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THE COMITÉ DE L'AFRIQUE FRANÇAISE, THE CHAD PLAN, AND THE ORIGINS OF FASHODA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2020

Abstract

The Comité de l'Afrique française, founded in 1890, is often regarded as the epitome of colonial nationalism. On closer examination, however, the Comité and its signature policy, the Chad plan, can be shown to have acted as instruments of choice for financial and commercial lobbies with particular interests in the Congo. The Chad plan and its successor and complement, the Upper Nile policy, were primarily intended to advance the interests of King Leopold and his French sympathizers. The unavoidable clash with British strategic and commercial interests in the region that ensued helped to unleash the forces of nationalism and led, ineluctably, to the Fashoda crisis and the conquest of Chad.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2020

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Footnotes

This article is published posthumously given the circumstances which Olga Roberts, the daughter of the deceased author, has laid before the journal. Contact details: roberts.olga@gmail.com.

References

1 Bulletin du Comité de l'Afrique française (BCAF), Jan. 1891, pp. 1–2.

2 Brunschwig, H., Mythes et réalités de l'impérialisme colonial français, 1871–1914 (Paris, 1960), pp. 23–9, 119–20Google Scholar; Aldrich, R., Greater France: a history of French overseas expansion (Basingstoke, 1996), pp. 103–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Hanotaux, G. and Martineau, A., eds., Histoire des colonies françaises et de l'expansion de la France dans le monde, iv (Paris, 1931), pp. 437–8Google Scholar; Kanya-Forstner, A. S., ‘The French “Colonial Party”: its composition, aims and influence, 1885–1914’, Historical Journal, 14 (1971), pp. 99128, at pp. 99–100Google Scholar; Aldrich, Greater France, pp. 100, 122–3.

4 Alis, H., A la conquête du Tchad (Paris, 1891) and Nos Africains (Paris, 1894)Google Scholar. The best accounts of the Comité are given in Brunschwig, Mythes et réalités, and Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’. The latter makes some use of new materials but does not fundamentally challenge accepted views.

5 Hanotaux and Martineau, eds., Histoire des colonies, iv, pp. 437–8. This volume was written by Auguste Terrier, Percher's brother-in-law who took over the running of the Comité in 1895.

6 Alis, Nos Africains, pp. 552–3; Percher to (Arenberg), 27 July 1890, Institut de France, Fonds Terrier (FT) 5892; BCAF, Jan. 1895, pp. 2–3; ibid., Jan. 1897, pp. 2–3.

7 Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’, p. 105; Ganiage, J., L'expansion coloniale de la France sous la Troisième République (Paris, 1968), p. 24Google Scholar. The Comité had no more than 4,000 ‘adhérents’ while the membership of the Deutsche Koloniale Gesellschaft ran into the tens of thousands.

8 A. Dyé to Terrier, 15 Sept. 1896, FT 5897; Service de propagande, 18 May 1894, ibid. 5893.

9 BCAF, Sept. 1891, pp. 6–8; J. Reinach to Percher (1891), FT 5892; Arenberg to Percher, 11 Oct. 1891, ibid. 5891.

10 Percher to Arenberg, 27 July 1890, FT 5892; Percher to Étienne, 10 July 1890, cited in Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 120.

11 Roberts, T. W.The trans-Saharan railway and the politics of imperial expansion’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 43 (2015), pp. 438–62, at p. 448CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 BCAF, Dec. 1895, pp. 345–6.

13 Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’, pp. 126–7; Ganiage, Expansion coloniale, pp. 11–26.

14 BCAF, Jan. 1891, p. 1; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, pp. 120, 257–8.

15 Brunschwig, Mythes et réalités, pp. 118–19; Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’, pp. 104–5.

16 Aynard, for example, was a Lyon banker and a director of the PLM railway. Péreire represented an important industrial and railway dynasty and Charles Roux the leading importer of palm-oil was on the board of the Compagnie transatlantique and the Société marseillaise.

17 Bischoffsheim to (Percher), 27 July 1890, FT 5895; Permezel to Percher, 14 Aug. 1890, ibid. 5895; Loreau to Percher, 10 Aug. 1890, ibid. 5892; Berger to Percher, 5 Nov. 1893, ibid. 5891.

