anm document

"Rapports Économiques du
Cercle de Tombouctou, 1922-1945"
in ANM fonds recents

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Mangeot,
"Notice sur le mouton à laine dit mouton du Macina,"
n°1822AE (Timbuktu, September 25, 1921)

In 1909, wool sold for 250 francs/ton. By 1918, the price had risen to 3,000 francs/ton, but by 1921, the price had dropped down to 1,000 francs/ton and European merchants refused to buy any.

These figures show wool exports from the Cercle de Tombouctou from 1914-1919:

Year Tons Value in francs
1914 715 715,000
1915 805 1,009,500
1916 923 1,292,200
1917 1030 1,750,000
1918 1276 3,640,000
1919 1300 4,225,000


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Mangeot
"Notice sur les mines de sel de Taoudenni," n°1830AF (Timbuktu November 22, 1921)

This table shows salt imports into Timbuktu from 1901 to 1921:

Year # barres Price per barre (francs)
1901 23,000 25.5
1902 32,000 25
1903 26,000 25
1904 28,000 25
1905 57,000 25
1906 67,000 13
1907 58,000 18
1908 77,000 14
1909 95,000 9
1910 85,000 10
1911 69,835 21
1912 18,296 25
1913 67,000 20
1914 44,802 20
1915 25,900 20
1916 30,300 22.5
1917 19,800 25
1918 24,300 30
1919 16,400 30-35
1920 22,000 35-42
1921 27,500 20-42

The total is 914,133 barres, although these figures include only salt carried in the biannual azalaï, and omit barres carried by small caravans that avoided the French taxes. The administrator estimated that they carried an additional 25% or 229,533 barres.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Mangeot
"Resources Agricoles de la Région de Tombouctou," n°1873AE (Timbuktu, November 27, 1921)

On the Niger River between Kabara and Ansongo, there were three 15-ton barges and seven personnel barges. The round-trip from Kabara to Ansongo and back took roughly 45 days. Since the administration and military had priority on the use of these barges, there was little capacity for commercial traffic beyond Kabara, even though Gao and Ansongo produced large quantities of rice and millet.

Timbuktu could easily become another Mopti with adequate transportation to exploit the region downriver. However, Timbuktu was cut off from the Niger River for 6 months each year. Kabara was a better site and Korioumé, slightly upriver, was even more accessible. Freight tranportation by donkey from Kabara to Timbuktu cost 0.75 franc per 70-80 kilogram load and 1.50 francs per load from Korioumé to Timbuktu.

In 1917, Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Alaysse resumed the excavation of a canal from Kabara to Timbuktu using forced labor. It was complete by 1921 and navigable from December 15 to March 1, and occasionally as late as March 15.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Mangeot
"Le Coton dans la Région de Tombouctou," n°1828AE (Timbuktu, December 5?, 1921)

The French under Governor Trentinian introduced cotton to the region in 1897. In 1900, the Association Cotonnière was formed in Le Havre to promote the production of cotton. Belimé's 1920 study called for irrigation canals at Ségou, Nyamina and Sansanding, a hydraulic dam at N'Gagnale, a reservoir at Faya and a dam at Sotuba in order to promote cotton production in the Middle Niger Valley.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou à Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Française,
telegram n°1766 (Timbuktu, April 25, 1922)

Mohammed Ahmed, a marabout who was one of the spiritual leaders involved in the 1916 Tuareg revolt, gave his unconditional submission to the French at Kidal on April 17, 1922.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou to Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Française,
telegram (Timbuktu, July 25, 1922)

River navigation between Diré and Gao was made possible by the completion of a new canal, although the location of this canal was not specified in the telegram.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou to Lt. Gouverneur du Soudan Française,
telegram (Timbuktu, September 26, 1922)

This telegram took four days to reach Koulouba from Timbuktu. It mentions road work in progress on the piste (unpaved road) to Kidal, and the completion of the jetty at Goundam.

The Commandant provided the prices of several staple items. Millet sold in Timbuktu for 150-250 francs/ton. A cow cost 50-120 francs, a sheep cost 7-20 francs, and rice sold for 400 francs/ton.


Rapport Économique du Région de Tombouctou (3rd quarter, 1925)

European merchants were hurt by the weakness of the French franc which increased the prices of all their imported goods. However, the market at Bourem grew during the third quarter of 1925.


Rapport Économique du Région de Tombouctou (1st quarter, 1927)

The following tables lists the prices of principal commodities in Timbuktu and Gao during the first quarter of 1927:

Item Timbuktu price Gao price
Millet 1,250 francs/ton n/a
Wool 3,500-4,000 francs/ton n/a
Salt 75 francs/barre 75-100 (francs/barre)
Cow 150-400 francs 150-600 francs
Sheep 35-60 francs 35-50 francs


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou Carbou, "Rapport Menusel sur la situation politique
et économique de la région de Tombouctou, Juin 1927," n°6 (Timbuktu, June 20, 1927)

The "Groupes militaires nomades" were reorganized into G.N. Araouan, G.N. Kidal and G.N. Timetrin in order to provide better security for salt caravans.

A shortage of grain persisted in Timbuktu, and the presence of animal diseases required that animals be quaratined. Both of these conditions resulted in a reduction in exports. European veterinarians toured the cercle to inspect the herd and give out vaccinations.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou, "Rapport Menusel sur la situation politique
et économique de la région de Tombouctou, Decembre 1927," n°12

The trade in grain and animals returned to normal in Cercle de Tombouctou by the end of 1927.


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou, "Rapport Menusel sur la situation politique
et économique de la région de Tombouctou" (January 1929)

This table gives the prices for principal commodities in Timbuktu in January 1929:

Item Price
Millet (gros mil) 550 francs/ton
Black wool 2,500 francs/ton
White wool 5,500 francs/ton
Cowskin 9,500 francs/ton
Sheep 25-50 francs
Cow 300-400 francs
Donkey 150-250 francs


Commandant du Région de Tombouctou, "Rapport Politique Annuel" (1929)

After rising throughout the 1920s. the price of Taoudenni salt dropped at the end of the decade.

A road building experiment was made using banco bricks on the Goundam-Timbuktu road in order to defeat drifting sand.


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou, Rapport Generale n°3 (March 1930)

Export prices in Timbuktu dropped for everything except for gum. They were no buyers at all for animal skins. The following table shows the prices for principal commodities in March 1930:

Item Price
Millet (petit mil) 1,200 francs/ton
Millet (gros mil) 500-750 francs/ton
Wool 3,000-4,500 francs/ton
Salt (barres) 1,000 francs/ton
Rice 1,500 francs/ton


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou to Gouverneur du Soudan Française,
telegram n°858 (Timbuktu, April 2, 1930)

Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou Fouré accused European merchants of profiteering on the grain trade and asked for permission to bring legal action against them.


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou, Rapport Économique (4th quarter, 1930)

Drought damaged the millet and rice harvest in the Cercle de Tombouctou in 1930. There was no famine though, because the population was low and mobile, so they could go to other cercles like Goundam to find food.


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou Lt. Col. Bertrand,
Rapport Économique Annuel, n°3689 (1938)

All of the millet and rice produced in the Cercle de Tombouctou were consumed within the cercle, so there were no exports. Wool and animal skins were exported. The number of automobiles in the cercle increased in one year from 7 to 16. Numerous tourists visited Timbuktu during 1938 and traffic between Kabara and Timbuktu was heavy.

River transport by the Société des Messageries Africaines was irregular. European merchants had trouble obtaining stocks of trade goods and a substantial proportion of goods was damaged in ship's holds.

The administration was still making plans to dig a canal between Korioumé and Kabara.


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou Lt. Col. Bertrand, Rapport Économique Annuel (1940)

Seventeen tons of animal skins were exported by the Société des Messageries Africaines. The administration began to operate a skin-drying facility in Timbuktu and they hired two tanners in an attempt to improve the quality of skin exports. The administration charged skin producers nothing for drying, but expected to begin charging as soon as the cost advantage of dried skins became obvious (in other words, as soon as they were reasonably sure they could collect it).

After the second quarter of 1940, automobile transport declined due to the fuel shortage. Automobiles were only employed by the administration or on trips between Timbuktu, Korioumé and Kabara. River transport by the Société des Messageries Africaines became even more irregular.

Until July, the economy was normal, but the combined effects of drought and reduced imports made the second half of 1940 one of the worst ever for trade. Guinée cloth was rare and sugar was non-existant. The Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou called on the government to exercise controls over imports to insure more equitable distribution among the cercles. The implication was that upstream cercles got more than their share.


Commandant du Cercle de Tombouctou Lt. Col. Bertrand, Rapport Économique Annuel, n°358 (1945)

The 1944 harvest was a bad one and food had to be imported. The Cercle de Tombouctou received 330 tons of millet from Mopti, 120 tons of millet from Goundam, 150 tons of millet from San and 200 tons of rice from Gao.

The salt trade slowed because producers tried to limit shipments in order to raise prices. Wells along the Taoudenni-Timbuktu route were in poor condition and there was no cement with which to fix them.

Maurel et Prom still had a shop (succursale) in Timbuktu, and there were merchants from Morocco, Syria and Soudan. However, CFAO, the Société Commericale and Buhan et Teisseire did not come back after WWII.

River transport was scanty and the pistes, although they were in good condition, were unused because of the lack of vehicles. Transport was provided by pirogues, camels and donkeys. The ferry at Gourma-Rharous, which had been out of order for years, was scheduled to be towed to Koulikoro for repairs at the Société des Messageries Africaines shops. The airstrip was reopened.

Koulikoro was dependent on the neighboring cercles for everything. Dirt came from Bourem to make banco, "roniers" came from Niafunké, bricks from Diré, "gaulettes" (sticks) from Goundam, and chalk from Mopti. No building materials came from Koulikoro at all. Timbuktu was completely isolated for six months of the year by low river levels and the lack of vehicles for the pistes.