unpublished thesis

Jean-Claude Faur, "La mise en valeur ferroviaire de l'AOF (1880-1939)" (Universite de Paris: Thèse de doctorat,
Faculte de Lettres, 1969)
in ANS Library #bi I 4 1031

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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NOTE: This dissertation uses French primary and secondary sources, but no African sources.

(p14) Roume was the Gouverneur Général de l'AOF in 1902. He proposed the construction of four Chemin de Fers to the interior from each of the coastal colonies, plus an interior transversal to link them up. [See Chataud, Jean. Les Chemins de Fer de l'AOF (1909) for Roume's remarks justifying the 1903 government appropriation.]

(p14) Albert Sarraut was Ministre des Colonies and Merlin was Gouverneur Général de l'AOF in 1921. [For details of the Merlin-Sarraut plan, see Renseignements Coloniaux, n°6 (1920), pages 115-118.]

(pp50-54) Faur gave the following reasons for the failure to extend the initial railroad construction beyond Kayes in 1880.

  1. The French should have started somewhere with year-round access to the sea. Kayes was malarial and could only be reached from July-November.
  2. When the Senegal River was high enough for transport, rain made work impossible. Meanwhile, railroad construction material deteriorated in storage.

(p55) During the 1881-1882 construction, the only building in Kayes was the stable for the squadron's horses. The commandant lived in a tent. Kayes was a terribly unhealthy location where people either died or left.

(p56) During the early years, there was a succession of civilian engineers in Kayes. All failed to get along with the military or to remain long enough to accomplish anything.

Year Name(s)
1880-1881 Derrien & Carrey
1881-1882 Arnadout & Jegou
1882-1883 Jacquier & Razy
1883-1884 Chapron & Ruault

(p57) A new engineer, Deschamps, arrived for the 1884-5 season.

(p58) From December 1884 to July 1885, two military officers named Laudy and Thiriet led a mission d'étude on the usefulness of the 1.5-meter high monorail proposed by Raymond Lartique, the Directeur de la Societe de Construction du Chemin de Fer Monorail at Firminy. They rejected the idea because the monorail could be damaged by large animals and couldn't carry heavy loads.

(p59) Gallieni arrived at Kayes for the 1886-1887 season. Using the engineer Portier, unpaid labor provided by Governeur du Sénégal (they received room and board only), and material that was already in place, they constructed the railroad most of the way from Kayes to Bafoulabé. However, they used shortcuts (like only placing 3-4 ties per section and cutting them from local wood) so the railrad was unsafe and quickly damaged by termites.

(p60) There was an especially steep stretch of rail at Tambacoumba (4-5% grade) that often required several attempts before a train could get past it. [See "Le Chemin de Fer du Senegal au Niger. Note rédirigée par M. le Capitaine Calmel, avec la collaboration des officiers de la mission du Génie au Soudan, sous la direction de M. le Chef de Bataillon du Génie Rougier" in Révue du Génie Militaire, XIII (1896), pages 289-362.]

(p80) In a discussion of the profitability of the Chemin de Fer Kayes-Niger, Faur points out that it earned a profit immediately. Although freight tonnage failed to increase, passenger numbers increased continuously. Faur attributed this to the Kayes bottleneck, which was only solved when the Chemin de Fer Thiès-Kayes opened on August 15, 1923.

(p128) The work on the Office du Niger was made possible by the completion of the railroad. Without being specific, Faur cites the relationship between the Chemin de Fer and the Office du Niger and implies that each altered the other.

(p129) "Tableau comparative des exportations par rail" No sources are given for any of this data, which shows the numbere of tons of different products exported in various years:

Product 1924 1934 1952-3 1955-6
Shelled peanuts - 7,422 7,250 -
Peanuts in shells 4,125 1,990 55,000 147,900
Gum arabic 936 1,196 1,000 1,500
Karité 416 2690 9,750 -
Animal skins 787 841 10,000 -
Cotton - 185 - 18,200
Millet 236 - - 850,000

The population of the Soudan underwent growth in the same period. No sources are given for any of this data.

Year Population
1931 2,776,363
1936 3,600,000
1950 3,337,739
1966 4,500,000

(p130) Population of selected cities. No sources are given for any of this data, but I recognize that the numbers for Kayes and Bamako numbers all agree with numbers from documents in ANFOM except for Bamako's 1883 population - I have 2,000. For the others, I can't say, since my ANFOM figures all give the population by cercle.

City 1883 1909 1921 1936 1953 1965-1966
Bamako 400 6,524 14,395 22,000 80,000 150,000
Kayes - 6,430 11,332 12,500 20,000 32,000
Sikasso - 7,959 7,137 11,900 15,000 17,000
Ségou - 7,044 6,487 7,700 17,000 32,000
Mopti - - 3,352 3,800 12,000 15,000

NOTE: These figures suggest that Mopti first appeared as a town following the completion of the Chemin de Fer Kayes- Niger.

(p130) Faur observed that in 1953, of all the towns with more than 6,000 people, Bamako, Kita and Kayes were on the Chemin de Fer, Ségou, Mopti, Goundam and Timbuktu were all associated with the Office du Niger, and only Sikasso and Nioro were located away from large French projects. He gives the following approximate figures for town sizes in 1953: Bamako 80,000; Ségou, Mopti, Nioro and Timbuktu were all about 8,000; while Kayes, Kita, and Goundam all had about 6,000.

(p131) In 1935, there were 13,430 kilometers of roads and pistes, and 1,396 vehicles. In 1965, there were 12,080 kilometers of roads (7,500 kilometers of all-season roads) and 9,605 vehicles.

River travel: In 1934, 12,668 passengers and 6,658 tons of merchandise moved between Ansongo and Koulikoro. In 1934, there were 1,783 passengers and 1,095 tons shipped between Bamako and Kouroussa. By 1964-1965, the total river traffic was 70,352 passengers and 71,480 tons.

Faur also says that the railroad "joué aussi un r“le non-négligeable dans les motifs qui poussèrent le Soudan á se fédérer en 1959" (played a significant role in the formation of the Mali Federation in 1959) but offers no evidence.

(p162) Details of the Programme Sarraut - one part was to extend the Chemin de Fer Bénin-Niger beyond Savé to Dassa-Zoumé and on to Natitingou (along the Nigeria border) in order to attract trade from Nigeria. Another goal was to extend the Chemin de Fer Abidjan-Niger past Bouaké.

(p163) The Chemin de Fer Bénin-Niger was extended during the period 1929-1936 as far as Parakou.

(pp225-230) Appendix I: Excerpts from "Chronologie Sommaire du Transaharrien au Mediterranée-Niger"

Date Event
1859-61 The first French mission reaches the Hoggar Mountains in Algeria, led by Henri Duveyrier
1862 Beginning of construction on US transcontinental railroad
1867 Leon Paladini proposed the construction of the Chemin de Fer de Biskra à Kachena (Soudan)
1869 The US transcontinental railroad was finished from San Francisco to New York
1873 (Jan 13) Paul Solleilet presented a project for a trans-Saharan railroad to the Ministre des Communications et Colonies
1873 (Jan 24) General de Galliffet occupied the Algerian oasis of El Golea
1879 Construction began on the trans-Caspian railroad, which was finished in 1897 at a price of 75,000 francs per kilometer
1879 (Apr 26) Armand Duponchel published Le Chemin de Fer Transsaharien He expected the trans-Saharan railroad to cost 1.6 million francs per kilometer to build.
1879 (July 12) Freycinet, Ministre des Travaux Publiques, created a "commission supérieure" to study the Chemin de Fer Trans- Saharrien
1879 (Dec 29) The French goverenment appropriated 600,000 francs for four trans-Saharan study missions
1880 (Feb 7) Lt. Col. Flatters, Capt. Mason and 19 soldiers were killed in the region of l'Air (Algerian Sahara)
1880 (Feb 10) Lt. Dianous was killed and the rest of Flatter's mission decimated
1884 (Aug 18) The government made its last budget appropriation for the Chemin de Fer Kayes- Bafoulabé
1885 (July 6) The Chemin de Fer Dakar-Saint Louis began service
1890-1897 Fernand Foureau led several expeditions into the Sahara Desert
1890 French popular support for the trans-Saharan railroad increased as a result of Engineer Rolland's speech at the Société de Géographie and the publication of the seecond edition of Armand Duponchel's book
1892 Beginning of construction of the trans-Siberian railroad
1896 The French began the construction of the trans-Ethiopian railroad
1901-1908 Construction of the Damascas-Mecca Railroad
1904 Traveling in opposite directions, Capt. Laperrine met Capt. Theveniaut at Timimoun (Algeria)
1904 (Dec 10) The Chemin de Fer Kayes-Niger began thru service from Kayes to Koulikoro between the Senegal and Niger Rivers
1905 (Oct 16) The Mascara-Colomb Bechar railroad was opened by Ministre des Colonies Étienne
1908-1913 The trans-Australian railroad was constructed
1910 The Spanish offered a proposal for a railroad from Tangier to Dakar at the Congrès Internationale des Chemins de Fer
1912 Andre Berthelot created the "Societe d'Études Transafricain" with French, English and Belgium participation. They sent Capt. Nieger to the Sahara and Engineer Maitre-Devallon to Algeria.
1915 The first use of TSF (wireless radio transmission) in the Sahara by Colonel Meynier
1918 The creation of the "Comité National du Rail Africain" under president and former minister Réné Besnard
1920 The first air crossing of the Sahara Desert by Commandant Vuillemin
1913-1922 The Biskrat-Touggourt railroad was completed by Col. Godefroy
1922 (April 8) M. Fontaneilles became thee vice president of the Conseil Supérieur des Chemin de Fers
1922 (Dec) The first Sahara crossing was made by five tracked vehicles, led by Haardt and Audoin- Dubreuil
1923 (Jan 7) Members of the first Sahara crossing reached Timbuktu
1924 Four Citroen automobiles crossed the Sahara. See the film "La Croisière Noire"
1924 The Khartoum-Port Sudan railroad was completed
1926-1930 The 1,500 kilometer Turksib Railroad in USSR was constructed
1926 Three missions d'étude in the Hoggar Mountains organized by Gouverneur Général d'Algerie Violette
1927 (June 21) The creation of the "Comite du Transsaharien" under president Edouard de Warren. Other members included Blaise Diagne, Roux-Freissineng, Le Troquer and Robert Reynard.
1928-38 Construction of the 1,400 kilometer trans-Iranian railroad
1928 (July 7) Creation of "l'Organisme d'Etudes du Chemin de Fer Transsaharrien" under Maitre-Devallon, the Inspecteur Général des Travaux Publics (see 1912, above). They sent two missions to Algeria under Suchet and Masselin, and two missions to Niger under Nemorin and Milhau.
1929 (Dec 17) President de la République Doumergue, a former Ministre des Colonies, supported Maitre-Devallon's plan for the Chemin de Fer Transsaharrien
1932 (Jan 5) The Office du Niger was created under the authority of Engineer Bélime
1935 The Italians proposed to build a trans-Libyan railroad
1940 (Oct 30) The French Sous- Sécretaire d'État des Colonies, Contre-amiral Platon and Sous-Sécretaire de la Ministre des Communications Jean Berthelot traveled from overland from Gao to Bechar
1941 (March 22) The law for the construction of the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger authorized the use of material already in Algeria in order to keep it out of German hands
1941 (July 18 & 27) The French government passed laws authorizing the finance and administration of the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger
1943 Construction work on the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger stopped at Kenadsa (extension of the Oran-Oujda-Bou Arfa line( after l'Afrique Francaise Noire entered the war
1947-8 The Bechar-Kenadsa Railroad was extended to Abadla, Algeria
1953 The Assemblée de l'Union Française recommended railroad construction to extend the line as far as Adrar (kilometer 617)
1957 The Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger carried 485,000 tons of freight (62 million ton-km), of which 80% was coal. In 1942, it carried only 156477 tons. During the same period (1942-1957), the population of Bechar rose from 5,000 to 60,000.
1965 (March) After Algerian independence, the governments of France and Algeria failed to agree on financing for further rail construction
1967 Rail service beyond Bechar was abandoned and the Chemin de Fer Mediterranée-Niger was liquidated

(p269) The "Programme Sarraut" had two main objectives for the railroad: to increase exports and to connect population cneters. There were several specific goals for the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger: to complete the section between Thiès and Kayes, to repair existing Thiès-Kayes and Kayes-Niger track, to extend the Kayes-Niger 90 kilometers past Koulikoro to Barouéli, to electrify the Kayes-Niger using the waterfall at Gouina as a source of hydroelectric power, and to construct further track beyond Barouéli to Koutiala, a distance of one hundred kilometers.

(p270) Eventually, the Programme Sarraut envisioned a 250 kilometer connection between the Chemin de Fer Abidjan Niger and Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger.

(p271) Faur copied some passages from Albert Londres, Terre d'ébène (Paris, 1929), 55-65 that concerned the railroads of AOF. Londres was an early critic of French colonization.

(p272-3) "Chaque noir, en dehors de l'imp“t, doit de sept à quinze jours de prestations par an. Ce sont les captifs qui les font." (Every black owes, in addition to taxes, from seven to fifteen days of forced labor each year. It is the slaves who do it.)

"Au nom de la loi blanche, chacun ne doit que ses quinze jours; au nom de la coutoume noire, le captif doit quinze plus quinze plus quinze . . . tout ce que les autres ne font pas!" (In the name of white law, no one owes more than fifteen days of forced labor, but in the name of black custom, the slave owes fifteen plus fifteen plus fifteen ... all of the work that no one else wants to do.)

"Ainsi tout le monde est content. La loi blanche est humaine et les coutumes d'Afrique sont respectées! (. . .) C'est le captif qui constitue les compagnies de travailleurs. La il en a pour deux ans. C'est lui qui creuse la canal de Sotuba. Lui qui a fait et lui qui fait les chemins de fer du Senegal, du Soudan, de la Guinée, de la Côte d'Ivoire, du Togo, du Dahomey . . ." (In the end, everyone is satisfied. The white law is humane and black customs are respected. It is the slave who provides all of the labor. It is he who dug the canal at Sotuba, who built the railroads in Senegal, Soudan, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Togo, Dahomey, ...")

