aof document

Chemin de Fer du Soudan
in AOF SERIES O 61

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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"Rapport du Commandant du Cercle de Kayes au sujet de la grève des ouvriers de Chemin de Fer" (no date)

(p1) On February 5, 1900, railroad director Rougier lodged a complaint with the Commandant du Cercle de Kayes against "ouvriers menuisiers" (carpenters) for "coalition, insultes, menaces et detournement des outils" (conspiracy, insults, threats and theft of tools).

Forty workers had already ceased work on February 2 without even informing their foremen.

The comandant tried to ask five strikers whom he considered to be instigators why they were striking, but a group of angry strikers gathered in front of his office and shouted "Vous ne les aurez pas!" (You're not going to get them!)

(p2) Since his attempts to explain to the strikers that he only wanted to talk failed, he ordered the arrest of the most vociferous members of the crowd. This triggered a fight during which three policemen were injured; one was knocked unconscious. Two other Europeans were molested. Since the policemen were unarmed, the commandant called in troops who arrested thirty-seven strikers.

On February 6, fifty strikers gathered to demand the release of their comrades.

(p3) The commandant released all but four - those who had attacked the policemen most violently.

The strikers complained that they regularly received their salary a month late (their December 1899 salaries were delivered on February 3, 1900), their salary was withheld even when they were justifiably absent due to illness, and they were not treated with the respect due to French citizens, but instead were the object of vexacious insults.

After the commandant promised to get a law passed, they returned to work.


Rapport du Lt. Col. Rougier, Directeur du Chemin de Fer du Soudan, au sujet d'une tentative de grêve des ouvriers menusiers Ouolofs employés au Depot du Kayes"
(Kayes, February 10, 1900)

This is a longer (8-page) version of the previous report that attempted to put all of the blame on the African workers.

(p1) On February 1, 1900, a Thursday, African workers were entitled to a day off for the "fête de Tabaski" (Muslim holiday). Many did not return to work on February 2.


"Projet de convention d'engagement des ouvriers Ouolofs" (Kayes, February 18, 1900)

This is the contract that governed the hiring of Ouolof workers (from Senegal) to complete the Chemin de Fer Kayes-Niger. It included the following points:

  1. A worker's daily wage was set by the Chef de Service following one month trial period
  2. The contract lasts for one year
  3. After the first year, the contract was renewable for either six months or one year, assuming the chef de service was agreeable
  4. The worker had the right to refuse to accept a contract.
  5. Each half day of labor constituted a pay period. Injured workers received half wages.
  6. Each worker's salary was to be paid each month.


Délégué du Gouverneur Général Ponty to Gouverneur-Général de l'AOF à St. Louis,
letter (Kayes, March 4, 1901)

This is a 16-page report about the treatment of African workers.

(pp1-3) A large number of workers deserted after February 15-20, 1900. Directeur du Chemin de Fer Rougier claimed that the Africans deserted because didn't undestand what it meant to engage in a labor contract, but Ponty believes that there were three things: low wages, short rations and fear of bad treatment by the French. Ponty added that when the Direction de l'Artillerie offered better conditions plus a pay book, they easily found 140 workers.

(pp9-10) Ponty noted that at first, the French had little trouble with their African labor. But following the capture of Samory, 550 of his Sofas were put to work under military rule. This started the labor problems. A law passed on January 4, 1899 provided for a military court to maintain discipline among the Sofas.

(p11) Ponty asserted that a meat ration was necessary to retain workers. While one kilogram of millet might may be enough for Africans living in the village, it is not enough to maintain them at hard labor.


Délégué du Gouverneur Général Ponty to Directeur du Chemin de Fer Rougier,
letter (Kayes, March 4, 1901)

(p1) This letter contains a list of the deserters from the railroad construction sites, divided into sites for new construction and reconstruction of old track. From thee sites of new construction, 44 "terrassiers" (men employed to grade the right-of-way), 30 laborers, 5 palefreniers (grooms) and 6 sofas deserted. From sites where the old track was being improved, nearly everyone deserted.

(p2) Rougier figured that they left to find work on the Chemin de Fer Conakry-Niger for higher wages, so he raised wages on the Chemin de Fer Kayes-Niger as well.


Directeur du Chemin de Fer du Soudan Rougier,
letter (Kayes, March 31, 1900)

This document provides the names of the four Ouolof workers who were arrested for striking, and gives their sentences:

  1. Gor Dia - 2 years in prison
  2. Birama Diakile - 3 years and 200 francs
  3. Diely Sankaré - 3 years and 200 francs
  4. Birama Diakile - 3 years and 200 francs


Rapport du Directeur du Chemin de Fer Rougier
(Kayes, May 10, 1901)

(p6) In the first half of May 1901, 1,108 workers from Bougouni, Ségou, Bamako, and Nioro arrived at the construction site at Manambougou near Koulikoro. By May 15, 95 had quit and the desertions continued.

Rougier recommends increasing the ration by adding 300 grams of mutton each day.

(p7) At this point, the railroad employs roughly 5,000 workers: 3,000 on track improvements and 1,500 on laying new track.


Délégué du Gouverneur Général Ponty to Gouverneur Général de l'AOF Chaudie, telegram (Kayes, May 12, 1900) and Gouverneur Général de l'AOF Chaudie to Délégué du Gouverneur Général Ponty, telegram (Kayes, May 12, 1900)

These two telegrams consist of an exchange between the governor-general and his representative in the Soudan. Ponty relayed a request from Directeur du Chemin de Fer Rougier for to execute a Sofa. Gouverneur-Général Chaudie refused permission.


Rapport du Directeur du Chemin de Fer Rougier sur le recrutement des ouvriers
(Kayes, July 10, 1901)

(p2) Workers who left for Conakry in response to promises of better conditions returned when those promises were not kept, but some 500 workers disappeared completely and never returned.

(p3) After 500 former prisoners of the war with Samory dispersed (about April 1901), they spread tales of harsh treatment under the French, making recruitment even harder.

(p4) The railroad director reduced the number of days per month that salary could be withheld for absenteeism to four days per month.

(p5) The Chemin de Fer recruited 55 workers in March, 17 in April, 34 in May and 14 in June for a total of 120 new workers. The railroad director called this number "négligible." On the other hand, recruitment by the commandants du cercle was more successful. These are the recruitment statistics for the period from 7 April to 1 July 1901:

Cercle Number recruited Number who deserted en route Number who deserted from the work site Number of active workers
Ségou 55 29 2 24
Nioro 862 124 696 42
Bamako 994 104 638 252
Bougouni 250 28 210 12
TOTALS 2,161 285 1546 330

(p8) "La sentiment de la dignité personelle et l'amour de l'épargne ont pris racine dans leur couer. Ils ont troqué leur anciennes loque contre les boubous que leur envient les habitants des villages." (The workers have acquired a sense of personal dignity and thriftiness. They ahve traded in their rags for good clothing that makes them the envy of the villagers.)