18 de Loménie, E. Beau, Les responsabilités des dynasties bourgeoises (2 vols., Paris, 1947), ii, pp. 196–6Google Scholar. Percher served as secretary general. Other members were Aynard, Berger, Crouan, Greffulhe, Leroy-Beaulieu, Loreau, Péreire, Templier, and De Vogüé.

19 BCAF, Apr. 1891, p. 1.

20 Arenberg to Percher, 3 Sept. 1891, FT 5891; (Percher), séance du 5 Juillet (1894), ibid. 5893; BCAF, Mar. 1895 (Percher's obituary); ibid., Aug. 1895 (Patinot's obituary).

21 Programme d'action (1891), FT 6012.

22 BCAF, Oct. 1892, p. 8.

23 Ibid., Jan. 1891, p. 2 (list of members).

24 Ibid., 1891–5, passim.

25 Hanotaux and Martineau, eds., Histoire des colonies, iv, pp. 437–8; Brunschwig, Mythes et réalités, p. 116; Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’, p. 103.

26 BCAF, Jan. 1891, pp. 1–3; ibid., June 1892, p. 3; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 85.

27 Voies de communication du Congo français, n.d., Archives Nationales, Section Outre-Mer (ANSOM) Gabon-Congo xii 19/e; Notes sur les intérêts politiques et économiques (1889), in Rabut, E., Brazza Commissaire Général, Le Congo Français, 1886–1897 (Paris, 1989), doc. 137Google Scholar.

28 Sanderson, G., England, Europe and the Upper Nile (Edinburgh, 1965), pp. 89, 94Google Scholar; Stengers, J., ‘Une facette de la question du Haut-Nil: le mirage soudanais’, Journal of African History, 10 (1969), pp. 599622, at pp. 616–18CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Alis, Conquête du Tchad, pp. 70, 124–5.

30 (Note) n.d. FT 6007. Percher's Agence Dalziel had offices next door to Tharel on rue Notre Dame des Victoires in Paris.

31 Auriant, ‘Un ami de Maupassant, Harry Alis’, FT 5892; BCAF, Mar. 1894; Percher to Chavannes, 6 May 1892, cited in Stengers, J., ‘Aux origines de Fachoda: l'expédition Monteil’, Revue Belge de Philologie et d'Histoire (RBPH), 36 (1958), pp. 436–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar, ibid., 38 (1960), pp. 366–404, 1040–65, at p. 381. See also Percher to Mme Daumas (who was attempting to blackmail him over his secret Belgian connections), 25 Dec. 1894, FT 5891. ‘Comme je n'ai jamais commis de ma vie un acte qui ne soit pas parfaitement honorable, je ne crains aucun papier, petit ou grand.’

32 Tharel was director of the Syndicat du Laos, Syndicat du Soudan and the Compagnie française de l'Afrique centrale, among others. He was also president of the Société d’économie industrielle et commerciale (SEIC), an investment forum for an association of Parisian businessmen of which Percher was a member while holding shares in the two African enterprises.

33 Dictionnaire de biographie française (Paris, 1951)Google Scholar, entry for Crampel.

34 Coquery-Vidrovitch, C., Brazza et la prise de possession du Congo: la mission de l'Ouest-Africain, 1883–1885 (Paris, 1969), pp. 99100Google Scholar; Ballay to Colonial department (Colonies), 28 Jan. 1888, cited in Blanchard, M., ‘Français et Belges sur l'Oubangai (1890–1896)’, Revue d'histoire des colonies, 37 (1953), pp. 136, at pp. 34–5CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 121.

35 Coquery-Vidrovitch, Brazza, pp. 193–4; (Note) n.d. FT 6007; Daumas to Colonies, 25 Mar. 1890, in ibid., doc. 117.

36 Mizon, Discours prononcé le 5 Mars 1890 au Congrès Colonial National, FT 6007.

37 Ibid.; Mizon, note, 22 Oct. 1884, cited in Coquery-Vidrovitch, Brazza, pp. 412–26.

38 Tharel to Étienne, 2 June 1890, ANSOM Gabon-Congo xv 15; Rapport, 6 Nov. 1890, ibid.

39 Crampel to Étienne, 12 Mar. 1890, ANSOM Missions 5. ‘Ce projet prouve combien j'ai compris vos leçons et comme je suis prêt à exécuter votre politique.’ Ballay and Mizon were known personally to Étienne.

