interview

Interview with Albert Traore
(Ségou, Wednesday, April 29, 1992)

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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This is a partial transcript of a recorded interview that includes all of the statements relevant to the impact of railway construction in French Soudan.

M. Traore was born in 1922 in Bamako and moved to Ségou in 1970, after living in a variety of places. The interview took place at M. Traore's home about noon. Several other people were also present: Philip, a young Malian just out of school who worked for the Ségou bishop Cissoko. He was the one who took me to Albert Traore's house. There was also a daughter, a grandson, another young woman who could have been either daughter or granddaughter, and a man whom Albert called "l'étranger." All I figured out about him was that he was in his 20's and came from another village. He didn't speak any French with me, but he and Philip both listened to the entire interview. Albert seemed aware of them, but didn't seem nervous.

Before the tape started, M. Traore described the Ségou-Bani railroad as a steam railroad that was so slow you could jump off to urinate and still get back on again. I wish I had the exact quote.

QUESTION

Traore: Did you visit [the Ségou-Bani] railroad station at the Cité de Travaux Publics?

Jones: Yes. [Regarding the Ségou-Bani] Was the track standard gauge or narrow gauge?

Traore: It was "large. Ce n'etait pas des petites rails. Le train etait petit, mais les rails etaitent bons." (The tracks were wide. They did not use small rails. The train was small, but the rails were good.)

[We talked about how old rails were reused for house construction after the track was torn up. I mentioned that I had personally seen rails used in houses, as telephone poles, and as a part of a structure at the local athletic field that appeared to serve as a soccer goal.]

Jones: What year did the [Ségou-Bani] railroad cease to operate?

Traore: It wasn't there in 1970. Maybe after the independence?

Jones: In 1936, there were no European employees on the railroad, only Africans. That put it ahead of the Dakar-Niger in terms of "Africanization." Why?

Traore: I don't know. I wasn't around here. I took it for the first time in 1950 to Cinzana. I remember a water tower there, 3 kilometers from here (just past the turnoff for Markala).

QUESTION

Jones: Why did you take the train in 1950? For tourism?

Traore: No, my mother was at Cinzana and I went to the market on Thursday at Cinzana. The market was "comme une fête" (like a festival) The Ségou market was on Monday.

Jones: The train wasn't too expensive?

Traore: It wasn't too bad. At the time, we calculated things in centimes, not francs. Not everyone could afford it, so they walked the 3 kilometers (see confusing note above.)

Jones: When did you go to Dakar?

Traore: I came back by train from Dakar in 1942, after De Gaulle's bombardment.

QUESTION

Jones: I've asked a lot of people in Ségou and almost nobody has ridden the Dakar-Niger. Are you unique, or have I asked the wrong people?

Traore: What I did was, after I left school (lycée), I followed a friend of mine who was a "chef de train," Joseph Moussé (spelling?) from Kayes. I took a small test ("petit examen") and then worked as an "élève chef de train." However, after the bombardment, we brought 9 trains of refugees to Bamako. Afterwards, I quit the trains.

QUESTION

Jones: While you worked, you were in the locomotive. Was it hot?

Traore: Extremely. We used black coal which burned real hot. Towards the end of the war, there was no more coal, so they used peanut shells glued together. It wasn't as good as coal, but it worked.

Jones: It must have required more work.

Traore: You had to shovel continuously (to feed the boiler).

QUESTION

Jones: What about the strike of 1947? What did you think about it?

Traore: I wasn't grown up yet (he was 25 at the time). For us, the strike served our interests. They say that the strike was "uniquement pour avoir quelquechose" (ie. to get something. I think he meant that people accused the strikers of selfishly trying to profit, but I'm not sure who "they" were.)

Jones: In 1947, you were in Bamako?

Traore: No, I was in Mopti.

Jones: (laughing) Mopti? Did you get to Mecca too?

Traore: (laughing) No, but I travelled. I was in Dakar, in Guinea too. I was a bit like you. I'm not sure how to say this, but if I found a white man who would hire me, I went with him. I had no problems traveling.

Jones: Okay. And by 1947, you were in Mopti. Now tell me if you agree with this. When I spoke to retired cheminots, they all described the strike as something that united all African people.

Traore: I can't give you a lot of detail about the strike, but that seems correct. We had a reason to strike. ("On a grevé pour quelquechose.")

Jones: But the people who weren't cheminots ... did they support the strike?

Traore: Oh, that was different. For example, if I'm not a cheminot and you are a cheminot, you've got money. If something happens to me, you give me money. So when something happens to you (the strike), I am obliged to help you out. That's African. The strike "tired out the country" ("fatigue le pays") but that's what happened.

Jones: So nobody opposed the cheminots, even with the economic hardships?

Traore: I believe that is correct. There was a wave of unity, of Africans joining together. Africans remember. They won't forget the strike.

Jones: You've heard of Ousmane Sembene [author of a novel about the strike]?

Traore: Of course.

QUESTION

Traore: The Ségou-Bani served a lot of people. It allowed the people from the villages and the bush to bring their goods to market. Some people couldn't afford it, so they went to market with their goods on their head. But others could pay it and the train helped them. (new idea) But we had a dream that the railroad would reach all the way from Dakar to Bobo Dioulasso.

Jones: Why didn't it happen like that?

Traore: I couldn't say. If you started me on that, I don't really know and I shouldn't talk about it.

[We continued to speak about language and ethnicity for a few more minutes. When the interview was finally over, I gave him a can of Nestle's sweetened condensed milk to say "thank you." He wasn't expecting anything and seemed pleasantly suprised. He even said that when they'd called him to talk to me, at first he didn't want to come because he didn't think he knew anything that would be useful.]