French West Africa (French: Afrique occidentale française, AOF) is part of the French Union in north west Africa. It borders in the north with Western Sahara, Algeria and Libya, French Equatorial Africa to the west, to the southwest Nigeria.
AOF was created with the aim of coordinating under one authority French colonial penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa. A hallmark of the French colonial project in the late 19th century and early 20th century was the civilizing mission (mission civilisatrice), the principle that it was Europe's duty to bring civilization to benighted peoples. As such, colonial officials undertook a policy of Franco-Europeanization in French colonies, most notably French West Africa. Africans who adopted French culture, including fluent use of the French language and conversion to Christianity, were granted equal French citizenship, including suffrage (assimilation). For example the residents of the "Four Communes" in Senegal were granted citizenship.
In the 1930s the policy of assimilation was considered by the colonial lobby and some groups has an insufficient means to keep French rule. Critical voices from an emerging African middle class where also emerging. The social republican government, headed by François de La Rocque changed the policy of assimilation to association within the French Union.
Organic laws for West Africa (1936) and Equatorial Africa (1936) changed the administration giving limited self government and representation by means of territorial councils and local city government (but with lesser powers in relation to a French Commune). Later legislation would eliminate most of the precepts and legal structure associated to the Code de l'Indigénat. A sort of AOF citizenship would gradually appear.
In AOF, the Governor General, named by the President of the French Union, is the political and military head of the AOF. He receives direct instructions from the President of the French Union and carries out the policies of High Council and ministère de Territoires d'Outre-mer. Each territory is in charge of Territorial Governors, named by the President of the French Union but responsible before the Governor General. The Territorial Council, directly elected, assists in the administration, welfare and economic development. The capital of the territory where given a local elected council and executive. The established communes keep their status, but would have a common territorial council.
Territories of AOF
Administratively it is divided in the following territories:
- quatre communes ou quatre vieilles du Sénégal
- Dakar (Administrative center of AOF), commune
- Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal, commune
- Gorée, commune
- Rufisque, commune
- Senegal (Administrative center: Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal) subdivided in Cercles.
- Mauritania (Saint-Louis-du-Sénégal until 1931, Nouakchott since 1931) subdivided in Cercles.
- French Sudan (Bamako) subdivided in Cercles.
- French Guinea (Conakry) subdivided in Cercles.
- Ivory Coast (Bingerville) subdivided in Cercles.
- Dahomey (Porto-Novo) subdivided in Cercles.
- Upper Volta (Ouagadougou) subdivided in Cercles.
- Niger (Niamey) subdivided in Cercles.
- Togo (Lomé) subdivided in Cercles.
The Cercles (in charge of a Cercle Commander) consisted of several cantons, each of which in turn consisted of several villages. Below the "Cercle Commander" there is a series of African "Chefs de canton" and "Chefs du Village": "chiefs" appointed by the French and subject to removal by the Europeans.
The Commune have local self government, equivalent to its metropolitan counterpart, save that suffrage its restricted to French citizens.
Economy of AOF
In tropical areas the plantation system produces vegetable commodities such has palm oil, rubber, kola nut, cacao, coffee, coconut (fiber and oil), cotton, and ground nuts. Lumber and wood pulp are recently being exploited in large scale. Tin, gold, diamonds, manganese, phosphate and bauxite are mined.
The Trans-Sahara Railway, built between 1930-1940, links Algeria to sub-Saharan Africa. From Algiers, all the way to Timbuktu on the Niger River, then southwest to Bamako and its final destination in Dakar. Two branches link to Niamey and Abidjan.
The main ports are Dakar, Conakry, Abidjana and Cotonou. Transafricaine, Air Afrique and its regional company Air Afrique occidentale (AF Occidentale) are the main passenger and cargo carriers.