Because of the lack of personnel, forty-four cercle subdivisions had to be closed down 70. Of those serving, not all were in the bush; a fairly large proportion, varying from a third to a fourth, occupied desk jobs in the territorial capitals 71.
The administrative regions were too large and too diverse to allow the administrators to control them without intermediaries. An administrator serving in the Sudan has described the immensity of the region that he administered, together with his assistant:

[In] a territory of 35,000 square kilometers, which is as vast as Belgium, [we] must administer, counsel, and survey a population of 200,000 illiterates and this through thirty-six traditional chefs de canton, of whom only five speak French and two know how to read and write, and they themselves command 875 village chiefs…. Certain villages are 150-200 kilometers away from the administrative center, most of the time inaccessible by car 72.

Throughout the decades of French rule complaints were made about the lack of contact between the administrators and the indigenous population, but the lack was probably never more evident than in the period after the second world war. The administrators no longer had to fill the many roles that they had filled up to 1945, but they were now busier than ever before. They were occupied with an ever growing amount of paperwork, with coordinating the activities of the technicians serving in their cercles, and with solving the conflicts among them.
An administrator who served in Oubangui in the late 1940s found that “with the development of new services the administration becomes heavier and the tasks of office-work absorb increasing time.” As a result he no longer went on extensive tours of the villages 73. As the minister of overseas France stated in 1949, because of the limited effectiveness of the French administrators there could “be no solid territorial command which does
not depend on the chiefs 74.”
Before 1914 the colonial administrators had reduced the local chiefs’ powers hoping to modernize, to assimilate the colonial populations by direct rule. During the interwar years the administration became cautious, fearing that further evolution of the overseas populations would bring about unrest against colonial rule. Thus rather than encourage the young educated elites, the administration in general backed the traditional chiefs. At the Brazzaville Conference this fact was openly recognized when one participant stated that the administration and the religious missions had been on opposite sides: “Generally, the administrators have taken sides with the traditionalists, the missions with the young75 .” This situation remained virtually unchanged until the early 1950s.
Governor Henri Laurentie (formerly Eboud’s right-hand man in AEF), the director of political affairs in the ministry of colonies, seemed to recognize the need for some change in the method of “native administration.” In a speech in 1945 he announced that the administrators would henceforth have to pay increased attention to the évolués. But he immediately expressed the concern that French officials nearly always felt: the needs of the masses had to be taken into account; they must not be “artificially subjugated by the elites.” Laurentie stated that there were two ways to rule: either through the chiefs or through the évolués. Since neither was quite acceptable, Laurentie stated that there was a third way: “Let the village speak. We should have confidence in the African countryside from which we can and must draw the new means and men who will create both an authentic and modern political life 76”. Rhetorically, “the third way” sounded attractive, but it seems never to have been a genuine alternative.
Faced with the only two real alternatives, rule through the elite or rule through the chiefs, the administrators chose the latter. They did so not only because this had been their traditional and most convenient method of rule, but also because with Laurentie they saw the évolués as an artificial class not possessing the authentic connection with the masses that presumably the chiefs had. In spite of the adoption of assimilation as the overseas policy of the Fourth Republic, the administrators just as in the interwar period continued to be wary of educated Africans. The illiterate peasant appealed much more to his romantic notion of what a “genuine native” was like. This kind of perception also gave his vocation and his country’s rule over alien peoples a sense—a civilizing mission—which it otherwise might not have possessed.
Until roughly 1953 political developments within the overseas territories favored a growth in the authority of the chiefs. Formerly the overseas administration had actively opposed the development of mass political parties, going so far as to intimidate the leaders or even to imprison them; and to thwart the mass parties politically, the administrators encouraged the formation of client parties around local chiefs. Pierre Alexandre, an administrator in Togo in the early 1950s, described how the administration used this tactic to fight CUT, the mass party in Togo. The French in strengthening the authority and prestige of the local chiefs thereby allowed them increasing independence. It was this situation “that explains in part,” Alexandre wrote, “why I had so much time to involve myself in ethnographic studies; the Uro Esso [local chief] concerned himself to a large extent with the administration 77.”
Out of convenience, the administrators retained the chiefs and showed remarkable reluctance to replace them. Only when a chief had committed a crime or had failed to meet the quotas of production was he dismissed. To all other kinds of abuses the administration was blind. “We were then more concerned with production than with principles,” remarked a former administrator who served in Upper Volta 78.
A possible alternative to the chief-system would have been to institute local government, with town and village councils. But with the exception of the communes of Senegal, none of the municipalities in French Black Africa enjoyed genuine local rule. The more urban areas did have city councils, but they were elected in such a way as to give the French settlers predominance on the councils, and the local administrator who served as mayor could override council decisions. It is not surprising that the French, who by tradition have not favored the development of local rule at home, would be reluctant to encourage it in their overseas territories. And control of the local population seemed much easier to maintain through the chiefs.
Administrative expediency dictated the use of the chiefs, but in their own right the chiefs did not possess any power. After 1953, when the French administration began cooperating with the mass parties, and especially after the reforms of 1956-1957, when most of the parties began to win control over the internal administration in the overseas territories, the authority of the chiefs waned. The mass parties wore hostile to the chiefs since the latter usually had been the mainstay of the French administration. With the change in policy, the administrators, on orders from Paris, usually cooperated with the African politicians. The administrators thus abandoned the chiefs, and, in fact, declared them superfluous. At a conference of French administrators in Guinea in 1957 each administrator, discussing the role of the local chiefs in his region, dismissed them as useless. Of the twenty-one chiefs in one cercle two were imprisoned and one was out of jail on provisional liberty. “In reality,” concluded the administrator of that region, “… the chiefs have been absolutely inefficacious, they don’t serve any purpose.” Discussing the need to replace the old chiefs, the administrator of a cercle subdivision declared that in his five cantons there was only one chief who was intelligent, the rest ought “to be liquidated 79.” The administrators had deliberately stopped having contacts with the chefs de canton. One commandant de cercle declared that “for eight months I have had no contact with a chef de canton. For me, if they exist or don’t, it is the same thing 80.”

Before the early 1950s there were few political reforms. The changes that had been instituted in 1945-1946 were considered to have satisfactorily
regulated the legal relationship between France and her overseas territories. In any case, the overseas administration saw the economic and social problem of underdevelopment as the main problem besetting the territories. A meeting of governors-general in 1946 unanimously advised Rue Oudinot to give priority to economic over political issues 81. Four years later Frangois Mitterrand, a minister known for his liberal leanings, announced “I do not think that there is a political problem in French Africa…. There is, on the contrary, an essentially economic problem 82.”
In 1952-1953, however, Mitterrand did recognize that a political problem was besetting the French possessions in Black Africa. In nearly all the African territories mass political parties connected with Houphouet-Boigny’s Rassemblement démocratique africain had developed. By their vehement anticolonialism these parties were causing the French government considerable embarrassment and difficulty. Mitterrand made an agreement with Houphouet that the French would cease their harassment of the mass parties if in exchange the RDA would abandon its anticolonial propaganda. The governors were suspicious of the RDA and were unwilling to allow Houphouet’s representatives into their territory to give the order to stop opposing the French administration 83. The older administrators also hesitated to cooperate with the former opponents of French rule; only the younger officials, Mitterrand noticed, were able to adjust to a new policy 84. In any case, the orders from Rue Oudinot prevailed.
Within the Corps itself new currents developed, as a number of administrators became cognizant of the need for reforming the imperial structure. The defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu and the outbreak of war in Algeria, within a few months of each other, were serious blows to those who believed in the institutions that had been built overseas. Speaking for many of his comrades, an administrator who had entered the overseas service in the late 1940s wrote of the events of 1954, especially of Dien Bien Phu:

For a colonial administrator who had studied, lived, worked, sweated for the greatness of the French empire, it was Agincourt, Trafalgar, and Waterloo all at once. It was a whole world which collapsed 85.

