Ivory Coast Table of Contents

Evolution of Colonial Policy

French colonial policy incorporated concepts of assimilation and association. Assimilation presupposed the inherent superiority of French culture over all others, so that in practice the assimilation policy in the colonies meant extension of the French language, institutions, laws, and customs.

The policy of association also affirmed the superiority of the French in the colonies, but it entailed different institutions and systems of laws for the colonizer and the colonized. Under this policy, the Africans in Côte d'Ivoire were allowed to preserve their own customs insofar as they were compatible with French interests. An indigenous elite trained in French administrative practice formed an intermediary group between the French and the Africans.

Assimilation was practiced in Côte d'Ivoire to the extent that after 1930 a small number of Westernized Ivoirians were granted the right to apply for French citizenship. Most Ivoirians, however, were classified as French subjects and were governed under the principle of association.

Until 1958, governors appointed in Paris administered the colony of Côte d'Ivoire, using a system of direct, centralized administration that left little room for Ivoirian participation in policy making. The French colonial administration also adopted divide-and-rule policies, applying ideas of assimilation only to the educated elite. The French were also interested in ensuring that the small but influential elite was sufficiently satisfied with the status quo to refrain from any anti-French sentiment. In fact, although they were strongly opposed to the practices of association, educated Ivoirians believed that they would achieve equality with their French peers through assimilation rather than through complete independence from France, a change that would eliminate the enormous economic advantages of remaining a French possession. But after the assimilation doctrine was implemented entirely, at least in principle, through the postwar reforms, Ivoirian leaders realized that even assimilation implied the superiority of the French over the Ivoirians and that discrimination and inequality would end only with independence.

Colonial Administration

French expansion in Africa during the last quarter of the nineteenth century was so rapid that it was difficult to find enough administrators to govern the growing number of possessions effectively. For a brief period, therefore, the French adopted a system of indirect rule using indigenous leaders as their surrogates. The local rulers, however, exercised authority only by sanction of the French administrators. Those rulers who refused to submit to French directives were deposed and replaced with more cooperative ones.

With the consolidation of French power in West Africa at the end of the nineteenth century, French officials increasingly assumed direct administrative powers, and they reduced local rulers to the level of low-ranking civil servants. In 1895 France grouped the French West African colonies of Côte d'Ivoire, Dahomey (present-day Benin), Guinea, Niger, French Sudan (present-day Mali), Senegal, Upper Volta, and Mauritania together and subordinated their governors to the governor of Senegal, who became governor general. A series of additional decrees in 1904 defined the structure of this political unit and organized it into French West Africa (Afrique Occidentale Française--AOF).

France divided the individual colonies into districts known as cercles, each of which was governed by a district commander (commandant du cercle) who, because of poor communications between the cercles and the colonial governors, exercised his responsibilities with relative autonomy. Within a cercle, the commander ruled through a hierarchy of local rulers, whom he appointed and could dismiss at will. He was advised by a council of notables (conseil des notables) consisting of these local rulers and of other individuals appointed by him.

Most of the inhabitants of the colonies were subjects of France with no political rights. Moreover, they were drafted for work in mines, on plantations, as porters, and on public projects as part of their tax responsibility. They were also expected to serve in the military and were subject to the indigénat, a separate system of law.

Economic Development and Social Change

As France consolidated its holdings in Côte d'Ivoire, it began to take steps to make the colony self-supporting. In 1900 the French initiated a policy that made each colony responsible for securing the resources--both money and personnel--needed for its administration and defense; France would offer assistance only when needed.

The public works programs undertaken by the Ivoirian colonial government and the exploitation of natural resources required massive commitments of labor. The French therefore imposed a system of forced labor under which each male adult Ivoirian was required to work for ten days each year without compensation as part of his obligation to the state. The system was subject to extreme misuse and was the most hated aspect of French colonial rule. Because the population of Côte d'Ivoire was insufficient to meet the labor demand on French plantations and forests, which were among the greatest users of labor in the AOF, the French recruited large numbers of workers from Upper Volta to work in Côte d'Ivoire. This source of labor was so important to the economic life of Côte d'Ivoire that in 1932 the AOF annexed a large part of Upper Volta to Côte d'Ivoire and administered it as a single colony.

In addition to the political and economic changes produced by colonial rule, the French also introduced social institutions that brought about fundamental changes to Ivoirian culture. Catholic missionaries established a network of churches and primary schools, which in time provided the literate Ivoirians needed by government and commerce. Some of the wealthier and more ambitious Ivoirians continued their educations at the few secondary schools and at French universities, adopting European culture and values and becoming members of a new African elite. The members of this elite were accepted as cultural and social equals by their white counterparts and were exempt from military and labor service.

Except in remote rural areas, the colonial government gradually destroyed the traditional elite by reducing the local rulers to junior civil servants and by indiscriminately appointing as rulers people with no legitimate claims to such titles. In areas where traditional leaders retained their position and power, they often developed strong rivalries with educated Ivoirians who tried to usurp that leadership on the grounds that their education and modern outlook better suited them for the position.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress