West African Chiefs. Their Changing Status under Colonial Rule and Independence.
Michael Crowder & Obaro Ikime, eds.
Ile-Ife (Nigerial) University of Ife Press. 1982. pp. 79-97
The holy war which was to lead to the creation of the theocratic Moslem state of Fouta-Djalon began in 1727-8 (1140 of the Hegira). A certain number of Fulani families, who were originally from Macina and had infiltrated on to the high plateaux at the end of the seventeenth century, decided to take over power in the name of Islam. The study of the tarikhs and traditions shows that one should not believe the over-simplified idea, often suggested by historical vulgarisation, that the Pastoral Fulani were the conquerors who had subjected the indigenous Dialonke cultivators. In the centre and the south of the Fouta, in fact, it was against their own race, Fulani pastoralists, that the Moslems were to carry out their fiercest attacks. These pagan pastoralists, Poullis, belonged to a preceding wave of invasion and were associated with the Koli Tenguela adventure a century earlier. The Dialonke held power only in the North where the ‘Manga Labe’ and his resurgents were to be repulsed at the end of the eighteenth century and sent towards Sangalan, on the right bank of the Gambia. The Dialonke and the Malinke of the South seem, on the contrary, to have been early allies of the Moslems. In the Timbo region, tradition has it that there were, among the combatants in the holy war, ‘twelve Fulani to every ten Malinke’; the Dialonke of Firia say that they were among the first converts and lived in the Timbo region before they were later expelled from it; the Dialonke of Soulimana were the allies of the Fouta Moslems until in 1762 they ‘reversed their alliances’.
In brief, the great Fulani aristocracy, the descendants of the Holy war, probably had very mixed origins and these are only partly explained by captive concubines: these families had absorbed their early allies, warrior adventurers of various origins. Their institutions and their political vocabulary have, moreover, borrowed much from Malinke tradition.
Most of the Fulani of the Bush (Fulbe Buruure), who are of a purer physical type, are descended from the former Poullis and are rather late converts to Islam. They were in a subordinate position to the others even when of earlier origin. They were herdsmen and cultivators and it was their job to look after the herds of the over-lords.
At the bottom of the scale were the captives, the ‘matyoube’ of very varied origins, mainly Dialonke, Sosso and Malinke. Probably very few were descendants of local people who had been reduced to servitude in the area, since most of these had been expelled or massacred. The captives were the prisoners (or their descendants) taken in wars and raids in the frontier regions. They lived in farming villages or ‘roundes’ often deep in the valleys, far from their masters on the plateau, and cultivated for themselves. At the time of the conquest they represented about one half of the population 1, a proportion reduced to a third by the colonial era.
Finally there were various castes and ‘griots’, often of foreign origin (the griots were Toucouleurs from Senegal), and Malinke traders who lived under the protection of the greatest families.
This society with its very strict hierarchy was contained in the state of Fouta-Djalon. It was definitely constituted at the end of the eighteenth century when the invasions, which had several times threatened its existence, came to an end. From then on Fouta-Djalon ceased to be a refuge and became a fortress never to be violated again, the starting point for perpetual raids on the surrounding country which supplied the slave trade—the country's only resource—and by accumulating the surplus in the runde, this relatively poor country became an over-populated zone.
The aristocrats—men of the book and the sword—devoted themselves to religion and war—war which very often turned into piracy and was carried out as much against rivals and subjects as against enemies. They lived from the work of their captives who owed all their labour to their masters (only two days a week, Thursdays and Fridays, were left to them for work in their own fields and for rest). If they had any public authority, they were entitled to the state revenues received from the taxes paid by free men. The main one was the farilla (harvest tithe), confused with the Koranic tithe; to this was added the tax on inheritance and various others. The total was shared out among the various ranks in the hierarchy of which each had its own command: at the bottom, the parish (misiide), then the district, then the province (diiwal)—of which there were originally nine—and finally, at the top, the Almamy, the chief of the State.
But this pyramid hid a very complicated and anarchic system which aimed at maintaining a very fine balance between liberty and authority. There was, in principle, only one Almamy (Al Imam), religious and temporal chief, supreme judge and commander of the armies, as the head of the State. But he was elected by the council of elders of Timbo, the political capital, before heing invested with the turban at Fougoumba, the religious capital. The two families of the two heroes of the Holy war, Karamoko Alfa and his nephew Ibrahima Sori, could claim to provide candidates for the turban. A rule of alternation which some traditions say dated back to the founders, but which was probably established by arbitration in about 1840 2, laid down that the Almamys of the two branches, Alfaya and Soriya were to succeed one another every two years. The same diarchy existed in the provinces where the diiwal chiefs had to alternate according to the same rule. In the parishes, the families were divided into groups or teekun within which two or three subordinate families were associated with a leading family: the leading families of each teekun vied with one another for influence.