The outbreak of the Algerian war seemed to presage trouble for the Black African territories. Pierre Gentil, an administrator serving in AEF, warned that just as the Algerians had gained experience fighting colonial wars in helping the French try to suppress the Indochinese, the soldiers from Black Africa fighting in Algeria “may become the revolutionary militias of Senegal and the Congo 86.” Timely reforms in Black Africa would be the only way of staving off revolt.
In other ways the revolt overseas liberalized the attitudes of the Corps in Africa. Between 1946 and 1955 about 300 officials from Indochina were transferred to Africa. In Indochina many officials had witnessed how their government by its intransigence had lost its Asian possession. If this experience was not enough, they had also witnessed the disintegration of other European empires in neighboring territories: in 1947 British rule had come to an end in India, and the following year the Dutch had been forced to recognize the independence of Indonesia. Obviously not all administrators who had served in Indochina were liberal-minded, but there was a sizable number who because of their Indochinese experience hoped through a policy of flexibility to preserve French Africa 87. Also, most of the graduates of the ENFOM in the 1950s were liberally inclined and were well aware of the need to reform the overseas institutions. (See previous chapter.)
Beginning in 1954 reforms foreshadowing innovations in the territories occurred. The powers of municipal bodies in the overseas territories were enlarged and the number of African deputies elected to Parliament was increased. Under pressure from the United Nations and for fear of losing the Ewé population of Togo to neighboring Gold Coast, which was on the road to independence, the French in 1955 permitted the establishment in Togo of what amounted to self-government. The territorial assemblies were vested with legislative powers, a Togolese cabinet was established, and it controlled the French administration. Pierre Henri Teitgen, minister of overseas France, expressed the wish to see similar reforms instituted in the various overseas territories 88. It seemed logical that the territories which by their history and legal ties were more closely connected to France than was Togo, a mandate territory, should be at least as liberally treated as Togo had been. And this was the argument of African deputies and some colonial officials.
In October 1955 Teitgen sent a lengthy report to the president of the Republic and to his cabinet colleagues on the need for reform in the political structure of the territories; the report was entitled “Sur les principaux problèmes actuels des territoires de l’Afrique noire.” The reason that no solution to the colonial problem had been found, the report stated, was that French policy had been torn between the alternatives of assimilation and separatism. “Integral assimilation is at the same time unacceptable to the Metropole and contrary to the legitimate aspirations of the overseas populations who wish to see their particular personalities respected,” the report stated. Separatism was unacceptable; federalism was impossible because of the incapacity of the overseas territories to be economically independent. The only solution was an elastic one to which all territories, so different in their economic, political, and social conditions, could adjust. The immediate solution would presumably consider the interests both of France and of its overseas territories; this could be achieved by continuing to include the overseas territories as part of France. The report clearly upheld the structure established in 1946, but it favored an important increase in the powers of the territorial assemblies.
The personality of the overseas territories must be respected and therefore one must give to the territorial authority, representative of the population, powers to solve strictly territorial problems not affecting the entire Republic 89.
The report suggested that the assemblies be made more democratic by getting rid of the double electoral college (which gave the minority of Europeans the same electoral weight as the indigenous population), and by the establishment of universal suffrage 90. Finally, Teitgen demanded increased Africanization of the civil service and an intensified program of social and economic improvement overseas 91.
Teitgen publicly spoke out for his program, declaring that although overseas parliamentarians were proud to participate in the public affairs of the Republic, their main desire “is to gain political control over their domestic affairs 92.” The colonial peoples desired neither assimilation nor secession; the solution was the creation of a truly federal system 93.
Teitgen did not have the opportunity to see his suggestions adopted; rather it was a successor—the Mollet government dominated by the Socialists, which put them into effect. That government faced a Parliament that was generally favorable to reform of the overseas institutions. The Parliament was aware of the need for quick reform, and since in the past it had proved unable to agree on the details of most overseas reforms, it indulged in what was probably an unconstitutional act: it authorized the minister of overseas France to make the reforms 94. That authorization drew up the framework within which the reforms were to be instituted and was thus known as a loi-cadre. The loi-cadre itself introduced universal suffrage and got rid of the double electoral college in the overseas territories.
Both Parliament and the administration at Rue Oudinot thought of the overseas territories as forming a bloc. When the British introduced reforms, they did so for each colony individually. There was no overall plan made in London imposed on all of them simultaneously. The British developments have the appearance of having been more empirical, more in tune with the local needs of each colony; the French seem to have been more “Cartesian,” more abstract in their overseas reforms. But the French, of course, had to face a difficult legal obstacle. Had not the constitution declared that all the former colonies in Africa which had been administered by the ministry of colonies were overseas territories, an integral part of France? No legal distinctions had been drawn among the overseas territories. If Chad had not been treated as generously as Senegal had been, the result might have been an uprising in Chad.
The reforms introduced in the spring of 1957 took their name from Gaston Defferre, the Socialist minister of overseas France. They gave important legislative powers to the territorial assemblies and empowered them to elect a government council of six to eight ministers. The member of the council elected with the highest number of votes would serve as vicepresident of the council. The presidency was to be occupied by the French governor, who held substantial reserve powers in his hands. But the governor was not, as previously, all-powerful: his decisions had to be made in council. The powers to be divided between the governors and the councils were unclear, and the vice-presidents of the councils quickly emerged as the most important figures. In July 1958 the vice-presidents were made presidents of the councils, and the governors presided over the meetings of the councils only when administrative matters were discussed 95.
Generally, the Corps seemed to favor the Defferre reforms. When asked later about their attitudes toward the loi-cadre, most administrators claimed that they had thought it a timely reform, with smaller minorities thinking that the reforms were either premature or too late (see Table 12).