40 Roberts, ‘Trans-Saharan railway’, pp. 441–4.

41 Roberts, T. W., ‘Republicanism, railway imperialism and the French empire in Africa, 1879–1889’, Historical Journal, 14 (2011), pp. 401–20, at pp. 409–10, 413–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Brazza to Chavannes, 7 Oct. 1889, Bibliothèque Nationale: Nouvelle Acquisitions Françaises (BN n.a.fr.), Chavannes papers 12807; Chavannes, C. De, Le Congo français: ma collaboration avec Brazza, 1886–1894 (Paris, 1937), pp. 208–10Google Scholar.

43 Roberts, ‘Republicanism, railway imperialism’, p. 407; BN n.a.fr., Mémoires politiques de Bernard Lavergne, 14636 vol. iii p. 476.

44 Brazza to Colonies, 13 Dec. 1888, in Rabut, Brazza, doc. 114.

45 Ibid.; Cornet, R., La bataille du rail (Brussels, 1947), pp. 154–7Google Scholar. What follows is a revised version of the interpretation given in Roberts, ’Trans-Saharan railway’, p. 404.

46 Brazza to Colonies, 20 Apr. 1889, ANSOM Gabon-Congo xii 19/a; Étienne to Christophle, 4 May 1889, ibid.; Brazza to Chavannes, 2 May 1889, BN n.a.fr., Chavannes papers 12807.

47 Brazza to Chavannes, 7 Oct. 1889, BN n.a.fr., Chavannes papers 12807; Christophle was associated with Étienne in the Chemins de fer du Sud, while Soubeyron and Fould were directors of the Rothschild-controlled Nord railway.

48 Étienne to Brazza, 20 Apr. 1889, cited in Blanchard, ‘Français et Belges’, p. 31 n. 1; Brazza, note, 12 Dec. 1889, Rabut, Brazza, doc. 137; Étienne to Christophle, 4 May 1889, ANSOM Gabon-Congo xii 19/a.

49 Brazza to Chavannes, 2 Aug. (1889), BN n.a.fr., Chavannes papers 12807; Chavannes, Congo français, pp. 201–3, 208–9; Christophle to Étienne 2 June 1890 + enclosure, ANSOM Gabon-Congo xv 15. Étienne stipulated that individuals rather than institutions were permitted to invest and many of the former were connected to Tharel's SEIC.

50 Étienne to Jules Roche (private and confidential), 9 July 1890, ANSOM Gabon-Congo xv 15; same to same, 9 July 1890, ibid.; Bunua-Varilla to Colonies, 13 July 1890 + enclosure, ibid. Significantly, one of the concessionaries, Philippe Bunua-Varilla, was De Lesseps's right-hand man in the Panama Canal Company.

51 BCAF, Jan. 1891, pp. 1–3; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 85. Patinot was a director of De Lesseps's Suez Canal Company, while Aynard had close banking connections with the Société de dépôts.

52 Painter, George, Marcel Proust (2 vols., London, 1977), i, pp. 138–40Google Scholar. Greffulhe was one of the models for Proust's Duc de Guermantes.

53 Stengers, J., ‘Leopold II and the Association Internationale du Congo’, in Forster, S., Mommsen, W., and Robinson, R., eds., Bismarck, Europe and Africa (Oxford, 1988), p. 235Google Scholar; Cornet, Bataille du rail, pp. 152–4. Edmond de Rothschild contributed 20,000 fr. and Gustave a similar amount.

54 Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 85.

55 Dolisie to Chavannes, 24 Feb. 1894, BN n.a.fr., Chavannes papers 12808; Painter, Proust, i, p. 87.

56 Roberts, ‘Trans-Saharan railway’, p. 445.

57 BCAF, Jan. 1891, p. 1; ibid., Feb. 1891, p. 5; Alis, Nos Africains, p. 510.

58 Roberts, ‘Trans-Saharan railway’, p. 450.

59 Stengers, ‘Le mirage soudanais’, pp. 608–20; Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 34–6, 88–9.

60 Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 90–4.

61 Ibid., pp. 122–4; Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 367–9Google Scholar.

62 Roberts, ‘Trans-Saharan railway’, p. 445. Étienne suggested that most of Africa to the west of a line between Tunisia and the French Congo would form part of the French empire.

63 Ibid., pp. 443–7.

64 Ibid., p. 480.

65 Alis, Conquête du Tchad, pp. 210–12.

66 Mizon, Discours, FT 6007; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, pp. 193–9.

67 Percher, Rapport au nom de la commission d'exploration, 16 Dec. 1890, FT 6010.

68 Coquery-Vidrovitch, C., ‘Les idées économiques de Brazza et les premières tentatives de compagnies de colonisation au Congo français, 1885–1898’, Cahiers d’Études Africaines, 5 (1965), pp. 5782, at pp. 76–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Brazza to Chavannes, 12 Jan. 1892, BN n.a.fr., Chavannes papers 12807.

69 Roberts, ‘Trans-Saharan railway’, pp. 132–45.

70 Bischoffsheim to (Percher), 27 July 1890, FT 5895; Alis to (Daumas), 16 Feb. 1892, ibid. 5892; BCAF, Sept. 1892, pp. 2–3.

71 Alis to Reinach, 28 Mar. 1892, BN n.a.fr., Reinach papers 13527; Daumas to Percher, 20 Apr. 1891, FT 5891; Alis to (Daumas), 16 Feb. 1892, ibid. 5892; Leopold to Thys, 15 Apr. 1891, cited in Cornet, Bataille du rail, pp. 195–6; BCAF, May 1892, p. 2. Daumas obtained a seat on the board of the Société anonyme Belge.

72 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 383–8Google Scholar; Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 137–8.

73 Alis, Conquête du Tchad, p. 85; Colonies to lieutenant-governor, 9 Apr. 1890, ANSOM Missions 5.

74 Mizon, Discours, FT 6007; Alis, Conquête du Tchad, pp. 193–9, 210–12.

75 Brazza to Fourneau (12 Sept. 1890), ANSOM Gabon-Congo iii 13/a; Brazza to Colonies (tel.), received 2 Oct. 1890, ibid. Missions 24. The frontier had only been agreed up to 2°14’ North.

76 Brazza to Colonies, 25 Nov. 1891, ANSOM Gabon-Congo iii 13/d; Étienne to governor, 14 Jan. 1892, ibid. Gabon-Congo i 39/b; Chavannes to Colonies. 19 Feb. 1892; ibid. 39/a.

77 Alis to (J.-L. Deloncle), 15 Feb. 1891, ANSOM Missions 5, ‘Qu'on nous laisse agir au-delà de 4° nord. Nous nous en chargions’; Étienne to Chavannes, 9 Jan. 1892, ibid.; Chavannes to Colonies, 6 Aug. 1891, ibid. Gabon-Congo i 39/a.

78 Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 123–7.

79 BCAF, May 1892, pp. 8–10; ibid., Oct. 1892; Alis to foreign minister, Affaires Étrangères: Mémoires et Documents (AEMD) Afrique 132; Percher to Jamais, n.d. enclosed Percher to Étienne, 4 Dec. 1892, FT5891.

80 Brazza to Colonies, 8 Apr. 1893, ANSOM Gabon-Congo iii 13/d; Colonies to governor (tel.), 29 Sept. 1892; ibid. i 40/b.

81 Jamais to Ribot, 4 Aug. 1892, Affaires Étrangères (AE) Ribot papers 4; Nisard to Ribot, 5 Aug. 1892, ibid.; Ribot to Hanotaux, 2 Aug. 1892, AE Hanotaux papers 28.

82 The Niger Company failed to secure a treaty in Bornu while Berlin had indicated it was not seeking to block access to Lake Chad from the south.

83 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 370–1Google Scholar; Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 97–100.