Beside the chiefs, and at each echelon, an elected council of elders, advised, and if necessary supervised, the chief who was always provisional. Larger assemblies, made up of delegates from all freemen, also existed at each echelon; the assembly for the whole of the Fouta met at Fougoumba.
The alternation was seldom respected since the Almamy or the diiwal chief was loath to give up his functions; the authority of the Almamy or the provincial chief was fragile; if he did not satisfy his entourage of clients and mercenaries as well as his family, he ran the risk of losing their support and finding himself deprived of all means of action; if he displeased the rival families they might form a league against him to take away his power or assassinate him. The great families of the Electors of Timbo, the heads of the great provincial families, and the most powerful of all, the ‘Alfa Mo Labe’, made and unmade Almamys more than willingly, since each time they supported a candidacy or a new investiture they had occasion to receive substantial gifts. The same thing happened at the lower echelons. The power of the chiefs, which often ran contrary to the independent spirit of the free men and the rival ambitions of the families, was only maintained by a combination of force and cunning which was always difficult to keep up.
This system is difficult to define: was it an elective monarchy with a restricted mandate or an oligarchic republic? Nevertheless with all its anarchy, civil wars, and perpetual brigandage, it maintained a certain order through its institutional disorder. This system managed to last and to maintain for more than a century the existence of the state, to give it sufficient cohesion for it to face up to any adversary and to gain a conqueror's reputation in the neighbouring countries.
The State of Fouta-Djalon had been able to impose its authority on its weaker and more anarchic neighbours: most chiefs on the coast, from Rio Nunez to Forecariah, paid ‘sagale’ (tribute) to the Almamy of the Fouta; the Alfa Mo Labe had even been able to destroy the secular Malinke Kingdom of Gabou. Fouta Djalon's stronger African neighbours, when there were any, respected the Almamy—for instance Samory. The mountainous nature of Fouta-Djalon was such as to discourage aggressors and, most important of all, the magico-religious reputation of the Fulani ‘marabouts’ of the Fouta made their enemies fear that, by attacking them, they would bring down upon themselves the wrath of heaven. But when the French conquerors arrived the elements of weakness and internal division contained in the State of Fouta-Djalon came into full play: whereas Samory and Ahmadou in the Sudan offered, as we know, strong resistance to the colonial troops, Fouta-Djalon gave up after one single battle. The conqueror had only to exploit the rivalry between the claimants to the Almamy's position and between the Almamy and his most powerful vassal, the Alfa Mo Labe (chief of the Labe diiwal) .
At first there had been difficulties for the French caused by the activities of young men of good family who blocked the roads and robbed travellers, but these had been overcome. Dr Bayol, instructed to forestall settlement by the English (whose influence was spread from Sierra Leone), had concluded a so-called ‘protectorate’ treaty with the Almamy Ibrahima Sori on 5 July 1881. This was, in the eyes of Europe, more of a pledge than a real extension of influence and as in many of the pre-conquest treaties the tributary was the European: the French government undertook to pay:
In return they received the guarantee that French traders could trade freely and would be subject only to fixed laws and not to the capricious exactions of the local chiefs.
After the treaties of Bissandougou (with Samory) and Gouri (with Ahmadou), and the beginnings of a ‘protectorate’ policy, followed by the construction of the fort at Siguiri (1887-8) and then the Audeoud mission which brought into being the Siguiri-Conakry junction passing through Timbo, Gallieni thought France was strong enough to draw in her purse strings. The convention of 30 March 1888, while renewing the ‘agreement not to intervene in the affairs of the Fouta’ as laid down in the treaty of 1881, abolished the incomes and the rights demanded for the traders. But when war broke out again with Ahmadou and Samory, the French thought it politic to annul the convention and start paying the incomes again.
However French settlement was meanwhile being consolidated: on the coast with the creation of cercles and the installation of a Lieutenant-Governor at Conakry (1891); in the Sudan with the defeat of Ahmadou and Samory's retreat to the East. in 1896 the Fouta-Djalon was isolated between territories occupied by France. Great Britain, through various agreements, confirmed by the Convention of 1890, abandoned the Fouta to French influence.
The Fulani aristocracy in the midst of its quarrels and passions did not seem to be aware of the danger. The death of Almamy ‘Soriya’ in 1889 gave rise to a war of succession which favoured the intrigues of the adventurer Aime Olivier, said to be of Sanderval, a megalomaniac trader who proclaimed himself ‘King of Kahel’ (a canton, where the Almamy had authorised him to set himself up) and made a mint of money.
In 1896 Almamy Bokar Biro refused to give up office when his mandate expired, but his successor designate, Modi Abdoulaye, supported by the elders of Timbo objected. The chief of the province of Fougoumba tried to have Bokar Biro assassinated at Bantinhel while he was at his prayers, but the provincial chief of the Timbis stopped him and demanded a fair fight; partisans of both sides went into battle. Bokar Biro was beaten and went to ask the French for support. He himself suggested that the French should set up a station at Timbo. He would agree to anything provided they gave him arms and ammunition. Modi Abdoulaye declared that ‘he was quite happy to be friends with the French on condition that they stayed at home; he did not want any old customs changed . . . ’ 3 The commandant de cercle of Dubreka was puzzled and asked for instructions:
My dear Mr. Cousturier 4,
. . . There is no doubt about it, Bokar Biro must either be got rid of or else put back on the throne.... I am going to see him and shall do my best to bring him back or else get him out of the way of the Caravan route, while waiting for the government to make a decision.