Most administrators believed that the loi-cadre was necessary in order to prevent a secessionist movement similar to that which had marked Indochina and was then taking place in Algeria. Four administrators in October 1965 asserted their belief that without the loi-cadre there would have been major bloodshed 96.
Many openly favored reforms. Georges Rey, a former bush administrator and governor, hailed them as “a revolution in the concept of relations between the metropole and the territories of Black Africa.” He called on “all Frenchmen living in Africa” to “devote their energies and intelligence so that this evolution will be a success 97.”
It had become increasingly difficult for the French authorities to enforce their rule; the loi-cadre conveniently shifted responsibility to African politicians. 98 It was with some satisfaction that French officials in Chad saw the African politicians, who had previously attacked them for being arbitrary and authoritarian, use armed guards to collect the year’s taxes in Fort Lamy, the territorial capital 99.
A journalist, Pierre Paraf, visiting AOF in 1957, found the governors-general and the governors operating within the provisions of the loi-cadre. But “in descending the stairs of the hierarchy,” he found more resistance. Old and even young administrators seemed to entertain authoritarian views, and expressed unhappiness at seeing French authority diminished 100. At the same time, however, Paraf found that there were many younger administrators who wished to see the reforms extended to making Africans heads of the councils and to increasing the powers of the territorial assemblies 101. But in all cases, even if there was some private disagreement, all administrators loyally carried out the reforms.
One of the provisions of the loi-cadre was an increased Africanization of the overseas bureaucracy, including the Corps of Administrators of Overseas France. For practical training, African civil servants were assigned as assistants to commandants de cercles and were taught the intricacies of regional administration. In 1956, for example, there were six such trainees in the Ivory Coast 102. The process of Africanization was slow, for the French, unlike the British, did not foresee that their rule was rapidly coming to an end. Because it was assumed that French rule would continue for a long time, they did not want to put men whom they considered insufficiently prepared into administrative posts. Very rigid standards were maintained in bringing Africans into the Corps, either by on-the-job training or through the ENFOM. The liberal governor of Guinea, Jean Ramadier, was one of the few who was aware of the need for rapid Africanization of the administration. In 1957 he told his commandants de cercles that it was necessary to create a trained African personnel, since it was possible that Guinea would become independent 103. Even he, however, could not have realized that within a year his territory would become a sovereign state.
The reforms in 1957 did not make most French administrators fearful for their tuture careers. They looked forward to long and uninterrupted service overseas. Speaking before the Acad6mie des sciences doutre-mer in 1957, an administrator noted for his perspicacity stated that in Togo, where he was serving, the administrators would be needed for a long time, to serve as neutral arbiters between the various feuding ethnic groups 104.
In the British colonial service, the officials expected, and indeed were informed upon recruitment, that they should not anticipate a full career overseas, for the administration would gradually be Africanized 105. But the French had very different expectations; almost without exception the students entering the ENFOM in 1958 thought they would have a lifetime career. They recognized that their functions and powers might change drastically, but they believed that they would remain overseas in some capacity.
At the time it was instituted the loi-cadre was not considered to be the first step toward independence; rather, in Defferre’s words, it was designed “to maintain and reinforce for many years to come the necessary union between metropolitan France and the peoples of the overseas territories.” 106
The French recognized that they were living in an era of decolonization; after all, the Gold Coast was to receive its independence in 1957, and several other British possessions were scheduled to follow suit. In the United Nations, increasing attacks were made against the maintenance of colonial empires. By 1958 most administrators had perceived that some degree of decolonization had become inevitable. It seems that as much as 90 percent of the Corps had become convinced of this necessity by that date (see Table 13).
But, as the French saw it, decolonization did not necessarily mean the granting of independence to the overseas territories; it could also be achieved through the establishment of a loose union in which all forms of French subjugation were abolished. A genuine French community, some thought, might develop with the eradication of all colonial relationships. One former administrator has described his belief that social progress in the overseas territories would have made it possible for the formation of a federation based on equality:

We were closer to our fellow citizens in Africa than the inhabitants of Vermont were to those of New Mexico a century ago. With the acceleration of history, nothing hindered us from thinking that decolonization would occur with the progressive disappearance of the notion of colonizer and colonized 107.

*One-third did not answer the question regarding the date when they decided that decolonization would be inevitable, or were so vague that their answers could not be readily tabulated.

Most administrators were aware of the need for decolonization in the sense of abolishing all remnants of French subjugation in the overseas territories, but they tenaciously held to the idea that the bonds between France and the overseas territories could somehow be preserved. Even the African deputies who sat in the French Parliament hesitated until 1960 to opt for full political independence 108. Senghor told the French National Assembly in January 1957:
We do not wish to leave the French compound. We have grown up in it and it has been pleasant to live in it. We simply want to build our own house which will enlarge and strengthen the family compound, or rather the French hexagon 109.

To preserve the links between France and her territories, a federation based on equality was proposed by many. Frangois Mitterrand, the former minister of overseas France, warned that only a federation within a “fratemal and egalitarian community” would preserve French power from “the plains of Flanders to the forests of Equatorial Africa.” The argument was basically utilitarian. Without a French Africa, Mitterrand prophesied, “there will be no history of France in the twenty-first century.” 110 African politicians came out in favor of a “Franco-African community” but they demanded that their right to independence should first be recognized. Once this was recognized, then presumably the territories could join France as equals in a federation. The constitution of the Fourth Republic, however, seemed to pose serious problems for such a solution. For had the constitution not declared that France and her overseas territories together formed an “indivisible Republic”? Therefore, the right to independence could be recognized only with great difficulty.
The coming to power of de Gaulle in June 1958 brought a convenient solution to the knotty problem, for the constitution of the Fourth Republic was set aside. De Gaulle, like the leaders of the Fourth Republic, was interested in preserving the overseas territories for France. To mollify the populace of the territories, he reluctantly recognized the right to independence of the territories. When the referendum for the new constitution of the Fifth Republic was held in October 1958, the overseas populations had the option of becoming independent by rejecting the constitution or of voting for it and thereby becoming members of what was to be known as the French Community. If they rejected membership in the French Community and opted for independence, then, in the words of de Gaulle, they would have to take the consequences. This meant in effect that those territories voting for independence would be deprived of all French economic aid. In the face of this serious threat, no territory except Guinea voted for independence. The referendum was a clever attempt to demonstrate that the Community was a union which had been freely accepted by the territories. It was also an attempt to put an end, once and for all, to the agitation for independence.
De Gaulle’s main aim was to preserve French influence in the overseas territories. The new constitution of 1958 gave the territorial populations the right to decide whether they wished to become fully integrated with France by becoming départements, or to remain territories, or to become member states of the French Community. In Africa all the territories except French Somaliland voted for the third alternative. The assemblies in the member states had full legislative powers, and the administration was now fully under the authority of the local state government rather than that of the minister of overseas France. Indeed, there was no longer any ministry at Rue Oudinot; it had disappeared in 1959. And the Corps of Colonial Administrators was abolished by simple decree. The service whose members had been the “real chiefs” of the French empire for seventy years had come to an end. The instrument of French rule—with all its benefits and weaknesses—lay dissolved.
Legally the French Community was a loose confederation; nevertheless, it clearly was still dominated by the French. The African political leaders found the Community too restrictive and wanted full independence. But independence was incompatible with membership in the Community; the state leaving the Community would, like Guinea, be cut off from French economic aid.
De Gaulle had meant Guinea to be a warning example to members in the Community. But to him it also had its lessons. By brutally cutting off economic aid, de Gaulle had forced Guinea to rely on Soviet and American aid. Thus French influence in that area had been eclipsed.
In the autumn of 1959 Senegal and the Sudan, having formed the Mali federation, asked that they be granted independence while still being allowed to remain members of the French Community-that is, still be allowed to receive French economic aid. Realizing that the independence movements had become too strong to be repressed, and drawing on the Guinean experience, de Gaulle acceded to the Malian request at the end of 1959. Mali would be independent, but by allowing it to remain in the French Community, de Gaulle ensured that it would remain open to French influence 111. In 1960 Madagascar and four states within the former AEF were also granted independence while being permitted to remain within the Community, which, now stripped of its meaning, became known as the “Communauté renovée.” The Ivory Coast was granted independence in 1960 and guaranteed financial aid without even having to accept nominal membership within the Community. Thus even this last vestige of a common institution lost its relevance and disappeared.

