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Elites in French-Speaking West Africa: The Social Basis of Ideas

  • Immanuel Wallerstein


When French administration was established in West Africa, largely at the turn of the century (with the principal exception of parts of Senegal, which have been French-administered for some 300 years), the existing social structures ranged widely from some quite simple, egalitarian groups to some very highly stratified and centralised political systems, often conquest states where the distinction between ‘noble’ and ‘commoner’ was clearly recognised and had consequences in the style of life and the possibilities of a career.



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Page 1 note 1 A.O.F. was composed throughout most of its history of eight territorial units: Dahomey, (French) Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, (French) Soudan —now Mali, and Upper Volta. Upper Volta was dismembered from 1932 to 5947. (French) Togo became a mandated, later trust, territory after World War I, and did not, because of its legal status, become part of A.O.F. It is, however, included in ‘French-speaking West Africa’, which in the colonial era was termed A.O.F.-Togo.

Page 3 note 1 See Weber, Max, ‘Class, Status, and Party’, in Gerth, H. H. and Mills, C. W. (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York, 1946).

Page 4 note 1 Mercier, P., ‘Evolution of Senegalese Elites’, in International Social Science Journal (Paris), VIII, 3, 1956, p. 445.

Page 5 note 1 Until 1946 Africans were legally divided into ‘subjects’ and ‘citizens’. Citizens were a minute percentage of the population, who were admitted to this status of equality with Frenchmen on the basis of passing certain tests. In addition, persons born in the so-called ‘four communes’ of Senegal—Dakar, Gorée, St. Louis, and Rufisque—were all citizens. The Loi Lamine Guéye, passed in 1946, made all subjects citizens without requiring them to renounce their right to have personal affairs regulated by customary law, which had formerly been a prerequisite to citizenship. See Thiam, Doudou, La Portée de Ia citoyenneté dans les territoires d'outre-mer (Paris, 1953).

Page 6 note 1 In those instances where there were two colleges, which was never the case in Senegal or Togo, the distinction was based on ‘personal status’, that is, adherence to French civil law or to customary law. This was the old citizen-subject distinction. Consequently, the few Africans who had been citizens voted in the ‘first college’. However, under the pressure of the new political atmosphere, even a few of these renounced this status to be grouped in the ‘second college’. On the complications of the double-college system and where and how it applied, see Cowan, L. G., Local Government in West Africa (New York, 1958), pp. 101–7.

Page 6 note 2 d'Aby, F. J. Amon, La Côte d'Ivoire dans la cité africaine (Paris, 1951), p. 55.

Page 7 note 1 The ideological and organisational difficulties this entailed I have discussed in my ‘Class, Tribe, and Party in West African Politics’, in Transactions of the Fifth World Congress of Sociology (Brussels, 1964), III, pp. 203–16.

Page 7 note 2 Two other French parties played a role in this period. The S.F.I.O. lent the cover of its name to largely ethnic-traditional parties in Guinea, the Soudan, and the Ivory Coast as well as to the party of the ‘old’ urban elite in Senegal. The socialist trade union structure, the C.G.T.–F.O., consisted largely of white members plus very senior African civil servants. The M.R.P. played a far more complex role. It lent support in some areas to parties of the ‘new’ modern elite, as in Senegal and in the eastern part of Upper Volta, and in other areas to administratif parties. The Catholic trade union, C.F.T.C., organised sections in Africa; though it numbered only a small percentage of the total trade union membership (the majority adhering to the C.G.T.), it recruited Africans, rather than whites like the C.G.T.–F.O., and in some cases the least-skilled workers (the opposite of the C.G.T.–F.O. deflection from the C.G.T. norm).

Page 8 note 1 The break with the Communists represented however more than a mere expedient. It resulted as well from an ideological commitment to nationalism and cultural self-assertion. In 1956 Aimé Césaire expressed this quite succinctly in a pamphlet that was itself extremely influential among French-speaking West African élites:

In the case of Stalin and his sectarians, it is not perhaps a question of paternalism. But it is surely something so close as to be easily mistaken for it. Let us invent the word: it is ‘fraternalism’. For it is precisely a question of a brother, of a big brother who, imbued with his superiority and sure of his experience, takes you by the hand (with a hand, alas! that is sometimes rough) to lead you on the road where he knows will be found Reason and Progress.