Everyone here wants the Fouta question to be settled and a station set up at Timbo… Bokar Biro is asking us for help and protection: we must give him an answer one way or the other… 5
After various changes of mind, the French government decided against Bokar Biro: a French column occupied Timbo (November 1896) and Bokar Biro, defeated at Poredaka, was killed by his enemies some weeks later (January 1897). A new protectorate treaty was signed on 6 February 1897. Article 2 stipulated:
‘France undertakes to respect the present constitution of Fouta-Djalon. This constitution will be carried out under the authority of the Governor of Guinea [sic] and under the direct control of a French official who shall have the title of ‘Resident of Fouta-Djalon.’
In fact this was annexation. Article 3 of the treaty, however, stated:
‘The Almamys nominated and recognised at present will exercise power alternately according to the Constitution of Fouta-Djalon.’
But the Resident, Noirot, lost no time in making it understood that the real authority was exercised by him alone. The Resident's ‘General Orders No. 1’, which were approved by an assembly of chiefs who met at Timbo on 13 July 1897, confirmed this decision and added ‘dues’ in labour. Over the heads of the Almamys, Noirot proclaimed:
‘The chief will be responsible for taxation and will supply the labour for public works, otherwise he will be shattered like glass.’6
He wrote in his station journal:
‘All the chiefs have been clearly warned that we accept, on their statement, the accounts which they give us, but one day we shall go and count the huts for ourselves and if their accounts are not right, not only will the extra huts be made to pay the tax but they will be fined one ox each, without prejudice to the chiefs' responsibility and to their dismissal. 7’
By these statements we can realise the colonial authority's view of the role of the Fouta chiefs. They had no real authority; they could only be executive agents. This view was incompatible with the survival of an indigenous higher authority like that of the Almamys. They were to set themselves progressively to destroying it, and in doing so they relied on the rivalry which existed between the chiefs or between the candidates for the chieftaincy.
In 1898, after Almamy Sori Elili had been assassinated by Bokar Biro's brother, a proclamation from Resident Noirot, dated 16 December 1898, nominated as Almamy Elili's son Baba Alimou, but restricted his authority to the three diiwe of Timbo, Bhouriya and Kolen. The other provinces became ‘independent’ which meant that from then on their chiefs depended directly on the Resident's authority.
The official report for 1898 on the administration of the colony ended: ‘Divide and Rule, that is the only policy to follow in the Fouta-Djalon.’ 8
The French administration had found a powerful ally against the Almamys in Alfa Yaya, the Alfa Mo Labe, chief of the most important province and, because of his power, a rival to the Almamys since the end of the eighteenth century 9.
While the Almamys were confined to the centre and thc south of the Fouta with little chance of expansion, the Alfa Mo Labe had two advantages over them: because of the eccentric position and the size of his province he escaped to a great extent from their authority; because he was on the frontier dominating the western and northern plains he could extend his authority over new territories: the Landouma and Nalou chiefs of Boke paid tribute to him. In the middle of the nineteenth century, Alfa Ibrahima, then the Alfa Mo Labe, destroyed and conquered the Malinke Kingdom of Gabou. Alfa Yaya became chief of the Labe diiwal after killing first his brother Aguibou (whom his father had designated as his successor) and then his rival from the Alfaya branch, Alfa Gassimou (1892). From then on his policy was to become the faithful though not disinterested ally of the French authorities in order to rid himself of the Almamy's superior authority. He played a decisive part in setting the French against Bokar Biro, his sworn enemy, who was threatening to depose him and replace him by his brother Mamadou Saliou. In Noirot he found a sympathetic listener and a protector.
The protectorate treaty of 1897 recognised him as ‘permanent chief of the Labe, the Kade and the N'Gabou’ (this meant that he would no longer be subject to the rule of alternation). ‘He will remain under the authority of the reigning Almamy, but he may apply directly, in matters concerning his province, to the Resident of Fouta-Djalon.’ 10 As from 1898, after the assassination of Almamy Sori Elili, he had complete independence. In his instructions of February 1, 1898 to the clerk of Native Affairs, Vallen, who represented the French Resident at Labe, and before the Governor had ratified his decisions, Noirot wrote as follows:
As you know, we intended to remove the province of Labe from the Almamy's authority and to make it into a country entirely dependent on the French authorities [sic]. I have taken advantage of the assassination of Sory Elely to inform Almamy Oumarou that, as a result of this murder, the Governor has completely removed Labe from his authority and if another misdeed of this kind occurs, he will not hesitate to make every diiwal into an independent State 11.
From then on Alfa Yaya took the title of ‘King of the Labe’. In a letter of 6 April 1898 to Governor Ballay he reminded him that he had always been the friend of the French, promised to conform to all the Governor's orders and to ensure the full return of all taxes. In exchange he asked to be placed above all the other Fouta chiefs who had fought against the French 12 … Needless to say he did not obtain satisfaction on this last point!
The French administration settled into Labe. It created:
And then the Labe became a region divided into:
French influence was, however, limited. It allowed the alliance with Alfa Yaya to be continued since he had sufficient strength and was far enough away from the big centres to prevent French influence from being felt unless he so wished. His troops took part in the French expeditions against the N'Dama and the Coniagui. Even after Noirot had gone, for as long as the Ballay-Cousturier administration remained in power, the frictions due to the existence of a double administrative hierarchy were kept under control. But in 1904 Governor Cousturier was superseded by Frezouls, a radical, at a time when that Party was in power. The radicals were for assimilation and direct administration in the colonies and Frezouls was careful to point out that his predecessors had been wrong in relying on the ‘feudal’ elements of the Fouta chieftaincy. It was impossible to confront Alfa Yaya in his own territory so the Governor, by a ‘skillful manoeuvre’ (to quote from the Journal de l'A.O.F. published at Conakry), 13 made him come to Conakry under the pretext of having a talk with him. As he came out of the Governor's palace he was arrested, put on to a ship and committed to five years ‘administrative internment’ in Dahomey (1905). His son Aguibou was deported with him 14. The Labe province was broken up; its personal enemy Alfa Alimou was designated 'provincial chief' of the Labe, but over a much smaller territory. The operation provoked indignant protests from certain members of the colonial service who were attached to the former administration and who denounced the perfidy of this ‘ambush’. 15
The last ‘great chief’ with wide-spread power in the Fouta-Djalon had been removed and the essential and decisive step taken towards direct administration.
As from December 1905 it was decided that authority should be given only to district chiefs (who were later to become known throughout French West Africa as cantonal chiefs). The provincial chiefs were simply to ‘pass on information’ to the administration without having any control over their former subjects and to be under the direct authority of the coinmandants de cercle. They had thus only an honorary title which was gradually abolished as the last ones died. With the death of Almamy Baba Alimou (at the beginning of 1906), his territory, already much smaller, was divided between the representatives of the two families who had up till then ruled alternately. The Alfaya Almamy ruled at Ditinn and the Soriya Almamy at Timbo. This, the administrative report of 1906 noted, was another step towards 'the progressive abolition of the great chiefs and the division of their authority until the village became the administrative unit 16. In 1909 Alfa Alimou, provincial chief of Labe, was arrested, condemned to three years imprisonment for taking part in the slave trade and dismissed. The office of provincial chief of Labe was abolished 17.
Meanwhile the five years administrative deportation to which Alfa Yaya and his son Aguibou had been condemned was due to expire. The Secretary-General, Poulet, who was acting as Governor, pointed out to the government that it would be impossible to let Alfa Yaya return to his homeland where he had too much influence 18. The Guinea administration asked that another deportation order should be served on Alfa Yaya but the government replied that this was legally impossible 19. To get rid of him, Governor Camille Guy created the myth of a ‘feudal plot’. In a letter to the Commandant de cercle of Labe, he gave his version of the plot:
‘From accurate information in my possession I learn that numerous envoys were sent by Alfa Yaya after he returned from Dahomey, to all those on whose devotion he could count. Assured of the support of the great chiefs of Islam, he was confident that their followers would foment religious unrest in the Fouta to further his political ambitions.’ 20
The leaders of this plot, with Alfa Yaya, were supposed to be the two most influential religious chiefs of the Fouta:
It is probable that there was indeed fear of, and hostility towards the French on the part of the Fouta aristocracy as they saw the tightening of administrative control; there were prophecies going round announcing the imminent breakdown of French domination.
Bastié, an administrator who believed in torture, was assassinated and as a reaction to this, fear and a desire for repression developed in some colonial circles. It is also probable that Alfa Yaya, although he had agreed to come back to Labe as an ordinary private person, did try to get back his old authority. It is unlikely however that he joined forces with Karamoko Sankoun and the Ouali of Goumba, and the colonial archives—in spite of visible efforts to support the ‘plot’ thesis—show no proof of this at all. Karamoko Sankoun was the chief of the Diakhanke of Touba; this minority people of Soninke origin had settled in Fulani country at the beginning of the nineteenth century and had always kept right out of any political activity. Their chief had shown much evidence of his loyalty to the colonial authorities (who were later to recognise his innocence) 21. The Ouali of Goumba was a ‘parvenu’ who did not belong to any of the traditional families of the Fouta and had set up a politicoreligious chieftaincy for himself on the borders of the country by expelling the indigenous Sosso. These men had nothing in common, apart from being the last African ‘heads’ who enjoyed a certain prestige. ‘All colonials who know the true situation agree that we must show these people what we mean by our arms and our punishment’ 22 , the Journal de l'A.O.F. noted.