For the Corps of Overseas Administrators, independence came quickly and unexpectedly. Even for the British colonial service it was somewhat of a shock to see how speedily decolonization could occur. But at least the granting of eventual independence was part of British colonial doctrine. French doctrine had stressed the indissolubility of the bonds connecting the metropole to the overseas territories. The reforms in the British Empire after World War II were clearly intended to prepare the possessions for independence, but the reforms in the French empire were intended to avoid independence, to win permanently the loyalties of the overseas populations to union with France 112. In the end even independence was given not for its own sake but in order to preserve French influence overseas. As one former administrator put it, “The question was not whether there would be independence; rather, the question was whether it would be achieved against us, or with us.” 113 Many administrators found “independence in friendship” a way of preserving French influence. Others saw no reason for independence, bitterly accusing their country of having abandoned the overseas populations. Many of these die-hards described the granting of independence as nothing more than the delivery of the masses into the hands of ruthless African politicians 114.
The administrators were nearly evenly split between those thinking that outside international forces had made decolonization necessary and those thinking that indigenous forces within the overseas territories had made the granting of independence mandatory. Seventy-four administrators found international pressures to be the main cause, seventy-six thought indigenous pressures the prime cause, while thirty-nine opted for the simultaneous influence of international and indigenous forces. The evidence collected suggests that the younger men were somewhat more aware of the development of nationalist movements in the overseas territories than were the older. Among the older generation, some tended to be nearly paranoiac, subscribing to a plot theory against the French empire.(See Table 14)
Some of the older administrators stated that decolonization had been caused by the “cheap demagoguery of the USA and the USSR.” One former official put the entire burden on “the sick mind of F. D. Roosevelt.” The younger men to a greater extent saw decolonization as a logical development, resulting from the spread of higher education in the overseas territories and the development of the new elites. When ascribing external forces as the main cause for decolonization, they were more inclined than were their elders to discuss the examples of the wars in Indochina and Algeria, the granting of independence to the British dependencies, or the manifesto of the Bandung Conference.
In the last analysis, perhaps, it was not the age of the administrators that determined their attitudes but rather the length of time they had spent in the bush. The officials in the bush were less aware of the temper of the elites than were their colleagues in cities. To them what counted was the huge mass of illiterate peasants in the countryside, not the speeches of politicians in the territorial capital or in Paris. Wrote one former bush administrator, “the problem of political liberty in my eyes and in that of many of my colleagues was secondary to that of the physical and agricultural conquest of the country by its inhabitants.” 115 But to the administrators serving in the territorial and federal capitals the political evolution of the territories was far more apparent. They were in daily contact with the local politicians, and they were more aware of the climate of opinion among the younger educated elites. The officials in the territorial capitals understood that these new forces had to be taken into account, that they could not be ignored 116.
Regardless of why they thought independence had become inevitable, most administrators were reconciled to the fact that, indeed, it had become an inevitable movement. But only a few thought that the granting of independence, when it did occur, was timely. Most believed that the French physical presence should have continued for another generation. Presumably twenty years would have permitted the economic development of the territories, and would have laid the foundation for stable and democratic societies. Such a view probably overestimated the extent to which the French administration was able to effect change. Events throughout the world have revealed that more than administrative flat is necessary for economic development and political institutions that are both stable and democratic.


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