"Un camion ferait beaucoup mieux l'affaire. Mais l'essence revient à des prix fous, tandis qu'il y a beaucoup de bananiers. Lui, c'est le moteur a bananes!" (A truck would be more efficient [than using human labor] but gasoline is expensive while there are lots of bananas. The forced laborer is powered by bananas.)

NOTE: In the quotations from Albert Londres, "captifs" refers to men who belonged to "hommes libres" (free men) despite the end of slavery. Faur refers to them as "serfs domestiques."

(p281) CONCLUSION. The French had no coordinated political plan for developing the French Soudan. Local officials made all the decisions once the 1879 Freycinet Plan was abandoned.

(p282) Parliament was able to agree on opposition to new railway construction, but never agreed on support for new railway construction. For example, the parliament opposed construction of the railway past Bafoulabé in 1884.

(p284) There was little long-term investment in the Soudan, merely the search for quick profits. The "Scramble for Africa" and nearby British activity were also influences that led the French to quick penetration.

(p286) Due to budget limitations, improvisation was endemic and sanitary conditions were terrible. As a result, there were many deaths. Faur included a quotation from Georges Hardy's Nos Grands Problemes Coloniaux" (1929): "Il est rare qu'un chemin de fer colonial ne soit pas jalonné de croix, comme un champ de bataille" (It is rare that a colonial railroad is not crowned with crosses, like a battlefield).

(p287) Another result of insufficient railroad construction budgets was that the railroads of AOF had to be almost completely rebuilt after 1925.

(p293) The main impetus for rail construction occurred during the service of Governeur-Généraux Roume and Albert Sarraut.

(p297) Even with the railroad, freight costs were often too large with respect to the price of goods. For example, peanuts in the shell carried by the Chemin de Fer de Sénégal in 1939 sold for an average price of 1,800 francs per ton, but the average transportation cost was 650 francs, or 36%. [See Belime, Les Travaux du Niger (1940) or P. Ducros, Mediterranee-Niger (1942).]

(p297) A new section, "Les consequences humaines, politiques et sociales," begins here. Faur thought that in general, the railroad improved the lives of the people in the regions they served.

(p298) The railroad brought an end to the use of human porters. Faur describes the "moeurs de l'Afrique de vagabondeur" (the African desire to seek adventure through travel) and calls the French use of human porters an adaptation of official policy to African tendencies.

(p299) Thirty porters took 10-15 days to move a ton of goods to a post located 300 kilometers from the coast, damaging 200-300 kilograms of goods in the process. The railroad replaced porters and removed the need for advanced posts, thereby reducing the amount of goods that needed to be moved inland. "Si la conquˆte se justifiait par la lutte contre l'esclavage et ses caracteres sanquinaire ou barbare, la construction du rail a pour but, entre autres, d'aboler le portage." (I conquest was justified because it ended slavery and its bloody, barbarous practices, construction of the railroad is justified because it will abolish the use of human porters.)

Although French porter requisitions ended between 1905-10, goods continued to reach the railroad by human porters. The railroad station became the new market place. Due to the limited French budgets, the rest of the transport system remained limited and they had to rely on African porters to reach a large area with the railroad.

(p300) The railroad redistributed the urban centers of AOF. Timbuktu, Jenné and Timbo all lost influence while Kaolack, Bouaké and Mamou increased in significance. St. Louis declined as well. Capitals were located at various rail-sea junctions like Dakar and Abidjan, or at the inland end of the railroad at places like Bamako and Ouagadougou.

A secondary effect was to locate all social services near train stations - for example hospitals, schools, river ports and factories.

Faur writes that Kaolack had 500 people by 1880-1885, but he provides no source.

(p301) NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF THE RAILROAD: Urbanization substituted the profit motive for traditional African ideas that held their society together. It provoked massive human dislocation and depopulated the countryside.

(p302) As "Bidonvilles" (informal neighborhoods outside established towns populated by poor migrants) grew, Africans still try to practice polygamy and bride-price payment, but with less and less success.

The African proletariat developed within 50 years, unlike that of Europe (100+ years). The African proletariat is ethnically mixed and further stratified. For examples, Malians and Voltans are sub-proletarians in Senegalese and Ivorian cities, while Senegales and Ivorians are sub-proletarians in French cities.

The multi-ethnic proletariat is the most radical. Bambara railroad workers started the 1925 strike on the Chemin de Fer Thiès-Niger and the 1938 "emuetes" in Dakar. In 1947, the PDCI was founded at Treichville.

(p303) Future prospects - dieselization was completed durin the period 1953-1958. Despite the economic imperatives, political jealousies prevent the construction of a united Chemin de Fer de l'AOF. A fairly modern development is the construction of rail lines devoted exclusively to hauling minerals rather than trying to handle mixed freight and passengers.