On 9 February 1911, Alfa Yaya was once again arrested at Conakry without having been able to return to Labe. He was accused of the plot and deported to Mauritania, the ‘dry guillotine’ of French West Africa. A year later he died there of scurvy.
On 30 March 1911 a great military operation was planned in order to arrest the marabouts of Touba, Karamoko Sankoun and Ba Gassama, who gave themselves up without any resistance. But on the same day the attempt to arrest the Ouali of Goumba failed. The Ouali fled to Sierra Leone and his followers, prompted by the ineptitude of the detachment carrying out the raid, opened fire on the small French force and wiped them out. In reprisal a punitive column moved into the Goumba region, confiscating the Fulani's goods and freeing their slaves. The Ouali was given up by the English authorities, condemned to death and sent to the Fotoba jail where he died in 1912, before the date fixed for his execution 23.
Thus the way was free for a last move towards direct administration. In 1912 the administrator Thoreau-Levaré, a companion of Noirot and one of the best informed colonial administrators in the Fouta, began scientifically to cut up the traditional provinces and districts into cantons so as to dismember the old historic units. The functions of the Almamy, ‘a useless mechanism which had become a nuisance’, 24 were abolished. The Almamys of the two branches were reduced to cantonal chiefs and transferred from their ancient homes to places on the railway which had just been constructed. The Almamy of Ditinn, Oumar Bademba, was named chief of the Canton of Mamou; the Almamy of Timbo, Bokar Biro, was named chief of Tene, residing at Konsondougou, before being transferred in 1925 to Dabola, on the edge of the Fouta and outside his ancient domain. They, like their successors, were still called Almamy but this was to be only an honorary title.
The Fouta chief was by the eve of the First World War reduced to the subordinate office of cantonal chief. This was the triumph of a policy which was not peculiar to the Fouta, nor even to Guinea.
‘We must destroy all hegemony of one race over another, of one ethnic group over another, fight against local aristocracies so as to gain the confidence of the people and abolish the great native commands which are nearly always barriers between us and the masses under our administration .... The application of these principles in Senegal and in Guinea has begun to bear fruit.’ 25
Thus spoke William Ponty, Governor General of French West Africa applying his racial policy to the abolition of the great chieftains.
Others wanted to go even further.
‘The condemnation of Alfa Yaya and his partisans has deep political significance.... We must not hesitate to break with the high commands which are immoral if the chief designate does not come from the country itself and dangerous if he has deep roots in the region he is to administer.’ 26
The author suggests dividing the country up into compact, ethnically homogeneous villages whose organisation would be like that of the Russian mir and whose chiefs would he easy to supervise while still being efficient.
Such a policy of direct administration carried to its extremes presupposed a large number of European personnel, but the 1914-18 war restricted the numbers and afterwards financial difficulties prevented them from being very much increased. Finally, the growing instability of the European personnel (the average period of service in one station was usually less than one year), their lack of specialisation (administrators were sent indiscriminately and successively from Guinea to Niger, from Mauritania to Dahomey or from Madagascar to Tahiti) and their ignorance of local languages made it inevitable to fall back on native intermediaries.
One had then to be satisfied with a less radical policy known as the ‘policy of association’ which retained chieftaincy at the level of the canton, a subdivision of the cercle which was under the control of a European administrator. In his circular of 15 August 1917, Van Vollenhoven the Governor General reacted against the policy of ‘direct’ government by ‘gardes’, interpreters and clerks over the heads of the chiefs. He wanted to consolidate the chiefs' authority, customary rules should be respected in their designation, they should be awarded decorations and pensions and they should not be subject to administrative sanctions. But he strongly reaffirmed that the principle of authority belonged only to the colonial administration:
‘They (the chiefs) have no real power of any kind, for there are not two authorities in the cercle, French authority and native authority. There is only one. The commandant dc cercle alone is in command; he alone is responsible. The native chief is only an instrument, an auxiliary.’ 27
This doctrine of colonial administration was to remain right up to the end. It was based less on theories, laboriously worked out to justify a de facto situation, than experience.
The position of the cantonal chief, having no legal foundation, was ambiguous. He was an instrument of the administration without being a functionary of whom he had none of the guarantees of status and career. In theory he was chosen from the ancient ruling families but he could be dismissed by the Governor at the drop of a hat. He had many trying duties. He was the commandant's general factotum. He was responsible for collecting taxes, supplying the requisitions of labour, supervising forced labour and the compulsory planting of cash crops. After the First World War he had to supply conscripts for the French Army. He had to accommodate and feed the envoys or representatives of the various administrations when they were on tour—with their entourage. He had to entertain agents or representatives from the chief town of the cercle, pay a literate secretary and keep up an armed band of agents (mbatoulaBe), who were often thugs, to carry out his orders. When Gilbert Vieillard reproached the chiefs for this dubious entourage they replied:
‘Do you or do you not want us to collect taxes and provide forced labour and conscripts? We cannot do so without ferocity and persuasion; if people are not afraid of being tied up and beaten they will not take any notice of us.’ 28
In return for these duties the chief received only a modest commission on the taxes he returned. A decree of 21 December 1934 awarded token ‘annual salaries’ to the chiefs of Guinea (an average of 2,000-4,000 francs per annum; Almamy Soriya of Dabola the best paid of all received 11,200 francs!) This was nothing like enough. The chief supplemented it by collecting the ‘customary dues ’—officially abolished, but in fact tolerated or even imposed: anyone who refused to pay could be charged with ‘opposing the authority of the cantonal chiefs’. They included free labour in the chief's fields and the building and upkeep of his huts(!), a tax on inheritances and a tithe on the harvest 29. In fact they ‘varied greatly from one canton to another even in the same circonscription for they dependend on the personality and the greed, not only of the chief but also of his entourage.’ 30
Because of his obligations and his support from the administration, the cantonal chief was much more of a despot than his predecessors in the pre-colonial era. ‘The present cantonal chiefs have more power than the old diiwal chiefs for they no longer have to worry about those powerful families whose rival forces counterbalanced one another in the miside.’ 31 On the other hand they were at the mercy of the administration, who could, if they wanted to get rid of them, charge them with extortion.
The ‘respect for custom’ already denied by restricting the chiefs' authority to the small area of the canton, by breaking up the old territorial units and sometimes by transferring a traditional chief to a place outside his old domain, was further contradicted by the statement that ‘we could not tolerate indefinitely the hegemony of certain incompetent or undesirable families.’ 32 As a result of this, certain traditional families were eliminated in favour of ‘parvenus’. The family of the Dalaba chiefs was compromised in the events of 1911, deposed and replaced by an obscure village chief, Ba Tierno Oumar, who succeeded in making his canton of Dalaba into a ‘great fief’ and in continually gaining power over the neighbouring cantons. His rise to power is to some extent reminiscent of that of Glaoui, pacha of Marrakech. Thanks to his relations with the chief town of the colony, his judicious presents to the right people and his demonstrations of loyalty, he succeeded in finding a place beside the Almamys among the leaders of the Fouta chieftaincy. The French administration continued to play on the opposition between the two Almamys 33. If one believes the partisans of Bokar Biro, it was on the advice of his rival Oumar Bademba that the ex-Almamy of Timbo was relegated to Konsondougou. As a result of his complaints, Governor Poiret created for him the vast canton of Dabola in 1925, thus re-uniting the old cantons of Tene, Tinkisso and a part of Firiah (Dialonke), which was considered as being historically part of the Fouta-Djalon.
With an apparently greater de facto authority, these transformations in the chief's role ruined his moral authority. During the precolonial era, the chief, even if he were the most cruel despot and brigand and even if he exploited his subjects, had at least guaranteed their safety from attack. Now he could no longer play this role of patriarch.
During the Second World War the administration, in their frantic demands for the ‘war effort’ and the provisioning of towns and regions which were not self-supporting and could no longer rely on imports from overseas, carried extortion to extremes and the chiefs were thought to be their agents and also to gain some advantages themselves. After the war, and when political life began to develop, their authority was severely shaken.
In the Fouta, however, the strength of the social hierarchy and the state of dependence in which the ‘captives’ were maintained enabled them to survive the crisis of 1946-7. Moreover, the Fouta chiefs succeeded in adapting themselves to the new ‘democratic’ institutions. For the first elections to the Constituent Assembly in 1945, the Fouta chiefs met at Pita to nominate the candidate of their choice, the schoolmaster Yacine Diallo and because the other ethnic groups were divided they were able to have him elected. In the course of the Conference of Pita, the choice of Yacine Diallo was imposed by a coalition of chefs de canton formed around the Almamy of Mamou and Ba Tierno Oumar of Dalaba, and directed against the Almamy of Dabola, whose privileged position excited the jealousy of all the chiefs. Yacine Diallo, who was constantly re-elected until his death in 1954 34, was a member of the Socialist Party, the SFIO.
The educated elites who directed the Gilbert Vieillard Association, a Fulani ethnic union with a political role, did not always see eye to eye with the chiefs but this was more internal rivalry than basic opposition, for the Fulani elites were almost all originally from the aristocratic families.
When the Party Congress of the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain met at Bamako in 1946, Yacine Diallo, although he had signed the notice calling the meeting, was prevented from attending owing to pressure from the Ministère de la France d'Outre-Mer, at that time under the Socialist minister Marius Moutet, who regarded the Congress as a ‘communist enterprise’ (the members of the RDA were until 1951 to be ‘affiliated’ to the communist groups in the various Assemblies). But the ethnic associations of Guinea, including the Gilbert Vieillard Association, took part in the Congress. In May 1947 at the end of a tour of Guinea, the Secretary General of the RDA, Gabriel d'Arboussier, succeeded in forming the Guinea branch of the RDA with the federation of the ethnic associations. He had talks with the Fouta chiefs, including the terrible Ba Tierno Oumar, and thought he had won them to his cause. But the ethnic associations very soon left the RDA. Suspect from the beginning, the RDA became, after dismissal of the Communist ministers from the Government, for the colonial administration, an enemy which had to be beaten. The chieftaincy and the ethnic associations followed their lead and the Guinea branch of the RDA was reduced to a small nucleus of functionaries and trades-unionists, the constant victims of repression in the form of transfer, dismissal and imprisonment. Its bases in the Fouta Djalon, where the authority of the chiefs seemed stronger than ever, were liquidated.
However the conditions which gave rise to the final crisis were coming to a head. As from 1950-1 the development of communications and trade created new needs. To meet them, the Fouta chiefs increased their ‘extraordinary’ dues, for building a house, buying an American car or financing a pilgrimage to Mecca.
This was at a timc when taxation was also being rapidly increased (the capitation tax) to meet the interest charges and repayments on capital required for investment 35.
At Dalaba the inheritance tax (for all men and women over 25 years old) was raised to 10,000 francs or two oxen. If the heirs could not or would not pay, the property of the deceased was sold and the proceeds went to the chief. If the deceased left no children, the chief took the whole of his herd and even emptied his grain store, leaving nothing for the surviving wife or husbantl. There was a tax on deaths, on children over seven years old (instead of sixteen, the legal age). If the money was not paid within the stated time, the defaulters' cattle were confiscated, they werc heaten, their clothes were torn and, as an example to others, theY were tied to a tree and left for several days without food or water 36.
Over and above the ‘customary’ taxes there were otiler special contributions: at Kankalabe every married man had to contribute ten francs for the ‘chief's feast’ and there was another tax for his receptions The money given to pay the workers when the road from Dalaba to the Konkoure was being built was shared between the chief and his ‘mbatoulabe’. The chief of Dalaba demanded 50 francs per family for each Moslem feast, 25 francs per head on the public holidays of 14 July and 11 November and gifts whenever he went to Conakry.
‘The opulence of the chiefs contrasts rather too greatly with the poverty of most of the people under their administration but they still have control over them’, observed the administrator of Dalaba, in 1954. ‘But they will soon have to reconsider either their way of life or else the means of subsidising it, for on the one hand the country is becoming poorer and poorer and on the other hand the people are resenting more and more the payment of customary dues.’ 37
As from 1950 the RDA concentrated its action on two matters:
The mimeographed organ of the RDA Coup de Bambou launched furious attacks on chieftaincy in 1950 in particular against the chief of Yambering who, because he had been refused a gift of 40 oxen to enable him to buy a car, had confiscated and kept for himself the tax returns from his village chiefs, amounting to 80,000 francs C.F.A. A charge was brought against him but the chiefs of the Fouta subscribed to reimburse the village chiefs and the charge was withdrawn. In 1952 the villagers of Kebali brought a charge of violence against the cantonal chief of Kebali but the case was quietly filed and disposed of Coup de Bambou which had reported the charge was accused of libel. The chiefs' power over the people had, however, collapsed 38.
Then the extension of the franchise made it increasingly difficult for the chiefs to ‘rig’ the elections. When Yacine Diallo died, the by-election of 27 June 1954 gave the RDA the chance, through its electoral campaign, to get in. Barry Diawadou, son of the Almamy of Dabola, was elected but the RDA held that Sekou Toure would have been elected if the minutes had not been falsified by the Administration. In the Fouta there was a third candidate, Barry Ibrahima, known as Barry III, a Fulani and a socialist candidate who in several circonscriptions had more votes than the official candidate after he had based his campaign on the fight against the chieftaincy. Until then the chiefs had managed to prevent the RDA from being organised in the Fouta, but now the RDA moved in everywhere, even in the fief of Dalaba.
The legislative elections of 2 January 1956 marked the final collapse of the chieftaincy. The administration had always fought the RDA in Guinea even after the communist affiliation came to an end in 1951. Now it remained relatively neutral, embarrassed by the presence in the government of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, leader of the RDA; then the administrative candidates collapsed. The RDA won two seats out of three. In the Fouta the RDA and the socialist candidate Barry III, who was hostile to the chieftaincy, obtained between them the most votes. No longer able to ‘rig’ the elections, the chiefs had lost all their authority.
At Dabola the commandant de cercle observed: ‘At present the political situation is characterised by the predominance of the RDA throughout the cercle, far more because of hatred for the Almamy and his family than because of any political opinion.’
