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The Economic Basis of Political Choice in French West Africa*

  • Elliot J. Berg (a1)

Extract

Africans in French Tropical Africa have recently been called on to make several farreaching political decisions. Two basic questions have been at issue: the nature of the relationship between France and the African territories, and the nature of relations between the African territories themselves. On the first question, the Referendum of September 28, 1958 on the Constitution of the Fifth French Republic gave Africans the choice between total independence and internal autonomy within “The (French) Community.” With regard to their mutual relations, the territories which made up the federations of French West and French Equatorial Africa could remain tied together politically, or they could sever all formal political connections among themselves; in French African political terminology, the second issue has been whether or not the individual territories should form “primary federations.”

The issue of total independence or internal autonomy within “The Community” was temporarily decided at the 1958 Referendum, when eleven of the twelve territories of French West and Equatorial Africa voted to remain with France, Guinea alone choosing immediate independence. Since then several members of “The Community” have initiated negotiations with France for the full transfer of sovereign powers to local African governments, and the indications are that all French-speaking West Africa will be fully independent within the near future.

The outcome of the second question—political relations among the African territories–is not so clear. The trend up to now has been against the re-creation of primary federations.

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*

This paper is a revised version of one given at the Second Annual Convention of the American Society for African Culture, New York City, June 27, 1959. Much of the research on which the paper is based was done in Africa in 1957 and 1958, when the author was a Foreign Area Research Fellow of the Ford Foundation. The author is indebted to Dr. Ruth Schachter, African Research and Studies Program, Boston University, for many helpful comments and discussions.

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1 They also could choose to become departments of France, but this alternative was hardly relevant to the West African territories.

2 Agence Economique du Gouvernement-Général de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, Annuaire Statistique de l'Afrique Occidentale Française et du Togo, 1934–1935–1936 (Paris, 1937), p. 121. The source of other statistical data in this section is: Haut Commissariat de la République en Afrique Occidentale Française, A.O.F. 1967; Tableaux Economiques (Dakar, 1958).

3 The franc in which this sum is expressed is the colonial franc, the cfa franc as it is called, which exchanges for two French francs. The current rate of exchange between the cfa franc and the U. S. dollar is, since January 1959, about 247 francs to one dollar.

The data on which this estimate of investment is based come from AOF 1967, Tableaux Economiques, pp. 336 ff. Annual investments are given there in current francs; the total 1947–1956 investment in current francs is 155 billion. I have converted these current francs into 1956 francs with the deflator used by government statisticians in France and Africa (Cf. AOF, 1957, p. 340). This deflator consists of an index based on an average of French wholesale and retail price indices.

To translate the franc investments into a dollar equivalent is an uncertain operation. The official rate of the franc was kept at artificial levels throughout the postwar period; use of this rate to convert franc investments into dollars therefore substantially inflates their real value in dollar terms. This kind of problem is not of course unique to the franc; it arises in all currency conversions, particularly in a world of managed currencies. But the difference between the official exchange rate of the franc and its rate on the world's money markets was so large during the period under consideration that it seems essential to note it here. To give a more meaningful dollar estimate of public investments in FWA I have therefore converted the franc investments into dollars at two different rates of exchange, the official 1956 rate of 175 cfa francs to one dollar, and the average free market rate that year of 225 francs to one dollar.

4 AOF, 1957, p. 340.

5 The total expenditure for operating costs, pension payments and the armed forces during this seven year period was 260 billion cfa francs, of which the French paid 97 billions. AOF 1967, p. 376.

6 The Grand Council building in Dakar and the Abidjan bridge are two well-known examples. Less known but more striking is the airport at Bouaké; this airport in the center of the Ivory Coast services about two local flights a week, yet it is far more luxurious than the airport at Lagos (Nigeria) which has a local and international traffic over 20 times as heavy.

7 Cf. Berg, E., “French West Africa,” in Labor and Economic Development, Galenson, Walter, ed. (New York, 1959), p. 258 , note 110.

8 Annuaire Statistique de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, Vol. 5, tome 3 (Paris, 1957), pp. 97–103; and information supplied by the Direction Générale de Personnel, Dakar.

9 Information supplied by the Ivory Coast Ministry of the Fonction Publique.

10 One of the most striking differences between pre- and pos-independence Guinea is the disappearance of European shop clerks in the main stores. Because the military left, and with them their wives, relatively inexpensive European clerks are no longer available.

11 Annuaire Statistique de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, Vol. 5, tome 2 (Paris, 1957), p. 128.

12 Ibid. In the official classification of the wageearning population, 489 Africans were classified as “management”; most (358) of these were in the motor transport industry. Of the 1641 classified as cadres, almost 20 per cent (302 men) were found in the railway administration, a government corporation.

13 Haut-Commissariat Général à Dakar, Comptes Economiques de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, 1956. Rapport No. II: Inventaire des Ressources humaines en 1956 (Dakar), March 1959, p. 50.

14 Cf. Bertrand, Raymond, “La construction et l'emploi d'un indice du rapport d'échange pour l'Afrique Occidentale Française,” in Revue Economique, March 1956, pp. 280307 ; and Moussa, Pierre, Les chances économiques de la communauté Franco-Africaine (Paris, 1957), pp. 7779. When capital grants from France to Africa are taken into account the balance of economic advantage swings of course in Africa's favor. The extent of the advantage, in fact, gave rise to considerable protest in France, particularly after 1956. This protest had its most concrete expression in the development of the doctrine known as “Cartierism” (after a popular French journalist), which argued in effect that France was wasting its time and its money on ungrateful colonies which would in any event demand independence. See the articles by Cartier, Raymond in Paris-Match, August 11, 18 and September 15, 1956 ; also Ehrardt, J., Le Destin du colonialisme (Paris, 1958).

15 See Speech of Governor-General Cornut-Gentille before the opening session of the Grand Council of FWA in Dakar, , in Procès-verbaux des déliberations du Grand Conseil, session extraordinaire, réunion de 21 mai 1954, pp. 11 ff.

16 Cf. AOF, 1957, pp. 363 ff.

17 The Upper Volta, and to a lesser extent the Niger Republic, also have connections with Ghana, exporting migrant laborers and cattle and importing cola nuts, European manufactures and cash remittances.

18 Cf. Buell, R. L., The Native Problem in Africa (New York, 1928), Vol. 1, p. 933.

19 Arcin, A., Histoire de la Guinée Française (Paris, 1911), p. 719. The main objectors, it should be noted, were not Africans but rather the European traders.

20 Buell, op. cit., p. 934.

21 Actually it distributed only 12.6 billion to local budgets; 3.5 billion went to municipal and special budgets within the territories. These figures have been calculated from the budgetary estimates in Annuaire Statistique de l'Afrique Occidentale Française, Vol. 5, tome 3, pp. 106 ff.

22 Nigerian experience in the field of federal finance has been different from that of FWA. In Nigeria the center haa not acted as an agency for substantial redistribution of income from the richer (southern) regions to the poorer north. On the contrary, some evidence indicates that for some time a redistribution took place from the north to the other regions. Cf. Report of the Commission on Revenue Allocation, Nigeria, 1951, p. 72.

23 Cf. Berg, E., in Labor and Economic Development, pp. 232 ff.

* This paper is a revised version of one given at the Second Annual Convention of the American Society for African Culture, New York City, June 27, 1959. Much of the research on which the paper is based was done in Africa in 1957 and 1958, when the author was a Foreign Area Research Fellow of the Ford Foundation. The author is indebted to Dr. Ruth Schachter, African Research and Studies Program, Boston University, for many helpful comments and discussions.

The Economic Basis of Political Choice in French West Africa*

  • Elliot J. Berg (a1)

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