interview

Interviews conducted at the Association des Cheminots Retraitées, Section de Kayes (Kayes, Monday, March 16 and Wednesday, March 18, 1992)

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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First interview conducted at the Association des Cheminots Retraitées, Section de Kayes (Kayes, Monday, March 16, 1992)

I met with a number of the officers and members of the retired railwaymen's association in Kayes at 9am. The participants were Mahmadou Köita, Président du Section (born in 1921 in Kayes); Mahmadou Gueye, Sécretaire Général du Section (born in 1931 in Samé-Oulof); Hussein Diallo (born in 1920 in Samé- Oulof), a M. Traore who was born in 1926 in Kayes; Abdullah Kamara (born in 1927 in Kayes), a M. Koné who was born in 1926 in Kayes; and a M. Diawara, the Secrétaire Administrative du Section, who came in late to the interview.

I opened with a question about their recollections of the 1947-1948 strike.

Köita: I was stationed at Kayes as a Chef de District. I was also assigned to Senegal (at another point in his career). Until independence, there was a single railroad administration from Dakar to Koulikoro.

Jones: Was that true for the rest of you?

GROUP: They answered "yes" in unison, and then each man mentioned his specific assignment. One was at Ambidédi and later at Kayes-Plateau, another was at Thiès and later at Guinguineo; another said that he was also assigned to Guinguineo.

Why did so many men serve in Thiès?

Köita: Thiès was the center of railroad operaitons, along with Toukouto. We did eeverything there [in Thiès]-- welding, parts fabrication, tool-making . . . [He seemed proud that the railroad was independent of French imports.]

The tape ran out here. From memory, Köita did most of the talking. After independence, the two national railroads were created and the Malians had to produce their own material. It was difficult, and Köita was proud of what the Malians had accomplished. He mentioned the 1964 inspection of the Chemind e Fer de l'AOF by Bosc claimed that Bosc called the Malian railroad the best.

Concerning the switch to diesels, Köita said that the work became easier. They didn't need to cut wood any more or look for alternative fuels, such as peanut shells. Cheminots became technicians rather than laborers, because the work was less physical and diesels required a knowledge of electricity and motors. Retraining took place at Toukoto with the help of Europeans (he distinguished between Europeans and the French). He wouldn't say how many Europeans took part or how long they stayed, because it was variable.

The consensus of the group was that the railroad had a great impact on the Niger River people - everything was imported by rail and the railroad used workers liberated from Samory.


Second interview conducted at the Association des Cheminots Retraitées, Section de Kayes (Kayes, Monday, March 18, 1992)

I returned to the meeting hall of the retired railwaymen's association in Kayes on March 18 and spoke with three other members: Mahmadou Gueye; Kelou Coulibaly, who identified himself as a former Agent technique and Secrétaire administrative du section; and a man named Diawarra. I did not record this interview, but took these notes afterwards:

There was a major flood in Kayes in 1936 and in 1958 (in addition to the floods in my notes for 1890 and 1906.

The station at Kayes-Ville was closed in 1952.

"Pousse-pousses" (hand carts used to move goods around town) are owned by local merchants and licensed by the city government. They are operated by employees of the merchants to carry merchandise from the railroad station to the town. When asked if the pousse-pousse operators were railroad employees, the reply was that the hand carts were "materiel personnel. Il travaillent a leur compte" (personnel property. They work for themselves.)

None of the men interviewed came from railroad families. Kelou Coulibaly started work with the railroad in 1940 after taking a professional training course. He became an agent technique and even visited the United States in 1973 in order to learn more about General Motors diesel electric engines that were delivered to Régie du Chemin de Fer du Mali.

Diawara joined the railroad in 1948 and worked in the Section de Voie et Batiments as a tracklayer. His father was a merchant.

Mahmadou Gueye joined the railroad in 1941 and worked as a "pointeur" in the Section de Santé.

These men provuided the following definitions for railroad jobs. A planton was an office boy. A frappeur was the man who swung the hammer to drive spikes on the track-laying crew. A coupeur was a metal worker in the railroad shops. A visiteur was someone who inspected rolling stock after each run for damage. An aiguiller was a switchman.

In 1973, the Régie du Chemin de Fer du Mali received two locomotives manufactured by General Motors. They were C-C configuration (0-3-3-0) and painted light green. (They are still operating.) In 1987, the railroad received 10 more.