Colonial Rule in Senegal
French colonial rule of Senegal has had a profound and enduring impact on the political and economic development and has set it apart from most of its neighbors and African peers. Although Senegal’s main resource is peanuts it has obtained a prominent role for itself as serving under French colonial rule as the capital of French West Africa and the site for penetration into the interior of the former French colonial territory.
Senegal has been shaped by its interactions with explorers and traders throughout its formal history, which began in the 11th century with its first recorded encounters with Muslim traders that introduced Islam.[i] Over the course of the next several centuries’ African empires fought for control over the land as well with Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, British, and French explorers. By 1891 the entire territory of modern Senegal was brought under French control and the French Colonial Period commenced.[ii]
French colonial policy was guided by the concept of the superiority of the French culture and civilization over all others and the colonists sought to assimilate the local population into greater France. Schools for assimilation were opened in Senegal by 1816 to indoctrinate the population.[iii] Democracy was already in exercise in Saint Louis by the 18th century as citizens held election for mayor.[iv]
In French West Africa the French took an indirect approach to control of the territory and established cantons ruled by French educated nobles who served as chiefs. The chiefs were selected by the French for their loyalty and displaced the indigenous leaders and were subject to the French authorities. As long as the chiefs executed their missions and provided their quotas they were given free reign over their areas. For example, during World War I the chiefs had quotas for troops to go fight for the French in Europe.[v] Often acting as puppets weakened the position of the chiefs and further eroded their legitimacy with their people. The government of French West Africa was based in Dakar and allowed local assemblies for each territory and a federal assembly for all of French West Africa.[vi] The Mauritania and Senegal territories were administered in Saint Louis.
French colonial rule in Senegal was unique as the four major cities of Saint Louis, Dakar, Gorée, and Rufisque were granted special status as French Municipalities and the men were considered full French citizens and not merely subjects since the 1880s.[vii] As such these French communes elected representatives to the government in Paris and participated in the greater French government. In 1914 the first deputy elected from Senegal arrived in Paris.[viii] Black citizens of the four special communes had access to France and many students were sent to study in Paris. The political parties in France were directly linked to African parties in Senegal. Eventually the Loi Cadre in 1956 granted suffrage to every Senegalese citizen.[ix]
The first President of Senegal, Leopold Senghor, serves as an example of the freedoms and opportunities as citizens many Senegalese enjoyed under French colonial rule. Senghor was from the minority Serer group and was educated in Senegalese schools before traveling to France where he assimilated French culture to the extent where he became a teacher and celebrated poet. After returning to Senegal he was elected to represent Senegal in the Constituent Assembly of 1945.[x] Nine Africans participated in the Constituent Assembly and gradually more Africans were involved in French political decisions. In 1956 thirty-three African deputies were sent to Paris and by 1957 there were four Africans in ministerial positions or serving as Secretaries of State in France.
The French West African territories benefited tremendously from their relationship with France and in the period between 1946 and 1958 70% of the public investment came from France for the building of school, bridges, roads, hospitals, and other important infrastructure. France also provided 30% of the budget cost for the maintenance of such items.[xi] Senegal’s peanuts provided 35% of the trade in 1956 for French West Africa.[xii]
In September 1958 President de Gaulle dissolved French West Africa and circulated a referendum amongst the French African Colonies where he offered immediate independence or a continued cooperative relationship with France. De Gaulle sought “such a way as to bring to France not only a reduction in costs (of maintaining colonies) that have become unjustifiable, but also fruitful promises for the future.”[xiii] Senegal voted to reject independence and sought to maintain strong ties to France.[xiv] Senghor said French capital was essential for further growth of Senegal but on 4 April 1960 Senegal declared its independence as part of the Federation of Mali and on 20 August 1960 split from Mali as a separate country.[xv]
France’s decolonization process perpetuated dependency by the newly independent countries. The model cooperative agreements of 1973 to 1977 and French promises of economic, political, and monetary support allowed France to continue to assert its cultural dominance.[xvi] In order to protect the new loyal states de Gaulle adopted a ‘benevolent stand’ and agreed to provide technical and financial assistance, military advisors, and civilian staff. The French Franc backed the African regional currencies and France warned other powers to not interfere in the region.[xvii]
In the process of decolonization Senegal agreed to allow 1200 French troops to remain on their base by the international airport in Dakar. In other former colonies the garrisoned troops helped maintain pro-French governments and intervened as France saw necessary to protect its interests. In Senegal the French troops served mainly an advisory and training role and in 2010 at the request of Senegal all but 300 of the French troops were withdrawn.[xviii] A rapid deployment airborne force of 13,000 French Soldiers is on standby to intervene in the interest of France.[xix]
Effects on Post-Colonial Political and Economic Development
The Senegalese constitution of 1963 was loosely modeled on de Gaulle’s 5th Republic of France and President Senghor continued to maintain strong political and economic ties to France.[xx] Meredith Martin argues that the changes to post-colonial Senegal were largely ceremonial as the country continued to be ran by an elite group separate from the masses. However one impact of independence was the loss of markets and cohesion with other former French colonies as there were now more trade barriers as each country established its own systems of laws.[xxi] Senghor resisted calls for the nationalization of French companies comparing it to killing ‘the goose that laid the golden egg.’[xxii]
After independence the priorities of the government changed and four years after independence 47% of the budget was set aside for civil service salaries.[xxiii] The post-colonial government did not invest in expanding the road network of the country as indicated by no increase in road density from 1963 to 1997.[xxiv] Many of the roads far from the capital are in very poor condition and have not been maintained in years.