Now that is exactly what we do not want. What we no longer want. Lettre à Maurice Thorez (Paris, 1956), p. 11.

Page 8 note 2 The time-schedule for Togo was slightly different because of its status as a trust territory. It was granted a semi-autonomous government in 1955 but the mass party was not allowed to take power until 1958. The reason for the greater reluctance of the French Government to come to terms with the Togo nationalist movement, the C.U.T., was because of the explicit commitment of the latter to the goal of independence. This commitment derived in turn from the normative reinforcement provided by the special legal status under the U.N. Charter.

Page 8 note 3 To be sure, this only continued an expansion in facilities which had been going on since World War II, under the pressure of the insistent demands of these mass nationalist movements as well as of the expansion of the economy. Unfortunately most of the statistics available take us only to this point in time, thus making it difficult to see whether the expansion since 1957 is significantly different from that of 1945–57.

Page 9 note 1 Cartier, Raymond, ‘En Afrique noire’, in Paris-Match, 11 and 18 08 1956.

Page 11 note 1 The word ‘largely’ reflects the compromise formula adopted in 1957. In each of the eight territories of A.O.F. the member of the C.J.A. was the single territorial co-ordinating council (except in Mauritania, where, because of the paucity of groups, the member was a single youth group). The compromise was that the C.J.A. would remain unaffiliated but that its affiliates would have the option of direct international affiliation. Two of them, the Dahomey and the Ivory Coast Youth Councils, remained affiliated to the World Assembly of Youth. In addition, some small groups, affiliated to the territorial youth councils, remained affiliated to the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Page 13 note 1 How Guinea's independence operated to achieve the end of independence for the other states in West Africa is analysed in my ‘How Seven States were Born in French West Africa’, in Africa Report (Washington), VI, 3, 03 1961.

Page 13 note 2 An adjective formed from the initials A.O.F., which stand for French West Africa.

Page 16 note 1 N'Diaye, J. P., Enquête sur les étudiants noirs en France (Paris, 1962), p. 62.

Page 18 note 1 Mercier, P., ‘Remarques sur la signification du “tribalisme” actuel en Afrique noire’, in Cahiers internationaux de sociologie (Paris), xxxi, 1961, p. 74.

Page 19 note 1 This is the spectre which Durkheim evoked, of limitless possibilities creating a loss of sense of proportion and anomie.

Page 20 note 1 Di Tella, T., ‘Economia y estructura occupacional en un páis subdesarrollado’, in Desarollo económico (Buenos Aires), 1, 3, 1012 1961, pp. 125–6. Di Tella gives statistical verification of his hypotheses with Chilean data. It is my presumption that a replication of his tests with data from French-speaking West Africa would give similar results.

Page 22 note 1 See N'Diaye, op. cit. pp. 107–15.

Page 23 note 1 Brunschwig, H., ‘Colonisation-décolonisation: essai sur le vocabulaire usuel de la politique colonial’, in Cahiers d'études africaines (Paris), I, 1960, p. 44.

Page 24 note 1 Césaire, op. cit. p. 12.

Page 24 note 2 Rouamba, P., ‘Foi et négritude’, in Tam-Tam (Paris), 1–2, 1961, p. 17.

Page 25 note 1 Kane, Cheikh Hamidou, ‘Comme si nous nous étions donnés rendez-vous’, in Esprit (Paris), 10 1961, pp. 377–8. Esprit is the journal founded by Mounier.

Page 25 note 2 Charles, P., cited in Lastel, M. (ed.), ‘L’Avenir linguistique de l‘Afrique noire’, in TamTam, 34, 01 1958, p. 10.

Page 25 note 3 Kane (op. cit. p. 387) proposed: ‘That for contemporary international relations we revive in a form adapted to modern realities the theory and practice of exchange which was in honour among the primitive tribes of North America or New Caledonia or elsewhere. ‘Let us remember the analyses [Marcel] Mauss has made of them. The gift is not exclusively the movement, between two owners, of a material good with a market value. On the contrary, its market value is only the support, the vehicle, of a social message infinitely more important. The gift is a payment in full, bearing the maximum social utility. As, furthermore, each gift calls for a counter-gift, the latter also a vector of meaning, there is established a double current of both material and spiritual exchange, a true bond of solidarity.’

Page 25 note 4 See my ‘The Political Ideology of the P.D.G.’, in Présence africaine (Paris, English edition), 12, 1962, pp. 3041; also Keita, Madeira, ‘The Single Party in Africa’, in Sigmund, P.(ed.), The Ideologies of the Developing Countries (New York, 1964), p. 62.

Page 26 note 1 Mamadou Dia, former Prime Minister, is now in prison.

Page 26 note 2 Senghor, Léopold-Sédar, ‘Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine’, in Cahiers de Pierre Teilharad de Charadin (Paris), 3, 1962, p. 30.

Page 28 note 1 Diop, Maghemout, ‘L'Unique Issue: l'indépendance totale; la seule voie: une large mouvement d'union anti-impérialiste’, in Présence africaine, 14, 1952, pp. 145–84. Diop is at present the secretary-general of the Parti africain de l'indépendance. The P.A.I. is a Marxist-Leninist party with pretensions to organisation throughout Africa, but it is generally considered a Senegalese party. It is banned at present in Senegal and is not recognised in any other African state. Diop is in exile from Senegal.

Page 29 note 1 See the discussion in Franklin, A., ‘Le paternalisme contre l'étudiant africain’, in Présence africaine, 14, 1952, pp. 7682.

Page 29 note 2 M. Diop, op. cit. pp. 185–2. Cf. the similar point of view of a student leader, who is a Catholic: ‘We do not want to be made into a mosaic of tiny dependent states, as in Central America… Our goal must be to assure our own solidarity.’ Tevoedjre, A., L'Afrique révoltée (Paris, 1958), p. 133. Tevoedjre later became secretary-general of the U.A.M., but was discharged after a short period of service.

Page 29 note 3 Franklin later returned home to become secretary-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Government of Togo during the presidency of Sylvanus Olympio.

Page 29 note 4 Franklin, A., ‘La Négritude: réalité ou mystification?’, in Présence africaine, 14, 1952, pp. 301–2. Cf. the comment much later by the Senegalese novelist, Sembéné Ousmane, that négritucle is 'a tactical move to deprive the African workers of their gains; and an intellectual intoxicant used by the rising bourgeoisie’. See A Correspondent, ‘Novelist-Critic of Africa’, in West Africa (London), 22 09 1962, p. 1041.

Page 30 note 1 The students' organisations had been, however, independent of French associations from their inception, unlike the youth and trade unions. Hence they did not feel the same need to disaffiliate from international organisations in order to emphasise their autonomy vis-à-vis French organisations.

Page 30 note 2 See Interafrique Presse (Paris), 193, 6 06 1959, pp. 1213.

Page 31 note 1 This is the now familiar problem of ‘relative deprivation’ in an anomic society. See Merton, R. K., Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, 1957), pp. 225386.

Page 31 note 2 Indeed it is probably because he saw the Togo sergeants as such a menace that President Sékou Touré of Guinea reacted so strongly to the assassination of Olympio.

Page 32 note 1 See Ly, Abdoulaye, Les Mosses africaines et l'actuelle condition humaine (Paris, 1956).

Page 32 note 2 Fanon, Frantz, Les Damnés de la terre (Paris, 1961).

Page 32 note 3 See Milcent, E., ‘Le Gouvernement de la Côte d'Ivoire léve peu le voile sur Ie récent complot d'Abidjan, in Le Monde hebdomadaire (Paris), 71302 1963.

* Associate Professor of Sociology, Columbia University, New York.

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