anf document

Mission Bourgeois-Gavardin (1940-1941), report on "Organisation territoriale des regions de la boucle du Niger - politique suivie à l'egard des nomades" (April 10, 1941)
in ANFOM Affaires Politics, Carton 634, Dossier 6

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

Go to Table of Contents Read Disclaimer

This report was made in response to a suggestion by Colonel Duboin, the French Commandant of Gao, calling for the unification of the cercles of Gao, Timbuktu and Gourma-Rharous into one administrative district.

The author defined the area under consideration as the cercles of Gao, Gourma-Rharous, Goundam and Timbuktu. Their combined population is about 355,000, including 194,000 sedentary people--mostly Songhai--living along the Niger River and on the large islands of Goundam, Diré and Gourma.

The area also includes 161,000 nomads, including at least 50,000 bellahs (former slaves). Timbuktu and Gao are the two real capitals, but each year the population of Timbuktu declines in favor of Diré, while the population of Gao continues to grow.

Because of the stormy history of this area, the French military command has always been unified. At the moment, there is a Délégué pour le Commandant Militaire du Soudan pour la région Tombouctou - Gao who is simultaneously the Commandant du Bataillon des Confins Soudanais. The domestic political situation is calm. Tuaregs and Moors have been disarmed. There are occasional incidents but they produce no repercussions.

At the beginning of the war in 1939, the Tuaregs Ireguenaten anticipated a reduction in the French military presence, so they threatened the sedentary peoples from Goundam to Gourma. However, a tour by the Inspecteur des Affaires Administratives, along with an administrator, some guards and some goumiers, led to arrests that restored order quickly.

In July 1940, the chief of the Iguadarem 1 in the subdivision of Gourma-Rharous was accused of anti-French activity because his people were seen manufacturing lances and knives. The inspector did not think this was serious, and attributed the alarm to the Commandant of the Subdivision, an administrator who had been promoted to Lieutenant, but who had only been there for seven months and had spent only ten days on inspection tours.

A telegram from the Colonel Duboin, Commandant du Gao, announced the arrest of Oueden, the chief of the Iguadarem 1 at Rharous. Duboin feared there might be more anti-French activity as a result, but the inspector noted that nothing came of it.

There is discussion of the political trouble in this area during the last war (due to Tuareg resistance during a time of diminshed French presence).

Automobiles, airplanes and colonial pistes (improved dirt roads) provided the French with an advantage in mobility that negated the superior adaptation of the nomads to their own country.

Timbuktu is commanded directly by a Chef de Bataillon who controls an infantry company and a nomad group. Gao is under the command of a colonel with similar armed forces at his disposition. In the event of trouble, the colonel assumes command of all troops in the area.

The troops in Timbuktu were responsible for the security of the trans-Saharan piste, policing the desert regions and covering the rear of troops stationed in Niger.

The garrison at Timbuktu is under the command of chef du batallion Moreau.

The report mentioned that there were serious incidents at Nioro-Assaba in August 1940, but does not specify what happened. From the context, it must have had something to do with nomads.

The nomads still possess a large part of their wealth in the form of bellahs (servants) who remain their subjects, but hope to leave and become sedentary. There is an increasing tendency for the nomads to settle down. For example, Chief Mohammed Ali of the Kel Antessar has accepted a school and French resident officer in a village under his authority.

Three nomad schools are being placed in Goundam.

The report mentions the farm of El Oualadji in Goundam, which raises sheep for wool, as an example of the commercial possibilities available to the nomads. But there is only one veterinarian per cercle and at present, the veterinarian for Timbuktu must cover Gao as well. The French veterinarians have African asssistants (but no nomad assistants) but they need more personnel. The veterinarians are well respected by the nomads and offer a potent means to gain their allegiance.