1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/French West Africa
FRENCH WEST AFRICA (L’Afrique occidentale française), the common designation of the following colonies of France:—(1) Senegal, (2) Upper Senegal and Niger, (3) Guinea, (4) the Ivory Coast, (5) Dahomey; of the territory of Mauretania, and of a large portion of the Sahara. The area is estimated at nearly 2,000,000 sq. m., of which more than half is Saharan territory. The countries thus grouped under the common designation French West Africa comprise the greater part of the continent west of the Niger delta (which is British territory) and south of the tropic of Cancer. It embraces the upper and middle course of the Niger, the whole of the basin of the Senegal and the southwestern part of the Sahara. Its most northern point on the coast is Cape Blanco, and it includes Cape Verde, the most westerly point of Africa. Along the Guinea coast the French possessions are separated from one another by colonies of Great Britain and other powers, but in the interior they unite not only with one another but with the hinterlands of Algeria and the French Congo.
In physical characteristics French West Africa presents three types: (1) a dense forest region succeeding a narrow coast belt greatly broken by lagoons; (2) moderately elevated and fertile plateaus, generally below 2000 ft., such as the region enclosed in the great bend of the Niger; (3) north of the Senegal and Niger, the desert lands forming part of the Sahara (q.v.). The most elevated districts are Futa Jallon, whence rise the Senegal, Gambia and Niger, and Gon—both massifs along the southwestern edge of the plateau lands, containing heights of 5000 to 6000 ft. or more. Among the chief towns are Timbuktu and Jenné on the Niger, Porto Novo in Dahomey, and St Louis and Dakar in Senegal, Dakar being an important naval and commercial port. The inhabitants are for the most part typical Negroes, with in Senegal and in the Sahara an admixture of Berber and Arab tribes. In the upper Senegal and Futa Jallon large numbers of the inhabitants are Fula. The total population of French West Africa is estimated at about 13,000,000. The European inhabitants number about 12,000.
The French possessions in West Africa have grown by the extension inland of coast colonies, each having an independent origin. They were first brought under one general government in 1895, when they were placed under the supervision of the governor of Senegal, whose title was altered to meet the new situation. Between that date and 1905 various changes in the areas and administrations of the different colonies were made, involving the disappearance of the protectorates and military territories known as French Sudan and dependent on Senegal. These were partly absorbed in the coast colonies, whilst the central portion became the colony of Upper Senegal and Niger. At the same time the central government was freed from the direct administration of the Senegal and Niger countries (Decrees of Oct. 1902 and Oct. 1904). Over the whole of French West Africa is a governor-general, whose headquarters are at Dakar. He is assisted by a government council, composed of high functionaries, including the lieutenant-governors of all colonies under his control. The central government, like all other French colonial administrations, is responsible, not to the colonists, but to the home government, and its constitution is alterable at will by presidential decree save in matters on which the chambers have expressly legislated. To it is confided financial control over the colonies, responsibility for the public debt, the direction of the departments of education and agriculture, and the carrying out of works of general utility. It alone communicates with the home authorities. Its expenses are met by the duties levied on goods and vessels entering and leaving any port of French West Africa. It may make advances to the colonies under its care, and may, in case of need, demand from them contributions to the central exchequer. The administration of justice is centralized and uniform for all French West Africa. The court of appeal sits at Dakar. There is also a uniform system of land registration adopted in 1906 and based on that in force in Australia. Subject to the limitations indicated the five colonies enjoy autonomy. The territory of Mauretania is administered by a civil commissioner under the direct control of the governor-general. The colony of Senegal is represented in the French parliament by one deputy.
Since the changes in administration effected in 1895 the commerce of French West Africa has shown a steady growth, the volume of external trade increasing in the ten years 1895-1904 from £3,151,094 to £6,238,091. In 1907 the value of the trade was £7,097,000; of this 53% was with France. Apart from military expenditure, about £600,000 a year, which is borne by France, French West Africa is self-supporting. The general budget for 1906 balanced at £1,356,000. There is a public debt of some £11,000,000, mainly incurred for works of general utility.
See Senegal, French Guinea, Ivory Coast and Dahomey. For Anglo-French boundaries east of the Niger see Sahara and Nigeria. For the constitutional connexion between the colonies and France see France: Colonies. An account of the economic situation of the colonies is given by G. François in Le Gouvernement général de l'Afrique occidentale française (Paris, 1908). Consult also the annual Report on the Trade, Agriculture, &c. of French West Africa issued by the British foreign office. A map of French West Africa by A. Meunier and E. Barralier (6 sheets on the scale 1:2,000,000) was published in Paris, 1903.
- The organization of the new government was largely the work of E. N. Roume (b. 1858), governor-general 1902-1907, an able and energetic official, formerly director of Asian affairs at the colonial ministry.