French and Colonial Administration

French and Colonial Administration

European interest in Africa generally grew during the nineteenth century. By 1887 France, motivated by the search for wealth, had driven inland from its settlements on central Africa's west coast to claim the territory of Ubangi-Chari (present-day Central African Republic). It claimed this area as a zone of French influence, and within two years it occupied part of what is now southern Chad. In the early 1890s, French military expeditions sent to Chad encountered the forces of Rabih Fadlallah, who had been conducting slave raids (razzias) in southern Chad throughout the 1890s and had sacked the settlements of Kanem-Borno, Bagirmi, and Wadai. After years of indecisive engagements, French forces finally defeated Rabih Fadlallah at the Battle of Kousséri in 1900.

Two fundamental themes dominated Chad's colonial experience with the French: an absence of policies designed to unify the territory and an exceptionally slow pace of modernization. In the French scale of priorities, the colony of Chad ranked near the bottom; it was less important than non-African territories, North Africa, West Africa, or even the other French possessions in Central Africa. The French came to perceive Chad primarily as a source of raw cotton and untrained labor to be used in the more productive colonies to the south. Within Chad there was neither the will nor the resources to do much more than maintain a semblance of law and order. In fact, even this basic function of governance was often neglected; throughout the colonial period, large areas of Chad were never governed effectively from N'Djamena (called FortLamy prior to September 1973).

Chad was linked in 1905 with three French colonies to the south--Ubangi-Chari, Moyen-Congo (present-day Congo), and Gabon. But Chad did not receive separate colony status or a unified administrative policy until 1920. The four colonies were administered together as French Equatorial Africa under the direction of a governor general stationed in Brazzaville. The governor general had broad administrative control over the federation, including external and internal security, economic and financial affairs, and all communications with the French minister of the colonies. Lieutenant governors, also appointed by the French government, were expected to implement in each colony the orders of the governor general. The central administration in Brazzaville tightly controlled the lieutenant governors despite reformist efforts toward decentralization between 1910 and 1946. Chad's lieutenant governor had greater autonomy because of the distance from Brazzaville and because of France's much greater interest in the other three colonies.

The lines of control from Brazzaville, feeble as they may have been, were still stronger than those from N'Djamena to its hinterland. In the huge Borkou-Ennedi-Tibesti Prefecture, the handful of French military administrators soon reached a tacit agreement with the inhabitants of the desert; as long as caravan trails remained relatively secure and minimal levels of law and order were met, the military administration (headquartered in Faya Largeau) usually left the people alone. In central Chad, French rule was only slightly more substantive. In Ouaddaï and Biltine prefectures, endemic resistance continued against the French and, in some cases, against any authority that attempted to suppress banditry and brigandage. The thinly staffed colonial administration provided only weak supervision over arid Kanem Prefecture and the sparsely populated areas of Guéra and Salamat prefectures. Old-fashioned razzias continued in the 1920s, and it was reported in 1923 that a group of Senegalese Muslims on their way to Mecca had been seized and sold into slavery. Unwilling to expend the resources required for effective administration, the French government responded with sporadic coercion and a growing reliance on indirect rule through the sultanates.

France managed to govern effectively only the south, but until 1946 administrative direction came from Bangui in Ubangi-Chari rather than N'Djamena. Unlike northern and central Chad, a French colonial system of direct civilian administration was set up among the Sara, a southern ethnic group, and their neighbors. Also, unlike the rest of Chad, a modest level of economic development occurred in the south because of the introduction in 1929 of largescale cotton production. Remittances and pensions to southerners who served in the French military also enhanced economic well-being.

But even the advantages of more income, schools, and roads failed to win popular support for the French in the south. In addition to earlier grievances, such as forced porterage (which claimed thousands of lives) and village relocation, southern farmers resented the mandatory quotas for the production of cotton, which France purchased at artificially low prices. Governmentprotected chiefs further abused this situation. The chiefs were resented all the more because they were generally the artificial creations of the French in a region of previously stateless societies. This commonality of treatment and the colonial organizational framework began to create during this period a sense of Sara ethnicity among persons whose collective identities had previously been limited to small kinship groups.

Although France had put forth considerable effort during the conquest of Chad, the ensuing administration of the territory was halfhearted. Officials in the French colonial service resisted assignments to Chad, so posts often went to novices or to out-of- favor officials. One historian of France's empire has concluded that it was almost impossible to be too demented or depraved to be considered unfit for duty in Chad. Still, major scandals occurred periodically, and many of the posts remained vacant. In 1928, for example, 42 percent of the Chadian subdivisions lacked official administrators.

An event occurred in 1935 that was to have far-reaching consequences throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In that year, the French colonial administration negotiated a border adjustment with Italy, Libya's colonial master. The adjustment would have relocated the Libyan-Chad boundary about 100 kilometers south across the Aozou Strip. Although the French legislature never ratified the agreement, the negotiations formed part of the basis of Libya's claim to the area decades later.

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