Ivory Coast Table of Contents

In 1885 France and Germany brought all the European powers with interests in Africa together at the Berlin Conference. Its principal objective was to rationalize what became known as the European scramble for colonies in Africa. Prince Otto von Bismarck also wanted a greater role in Africa for Germany, which he thought he could achieve in part by fostering competition between France and Britain. The agreement signed by all participants in 1885 stipulated that on the African coastline only European annexations or spheres of influence that involved effective occupation by Europeans would be recognized. Another agreement in 1890 extended this rule to the interior of Africa and set off a scramble for territory, primarily by France, Britain, Portugal, and Belgium.

Local Resistance and Establishment of Protectorates

In 1886, to support its claims of effective occupation, France again assumed direct control of its West African coastal trading posts and embarked on an accelerated program of exploration in the interior. In 1887 Lieutenant Louis Binger began a two-year journey that traversed parts of Côte d'Ivoire's interior. By the end of the journey, he had concluded four treaties establishing French protectorates in Côte d'Ivoire. Also in 1887, Verdier's agent, Maurice Treich-Laplène, negotiated five additional agreements that extended French influence from the headwaters of the Niger River Basin through Côte d'Ivoire.

By the end of the 1880s, France had established what passed for effective control over the coastal regions of Côte d'Ivoire, and in 1889 Britain recognized French sovereignty in the area. That same year, France named Treich-Laplène titular governor of the territory. In 1893 Côte d'Ivoire was made a French colony, and then Captain Binger was appointed governor. Agreements with Liberia in 1892 and with Britain in 1893 determined the eastern and western boundaries of the colony, but the northern boundary was not fixed until 1947 because of efforts by the French government to attach parts of Upper Volta (present-day Burkina Faso) and French Sudan (present-day Mali) to Côte d'Ivoire for economic and administrative reasons.

Throughout the process of partition, the Africans were little concerned with the occasional white person who came wandering by. Many local rulers in small, isolated communities did not understand or, more often, were misled by the Europeans about the significance of treaties that compromised their authority. Other local leaders, however, thought that the Europeans could solve economic problems or become allies in the event of a dispute with belligerent neighbors. In the end, the loss of land and freedom by all the local rulers resulted more from their inability to counter European deception and brute strength than from a loss of will to respond to European encroachment.

Throughout the early years of French rule, French military contingents were sent inland to establish new posts. The African population resisted French penetration and settlement, even in areas where treaties of protection had been in force. Among those offering greatest resistance was Samori Touré, who in the 1880s and 1890s was establishing an empire that extended over large parts of present-day Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Côte d'Ivoire. Samori's large, well-equipped army, which could manufacture and repair its own firearms, attracted strong support throughout the region. The French responded to Samori's expansion of regional control with military pressure. French campaigns against Samori, which were met with fierce resistance, intensified in the mid-1890s until he was captured in 1898.

France's imposition of a head tax in 1900, aimed at enabling the colony to undertake a public works program, provoked a number of revolts. Ivoirians viewed the tax as a violation of the terms of the protectorate treaties because it seemed that France was now demanding the equivalent of a coutume from the local kings rather than the reverse. Much of the population, especially in the interior, also considered the tax a humiliating symbol of submission.

Repression and Conquest

In 1906 Gabriel Angoulvant was appointed governor of Côte d'Ivoire. Angoulvant, who had little prior experience in Africa, believed that the development of Côte d'Ivoire could proceed only after the forceful conquest, or so-called pacification, of the colony. He thus embarked on a vigorous campaign, sending military expeditions into the hinterland to quell resistance. As a result of these expeditions, local rulers were compelled to obey existing antislavery laws, supply porters and food to the French forces, and ensure the protection of French trade and personnel. In return, the French agreed to leave local customs intact and specifically promised not to intervene in the selection of rulers. But the French often disregarded their side of the agreement, deporting or interring rulers regarded as instigators of revolt. They also regrouped villages and established a uniform administration throughout most of the colony. Finally, they replaced the coutume with an allowance based on performance.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress