The French Argument for Direct Rule

"Indirect rule" was not the only option available to the colonial powers; the French opted for a system of "direct" rule which is discussed below.

It would be helpful for understanding colonialism to identify the similarities and differences between these two forms of rule. But, remember, similarities and differences may exist in the underlying attitudes and values of the two approaches aswell as in the formal, stated structure of the two systems of colonial administration.

From: Robert Delavignette, Freedom and Authority in French West Africa (London, 1940).

In fact, we are confronted with opposing and mutually contradictory necessities: on the one hand we are well aware that it is essential to preserve the native character of the canton chief and to make use of the traditional feudal spirit which still survives in him; on the other hand the very fact of colonization forces us to shape him to our administrative outlook. ...

It does not matter if the chief is old, infirm or blind; the essential thing is that he should be there. If necessary he can take a young and active man as his colleague. If he is illiterate and has some difficult in dealing with natives educated in our schools, let him be given clerks and assistants. Only one thing counts, and it does not depend on education, age or health: that is the sacred character of his power. In the old Africa, the community which the chief represents lives in him and there can be no life without a supernatural element. Hence the force which binds the people to the chief; hence the ritual which permeates social unity and solidarity, which orders the form of greeting addressed by the people to the chief and gives a religious sanction to the authority of the humblest village chief, the chief of the cultivated and inhabited land. ...

... it seems that after fifty years of colonization, the spiritual quality of native power has left the big chiefs to take refuge with the small ones, who have not been so much affected by European influence.

As the village chief derives from a primitive feudal Africa based on the holding of land, so the chief of a canton belongs to modern Africa, and is part of the mechanism of colonial administration.

Should the traditional authority of the canton chief be restored? We have already shown that this is a negative program. We could certainly reconstitute a decor of pomp and ceremony around them, but we should not be able to recreate the soul of their ancient authority. No, the tendency of the administration is all toward making these feudalists into officials. But then we must face the thing. They should be specialized officials and exercise a distinctive function. ... They have a personal file in the records at the station and they are scrupulously given good and bad marks by their commandants. They are decorated, they are welcomed at receptions on national holidays, they are invited to visit exhibitions; they are sent as delegates to Dakar and even to Paris; they are brought together on councils where they collaborate with Europeans. And they are rightly treated as important persons; but what is needed is not to re-establish them, but to establish them. Not to re-establish them in a social structure that is dying, but to establish them in a modern Africa that is being born. And it is there that we should make officials of them. This need not mean making them robots or abstractions. To make officials of them is first to define their official duties, and then to establish not only their administrative status but their social personality. We must reconsider with them--and for them, as for ourselves-the problem of the function of the chief.

[This excerpt was taken from a larger excerpt in Wilfred Cartey nd Martin Kilson, The Africa Reader: Colonial Africa (Vintage Books, 1970).