Senegal remains among one of the ‘privileged friends’ of former colonies that receive the majority of French trade in Africa. In 1972 France was the destination of 58% of Senegalese exports and provided 49% of Senegalese imports.[xxv] The pro-Franco African community of Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, and Togo account for 17% of African exports to France and 21% of French exports to Africa in 1983. French bilateral assistance to Senegal was $294.4 million in 1982.[xxvi]
Comparison to Peer Group
Guinea stood out in opposition to maintaining strong ties to France and sought immediate independence and was cut off from France politically and economically. Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea rallied Guinea to vote 95% in favor of immediate independence and were cut off from all further business relationships with France. All French aid was immediately terminated, French doctors, administrators, technicians and other staff departed and destroyed what they could not take with them. President Touré then turned to the Soviet Union for support and encouraged other countries to break away from France.[xxvii] Toure also pursued nationalization.[xxviii]
Côte d’Ivoire was considered the wealthiest of the colonies at independence and also sought close ties with France. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the first president of Côte d’Ivoire, was a minister in the French government along with Leopold Senghor from Senegal and was also a staunch advocate of the ‘Union Française.’[xxix] Côte d’Ivoire experienced great growth post independence due to its exports of coffee and coco and close collaboration with France. It experienced more than 7% growth per year for the first 20 years after independence and an industrial boom through the 1980s, due mainly to dependence and cooperation with France.[xxx]
The French doctrine of assimilation and the early establishment of democratic institutions and citizenship granted to members of the four French communes in Senegal created a deep sense of belonging and desire to maintain relationships with France. The pro-France sentiment shaped post-colonial relations and garnered Senegal a beneficial trade and economic relations. President Senghor sought close relations with France and resulted in more favorable economic conditions than others like Guinea that demanded immediate independence and were shut off from economic relations. Côte d’Ivoire’s close ties to France were economically beneficial as well. However other issues like peaceful regime change and political infighting had a significant impact on the former French colonies.
Bon, Daniel and Mingst, Karen. 1980. French Intervention in Africa: Dependency or Decolonization. Africa Today, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 5-20.
Drake, Bill. 2008. Cultural Dimensions and Expatriate Life in Senegal. Cultural Dimensions Press, Kindle edition.
“France closes Senegal military bases,” BBC, last modified June 9, 2010, http://bbc.co.uk/news/10273849.
Herbst, Jeffrey. 2000. States and Power in Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Martin, Guy. 1985. The Historical, Economic, and Political Bases of France’s African Policy. The Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 23, No. 2, 189-208.
Meredith, Martin. 2005. The Fate of Africa. New York, NY, Public Affairs. Kindle edition.
Ross, Eric S. 2008. Culture and Customs of Senegal. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press. Kindle edition.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1965. “Elites in French-Speaking West Africa: The Social Basis of Ideas.” The Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 3, No.1, 1-33.
[i] Ross, Eric S. 2008. Culture and Customs of Senegal. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press. Kindle edition. Location 158.
[ii] Ibid., Location 452.
[iii] Drake, Bill. 2008. Cultural Dimensions and Expatriate Life in Senegal. Cultural Dimensions Press, Kindle edition. Location 154.
[iv] Ross, 494.
[v] Ibid., 452.
[vi] Meredith, Martin. 2005. The Fate of Africa. New York, NY, Public Affairs. Kindle edition. Location 190.
[vii] Ibid., 466.
[viii] Meredith, 190.
[ix] Ross, 480.
[x] Meredith, 715.
[xi] Ibid., 784.
[xii] Ibid., 727.
[xiii] Bon, Daniel and Mingst, Karen. 1980. French Intervention in Africa: Dependency or Decolonization. Africa Today, Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 7.
[xiv] Ibid., 809.
[xv] Ibid., 830.
[xvi] Martin, Guy. 1985. The Historical, Economic, and Political Bases of France’s African Policy. The Journal of Modern African Studies. Vol. 23, No. 2, 191.
[xvii] Meredith, 841.
[xviii] “France closes Senegal military bases,” BBC, last modified June 9, 2010, http://bbc.co.uk/news/10273849.
[xix] Martin, 204.
[xx] Ross, 538.
[xxi] Martin, 845.
[xxii] Ibid., 3196.
[xxiii] Ibid., 1992.
[xxiv] Herbst, Jeffrey. 2000. States and Power in Africa. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. p. 166.
[xxv] Bon, 17.
[xxvi] Martin, 199-200.
[xxvii] Ibid., 840.
[xxviii] Ibid., 1702.
[xxix] Ibid., 701.
[xxx] Ibid., 3412.