Scramble for Africa: France

Figure 1.--Group of Betsimisaraka children taken in Madagascar. It is a postcard and it is undated. I think that it was taken in early 20th century. The picture attests the changing in children clothing, probably for missionaries' teaching. Some children wear only loincloth, others European or Arab clothing.

Histories of France often neglect the huge role that colonies played in the country's econonomy during the 18th century, especially Haiti and the other Caribbean sugar islands. Canada was the largest French coony, but Haiti was by far the most valuable. France lost most of its colonies in the Seven Years War and in the case of Haiti after a slave rebellion. After the Napoleonic Wars, France set out on a second effort to establish a colonial empire. This effort was persued by both the Bourbon monarchy, Napoleon III's Second Enpire, and the Third Republic. The debate over colonization that occurred in Britain never occurred in France. The British returned some small colonies they seized during the Napoleonic Wars, including Guadeloupe and Martinique (West Indies), French Guiana (South America), the Île de Bourbon-Réunion (Indian Ocean), and small Indian possessions. Included with the possessions returned were a few African trading posts in Senegal. This was to be the nucelus France's expanmsion throughout West Africa. Britain retained Saint Lucia and Tobago (West Indies) and the Seychelles and Île de France-Mauritius (Indian Ocean). The initial French activity to build an African empire was direcected at North Africa. The French invaded Algeria (1830). It took 17 years to fully establish control of Algeria beyond the coast. It was here that the legend of the French Foreign Legion was born. France only begn to expand its empire in sub-Saharan Africa after the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Gradually, French control was established over much of West Africa. The French Empire included the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo). The French also expanded their influence in North Africa with a protectorate over Tunisia (1881). After an international crisis with Germany, Morocco became a French protectorate (1911). Giving France control of all of northwest Africa. Many of the French African colonies were in West Africa south of the French North African colonies and connected to them. There were also Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. In addition to North Africa and West Africa, France also colonized the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland) and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The last additions to France's colonia empite was after World War I when they acquired League of Nations mandates over Togo and Cameroon, former German colonies.

Modern Countries

This is a little complicated because the pre-French scocities, the French colonies, and the modetn states did not all have the samr borders. This complivates the historical and economic discussion. Because the stories did not unvold im the neat modern packages. Tather several modern counties or part of modern countries or jad different experienvces. Im some cases multiple experiebces.



Central African Republic



France emerged as the principal colonial power. Pierre Savorgnon de Brazza promoted French interests. He competed with Belgian interests in the Congo basin. King Leopold of Belgium was particularly interested in the Congo basin and extrodinarily brutal in his colonization efforts. His International Congo Association (Belgian Congo/Zaire) gained control over an immense area of the interior. De Brazza negotiated treaties with native chiefs to the north og the Congo River who placed their domains under French protection (1880s). As a result of Belgian brutality, many local chiefs were willing to deal with the French. France developed several colonies in central Africa: Middle Congo (modern Congo), Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (modern Central African Republic). France reorganized its colonial possessions in the area as French Equatorial Africa (AEF) (1908). Brazzaville was established as the federal AEF capital. French colonial policy focused on the extraction of raw materials which was conducted by private companies. France completed the Congo-Ocean Railway (CFCO) (1924-34), a major engineering achievement. CFCO was a major step in opening the interior to economic development. Towns along CFCO developed into major Congo cities. The Atlantic terminus of Pointe-Noire as the colony's principal port. World War II as in much of the developing wotld was a major turning point in the Congo. Germany's invasiion abnd conquest of France stateled the world (May-June 1940). The resulting aemidtice created a rump Fremnch state at Vichy which retained control of France's colonial empire. Most of the colonies recognized Vivchy authority. The AEF colonial authorities in Brazzaville sided with General Charles DeGaulle and the Free French in London. Brazzaville thus became the symbolic capital of Free France (1940-43). The Brazzaville Conference addressed major issues in French colonial administration (1944). French authorities abolished forced labor, granted French citizenship to colonial subjects, decentralized administration, and established locally elected advisory assemblies. Congo benefitted from the post-War economic boom in Europe, creating strong markets for Congo products. France was also able to finance infrastructure projects. Congo benefitted from itss central geographic location within the AEF and the fact that the AEF federal capital was located at Brazzaville. The French Loi Cadre (framework law) reformed voting practices and authorized limited self-government in French colonies (1956). This set in motion a struggle for power. Ethnic-based tribal rivalries surfaced as it became clear that France was moving to transfer power to local authorities. Newly formed political parties struggled for power. A popular referendum held throughout the AEF approved a new constitution and disolved the AEF into four autonomous members of the French Community (1958). The Middle Congo colony was renamed the Congo Republic. Vicious riots took place in Brazzaville (1959).



Ivory Coast



One of the major Muslim resistance efforts to French rule was led by Samory Toure (c1830-1900). His resistance was centered in the western area of what became French West Africa, in the area around what is now modern Mali, but including portions of several neighboring countries. Toure founded the the Islamic Wassoulou Empire.





The Portuguese were the first European country to read Senegal (15th century). The Portuguese and Dutch vied for control of the coastal area (16th century). Eventually the French established a dominant position (by 1659). As a result of the Seven Years War, France was forced to cede Senegal to the British (1763). The Britisg retuened the colony after the Napoleonic Wars (1817). Nritain retained control over Gambia cut out of the middle of the country along the Gambia River. France as part of the 19th century scramble for Africa, penetrated into the interior and turned Senegal became a French colony. The French incorporated Senegal into French West Africa (1895). It was France's most important colony in West Africa. The French ruled Senegal without any representative local government. Senegalese volunteered to serve with the French Army in both world wars. This became an issue when the Germans used Senegalese and other colonial troops when they occupied the Rhineland after World War I. The Germans during World War II shot many French colonial soldiers after they surrendered (1940). A World War II battle erupted when the British and Free French tried unsuccessfully to seize Dakar--Operation Menace (1940). After World War II, Senegal became a French Overseas Territory. The French finally established a territorial assembly (1946). France gradually expanded the authority of that assembly. France attempted to hold on to its colonial empire after the War, but the Viet Nam War and the Algerian War changed French policy. Franhce grabted autonomy within the French Community (1958). There was a brief and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to participate in the Mali Federation (with neighboring Mali and Sudan) (1959).


Native Political Structures

Various native political structures resisted the imposition of French control. This was especially the case in North Africa and the Sahara. These were more sophisticate societies than the largely promotive socities that the British faced to the south. The most effective groups were Muslim pricipalities. Most were highy pesonalized states, forming around a charismatic leader like the Mahdi in Sudan. They proved more difficult to deal with because of the relative sophistication, fervent Ismamic devotion, and their ability to obtain modern weapons. The most difficult resistance the British faced was the Madist uprising in the Sudan. The French faced simolar opposition in the wide Saharam/Sahel region to the west that became the various component parts of French West Africa. The fighting went on for several decades. The French Foreign Legion played a major role, but in some ases had to be backed up with the regulr French Aemy and artillery.

Islamic Wassoulou/Mandinkan Empire (1878-98)

One of the major Muslim resistance efforts to French rule was led by Samory Touré (c1830-1900). His resistance was centered in the western area of what became French West Africa, in the area around what is modern Mali, but including portions of several neighboring countries. Touré founded the the Islamic Wassoulou Empire, also referred to as the Mandinkan Enpire. He proved to be a major impediment to French rule. An important issue for Touré and other Muslim leaderes was slavery. They resisted French efforts to stamp out the slave trade and slavery itself. This was an important part of the ecomomy of the Muslim states and many of their supporters believed it was santioned by the Koran, with some justification. Touré's Empire was forged around the Dyula (Dioula or Juula) people. The Dyulka were a merchant caste of the Mande tribe or ethnic group. They are centered in Mali, but also found in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Guinea-Bissau. El Hajj Umar Tall died near Bandiagara (1864). This left his Toucouleur Empire without a strong sucessor. The chiefs he had dominated and brought into his Empire saw an opportunity to break away from the Empire, probably more accurarely called a Federation, and establish independent kingdoms. Samori Touré was one of these chiefs who proved especially prominent. His Kingdom was located in modern southwestern Guinea bordering Mali. Touré not only achieved independence, but began building his own Empire (1878). Touré ammased a substantial standing army with both infantry and cavalry. The infantry was called sofa and consisted of many Mandinka slves. There was also awell-trained cavalry force. One reports suggests that Samori could field more than 30,000 infantry and some 3,000 cavalry. [Boahen] Tour's army was a major challenge to the french because they had acquired modern Europen arms, lthough no ffective artillery. The French finally defeated Touré (1898). They sentenced him to exile in Gabon far from the Muslim Saharan areas where he had raised his army. He was exiled along with his son (Saranke-Mory) and his prime minister Morifidian Diabaté. He had several wives and quite a number of sons. The sons were sentenced to obligatory residence in Timbuktu and Niaro. Toure died in Gabon of a pneumonia (June 2, 1900). [Dilley, pp. 136-37.]\

Toucouleur Empire (1861-90)

The Toucouleur Empire was another Islamiv state centered in Mali. It had a range of nmes, including the Tijaniyya Jihad State and the or the Segu Tukulor (1861-90). The founder was El Hadj Umar Tall of the Toucouleur people. The Toucouleur were ethnically a Fula people, but sedentary farmers and fishermen. The Toucouleur Empire arose just before France and the other European powers were behinning the scamble for sub-Saharan Africa. France had alteady behin to colonize North Africa. Umar Tall was an imprtant figure among the Toucouleur. After completing the Haj his stature increased (1836). This is one of the pillars of Islam, but was much more difficult in the 19th century. He had the titles of El Hadj and caliph of the Tijaniyya brotherhood of the Sudan. He lived in Fouta-Toro (modern Senegal) for severl years and then moved to Dinguiraye (to the east of Fouta Djallon in present-day Guinea). It was here he planned his jihad and began amassing an army. His first target was the neighboring Malinké regions (1848). At the same time, France was beginning to move inland from coastal trading posts. France was determined to create an empire to ribl that of Britain. The French were already thinking about a connections between Dakar and the the Niger River. To establish control into the interior, the French began building a series of forts. They moved men and supplies by river where everpossible, but in several casses there was no choice but to move overland. Artillery was especially important because the native resistance did not have meaningful artillery. A clash between the French moving inland and Umar Tall's expanding territories was inevitable (1850s). At first this meant limited skirmishes, but these confrontations gradually increased in number and intensity. The French forged allies with native chiefs awed by their power and/or concerned about Umar Tall. King Hawa Demba Diallo of the Khasso, a French ally, agreed with French Governor Faidherbe that a fort should be built at the Khasso capital of Medina, close to Kayes. The Khasso (Xaaso) were an important West African kingdom (17th-19th centuries) located in modern Senegal and western Mali. Umar Tall launched a major effort to conquer the Khasso and defeat the French. He laid seige to the new French fort, but ultimately failed (1857). This became the effective barrier to further expansion west of Umar Tall's empire. After the failure at Medina, shifted his focus east to the Bamana Empire and because they were not allied with the French, experienced some success, tking Kaarta and then Segou. A a result of the major victory at Segou, Umar Tall set up his capital at Segou (March 10, 1861). The following year he launched a new campaign (1862). His Ahmadu Tall was unstkked at Segou to manage his empire and he attacked Hamdullahi, the capital of the Fula empire of Massina. Umar Tall failed to tke the important trading center of Timbuktu, and retired to Deguembéré, near Bandiagara in the Dogon region. There he ended his empire building. He was killed in an explosion of an important powder magzine (1864). The Empire continued for some time, but through internal division and the defection od powerful chiefs, gradually declined. His nephew Tidiani Tall formally succeeded him and moved the the capital of the Toucouleur Empire to Bandiagara. Ahhmadu Tall, his son, continued to control Segou. The Talls at first prevented local chiefs and cities from breaking away, but divusion among the brothers gradually weakened central control. Umar Tall's son Ahmadu continued to reign, successfully suppressing the attempts of several neighboring cities to break away. He experienced, however, increasing differences with his brothers. A major loss was the rise of the Islamic Wassoulou/Mandinkan Empire (1878). The French forged an alliance with the Bambara people and an allied force retook Ségou (1890). This markjed the end of the Tall amily Toucouleur Empire. Ahmadu Tall fled first to Massina, but after its fall (1893), to Sokoto in what is now northern Nigeria. Sokoto was an independent caliphate, eventully reduced by the British.


Boahen, Albert Adu. General History of Africa Vol. 7 "Africa under Colonial Domination 1880-1935" Abridged paperback. (1990).

Dilley, Roy. Nearly Native, Barely Civilized: Henri Gaden’s Journey through Colonial French Africa (1894-1939 (Brill, Leiden-Boston: 2014). , pgs. 136-137).


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Created: 12:31 AM 4/23/2006
Last updated: 8:49 PM 11/9/2015