84 Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 141–2; Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 384–90Google Scholar; Alis to foreign minister, 11 May 1892, AEMD Afrique 132; BCAF, May 1892, pp. 8–10; ibid., Oct. 1892, pp. 2–3.

85 Brazza to Colonies, 18 Apr. 1891, ANSOM Gabon-Congo i 37/a; Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 36 (1958), p. 441CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

86 Percher to Étienne, 4 Dec. 1892 + enclosures FT 5891; République française, 6 Dec. 1892.

87 Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 131–3; Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 372–8Google Scholar.

88 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 378–83Google Scholar.

89 Journal de Hanotaux, 8 Dec. 1892, AE Hanotaux papers 1. ‘C'est peut-être le premier pas fait par la France vers la reprise de l'Egypte.’ Hanotaux was one of the models for Proust's M. De Norpois.

90 Hanotaux, Note très confidentielle (31 Jan. 1893), ibid. 3.

91 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 376–7Google Scholar.

92 Ibid., p. 389.

93 Chapman, G., The Third Republic of France: the first phase, 1871–1894 (London, 1962), pp. 309–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Roberts, ‘Republicanism, railway imperialism’, pp. 413–14; Sanderson, Upper Nile, p. 135. In 1887, Rouvier's attempt to get approval for a lottery loan for Leopold's railway had been voted down in the chamber amidst allegations of bribery and corruption.

94 Chapman, Third Republic, pp. 313–14.

95 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 36 (1958), pp. 432–41, 443–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

96 Percher to Janssen, 8 Feb. 1893, cited in ibid., 38 (1960), pp. 391–2; BCAF, Feb. 1893, p. 6; Develle to Étienne, 18 Apr. 1893, BN n.a.fr. Étienne papers; Monteil to Colonies, 6 Oct. 1893, Archives Nationales. Monteil papers 5.

97 Andrew, C., Théophile Delcassé and the making of the Entente Cordiale (London, 1968), pp. 11, 19, 21–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

98 Sanderson, Upper Nile, p. 144; Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 36 (1958), pp. 445–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

99 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), p. 394Google Scholar; BCAF, June 1893, pp. 13–14; ibid., Aug. 1893, pp. 4–5.

100 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 396–9Google Scholar; Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 146–9; Note écrite de la main de M. Delcassé, 13 Sept. 1893, FT 5891.

101 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 403–4Google Scholar; Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 145–51, 163.

102 For the Anglo-Congolese Treaty, see Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 162–4.

103 Janssen to Alis, 27 May 1894, FT 5892; BCAF, June 1894, pp. 54–63.

104 Sanderson, Upper Nile, p. 187.

105 Stengers, , ‘Aux origines de Fachoda’, RBPH, 38 (1960), pp. 1045–65Google Scholar.

106 BCAF, Jan. 1895, pp. 3–4.

107 Paul Révoil to Hanotaux, 28 Dec. 1894, AE Hanotaux papers 28; BCAF, Mar. 1895, pp. 65–7; ibid., July 1894, pp. 82–91.

108 Unless otherwise indicated, the narrative in this section is based on T. W. Roberts, ‘Railway imperialism and French advances towards Lake Chad, 1890–1900’ (Ph.D. diss., Cambridge, 1973).

109 Le Châtelier to Chavannes, 8 Jan. 1895 (extract), BN n.a.fr. Chavannes papers 12809; Dolisie to Colonies, 20 Apr. 1895, in Rabut, Brazza, doc. 144; Coquery-Vidrovitch, ‘Idées économiques de Brazza’, pp. 67–72.

110 Percher was killed in a duel provoked by accusations of pro-Belgian leanings.

111 BCAF, 1895–6, subscription and attendance records.

112 Kanya-Forstner, ‘French “Colonial Party”’, p. 112.

113 Sanderson, Upper Nile, pp. 191–206, 213–14.

114 Hanotaux, G., Le partage d'Afrique: Fachoda (Paris, 1909), pp. 106–8Google Scholar. ‘Le cabinet…avait-il même le choix? Les choses étant engages…personne en France eût-il admis un pareil recul?’

115 Michel, M., La Mission Marchand, 1895–1899 (Paris, 1972), pp. 24–5, 3658CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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