secondary work

Babacar Fall, "Manifestations of Forced Labor in Senegal: as Exemplified by the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum Kaolack 1943-1956" in Forced Labor and Migration: Patterns of Movement within Africa, edited by Abebe Zegeye and Shubi Ishemo (New York: Hans Zell Publishers, 1989)

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

Go to Archive Table of Contents Read Disclaimer

Note: This chapter appears on pages 269-288. It is based on interviews with former employees of the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum, and archival records that placed the information from those interviews in context.

(p269) It is common knowledge that the performance of the salt works of the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum was never good. Most of the workers between 1943-56 were prisoners. A prison camp was created at Koutal in 1944.

(p270) The Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum is an example of the reincarnation of forced labor in Africa after the passage of the Law of Houphouet Boigny on April 11, 1946.

The Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum was founded in 1914 by a French company, Les Salins de Midi, to extract and sell sea salt from the left bank of the Saloum River, four kilometers south of Kaolack. Production was difficult, and from 1914-24, they produced only about 5,000 tons a year.

(p271) After 1931, Kaolack provided an important market for salt thanks to the completion of the railroad. Production increased to 9,000-12,000 tons per year.

World War II was a boom for the works, since the European coasts were blockaded and Spanish salt could not reach French West Africa. In late 1943, the colonial government designated salt as a strategic material and Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum as the source for all of French West Africa. [See "Note on the salt from Sine Saloum - Labor" (Dakar, December 14, 1943, in ANS Series K 334-26.]

However, the production of the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum was not equal to the French West Africa demand of 95,000 tons in 1944. The following table gives the production statistics for the war years:

Year Tons of salt produced
1941 13,727
1942 13,433
1943 14,118
1944 22,957
1945 45,000 (see p283)

(p272) The biggest problem facing the company was the shortage of labor, followed by bad weather that had damaged equipment and salt in 1942. By 1943, the damaged requipment had been repaired, but the Director, M. Mondeil, asked for state intervention in labor recruitment.

(p273) In 1943, the Governor-General authorized the local commandant to permit the exceptional use of 100 prisoners for salt extraction. In general, there was little use of forced labor in Senegal.

(p274) There was a large free-labor market in Senegal in 1946 after forced labor was abolished. However, the 2ieme contingent (forced labor) of the military conscription continued to be used on a few projects, notably the construction of Yoff airport and the draining of the Fann suburbs at Dakar, the construction of the northern sction of the port of Dakar (using 1,524 men), and the Mission d'Aménagement du Sénégal at Richard Toll (using 1,500 men). Protests in Senegal and France following the Law of Houphouet-Boigny forced the government to stop this, but no mention was made of the convicts employed by Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum.

(p275) map of Kaolack area

(p276) Salt extraction took place during the dry season (November-May) when agricultural labor was idle. However, the working conditions were difficult (hot, strong sun, physically exhausting) and the wages were poor.

(p277) Although the company requested 250 workers from December to May, and another 400 workers from April to May, Director Mondeil and the Governor-General agreed that 150-200 prisoners would be transferred from the prison camp at Kelle to a new camp at Koutal in the suburbs of Kaolack. They were to be supplemented by prisoners from the prison in Kaolack. Over time, the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum was expected to improve working conditions so that they could attract voluntary workers.

(p278) At first, this program was completely unsuccessful. The prison camp held 214 prisoners, but only 87 were available for salt work.

(p279) The rest of the prisoners were sick or else involved in rebuilding the camp, which had been constructed hastily from poor materials.

Voluntary workers recruited in May disappeared quickly. From 800 at the beginning of the month, there were only 300 by May 12 and 200 by May 17. This coincided with the announcement of new peanut prices, which was a signal for agricultural laborers to begin cultivation.

(p280) The prison camp was finally reconstructed by 1945 and the prison work force stabilized at 200 men, available between February and July.

(p280-1) Salt was extracted by scraping it off of the salt tables, carrying it several hundred meters, washing out impurities, piling it in mounds and mechanically sifting and pulverizing it for transport in bags.

The work day was always at least 10 hours, they remained chained to a heavy iron ball all day and they were fed maize-flour soup. The law dictated meat five times a week, suplemented with fish, more grain and liquids, but all informants agree that the rations were poor.

(p282) An inspection of the camp in June 1944 yielded some terrible information. Men became sick and some died in the workplace. Of the three wells in the camp, one was too polluted to be used. Health care was infrequent and inadequate. Clothing was poor and they did not have enough blankets for the climate.

(p284) The Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum continued to use from 150-208 convicts to supplement a labor force that averaged 300 workers from 1946-1956. They established a core of voluntary salt workers - mostly former convicts who had completed their sentences, but who had become cut off from family and society, and so stayed on. Mechanization of salt extraction eliminated about 80% of the jobs, and finally ended the need for conscripted labor after 1956. The prison remained open and the convicts were sent to work in quarries and on public works in Kaolack.

(pp284-286) CONCLUSION: The French government had a policy that encouraged industrialization in Kaolack, particularly food processing. For example, the Lyndiane Cannery was opened in Kaolack in 1943 to can meat. State policy encouraged the cheap production of supplies in overseas territory, but this required low labor costs, which did not advance the free-labor market. Moreover, by offering conscript labor to companies like the Société des Salins du Sine-Saloum, the French government discouraged them from modernization. This was exceptional because forced-labor was relatively rare in Senegal. Since 1920, the government had provided labor for several companies: the Compagnie des Cultures Tropicales en Afrique (CCTA) at Wassadou in Tambacounda province, La Société de Plantation de la Haute Casamance (Kolda), La Société des Salins de Sine-Saloum (Kaolack); La Société Agricole de Lat-Mingué at Kaolack and La Société Industrielle des Mines du Falémé-Gambie. Despite the Geneva Convention of 1930 that outlawed forced labor, the French justified their use of conscript labor at Kaolack by the emergency generated by the war. However, this policy continued to 1956, well after the war was over. This was possible because public opinion cooperated with government policy by ignoring the conditions. They were able to do so only because, as convicts, these men had forfeited their rights as human beings. Mechanization of salt harvesting in 1956 was a turning point.