At Dalaba, the cantonal chief Bah Tierno Ibrahima (son of Tierno Oumar), sensing that the game was lost, publicly joined the ranks of the RDA just before the elections for the territorial assembly on 31 March 1957 and made a public ‘confession’. These elections gave the RDA 57 seats out of 60. Shortly afterwards the Loi-Cadre came into force and gave the homogenous RDA government a share in administrative responsibilities.
The chieftaincy still existed in name but it was unable to carry out its functions. There had accumulated numerous charges of extortion or other crimes and from then on these were followed up and scveral chiefs were condemned and deposed. Chiefs who were dismissed or who died were not replaced. At the end of 1957 an administrative secretary touring the cantons of Kebali and Kankalabe (whose chiefs had just been dismissed by the Guinean Minister for Internal Affairs) observed: ‘There is, in the country, a mood of passionate hatred and a desire to destroy completely everything which has anything to do with the customary chieftaincy of the cantons.’ 39
At the Conference of Commandants de cercle called by the government of the Loi-Cadre from 25-27 July 1957, the Vice-President, Sekou Toure and the Minister of Internal Affairs Keita Fodeba made the European administrators themselves admit that the chieftaincy was a thing of the past. Here are some of the remarks they made:
A decree of 31 December 1957, abolishing the so-called customary chiefs, did no more than sanction an evolution which had come to its conclusion.
1. cf. J. L. Boutillier, ‘Les captifs en AOF (1903-1905)’ Bull. IFAN, T. XXX, sér. B., no. 2, 1968, pp. 513-537. In 1903, the proportion of ‘captifs’ for the whole of Guinea was 400,000 out of a population of 1,000,000, and this proportion being greater in the Fouta Djalon than the average for the colony, one can estimate that it was over 50% there.
2. cf. Paul Marty. L'Islam en Guinée : Fouta-Diallon. Paris, Leroux, 1921.
3. Archives Nationales de Guinée, l.D. 45 (Monographie des Timbis).
4. He was Secretary General in the government of the colony of Guinea and collaborated with the Governor, Ballay, whom he succeeded.
5. Letter from the Commandant de cercle of Dubreka (De Beeckman) dated 6 January 1896. Archives Nationales de Guinée, l.D. 45.
6. André Arcin, Histoire de la Guinée Française, Paris, Challamel, 1911.
7. Archives Régionales de Mamou (République de Guinée), Journal de Poste de Timbo, 4 August 1898.
8. Rapport d'ensemble sur la situation générale de la Guinée Française en 1898, p. 81.
9. This is proved by the ‘tarikh’ from Labe, dating from the middle of the nineteenth century translated and used by Jose Mendes Moreira (Fulas do Gabu, Bissau 1948, Centro de Estudos da Guine portuguesa, Memorias, No. 6) who constantly confuses in his chronicle the reign of the Almamys and that of the Alfa Mo Labe…
10. A. Demougeot, Notes sur l'organisation politique et administrative du Labé, Paris, Larose, 1944 (Memoires IFAN, No. 6), p. 27.
11. Ibid., p.33.
12. Archives Nationales de Guinée, 1. E. 7 pièce I (original letter in Arabic with trandation).
13. L'A.O.F., 11 février 1911.
14. cf. Archives Nationales de Guinée, 1. E. 2.
15. cf. M. Crespin, ‘Alfa Yaya et M. Frezouls’, Revue Indigène, 1906, No. 2., pp. 45-6.
16. Rapport d'ensemble sur la situation générale de la Guinée Française en 1906, Conakry, Imprimerie Ternaux, 1907.
17. Archives Nationales de Guinée I F. 2
18. Lettre No. 707 du 28 juillet 1910, Archives Nationales de Guinée.
19. ‘Such a measure taken against a person who has completed his sentence might raise legal difficulties and attract criticism from the Department. To this we cannot expose ourselves.’ Archives Nationales de Guinée 1. E. 2.
20. Archives Nationales de Guinée, 1. E. 7, Lettre no. 267 du 25 fevrier 1911.
21. Archives de l'A.O.F. 17 G. 47 et 48.
22. L'A.O.F., No. 145, 15 avril 1911. However, certain colonial elements did not share this point of view. During an electoral meeting held at Mamou by M. Felix Chautemps, candidate for the Conseil Supérieur des Colonies, the same journal notes that ‘a perpetual dissenter tried to prove to him that the Foulah peril had never existed and the Foulahs had been found at Goumba in a state of legitimate defence’.
23. For the Touba incident see: Archives Nationales de Guinee, 1. E. 17; Archives de l'O.A.F., 17 G. 48. On the Ouali:
24. Gouvernement général
de l'A.O.F.: Rapport annuel d'ensemble 1912, Paris, Larose, 1915.
25. Rapport du gouverneur general William Ponty au Conseil de Gouvernement, 20 juin 1910. Afrique française, No. 7, juillet 1910.
26. G. Teullière, ‘Alfa Yaya et la politique indigène’, Revue indigène, No. 67, novembre 1911, pp. 615-6.
27. Circulaire du 15 août 1917. Afrique française No. 12, decembre 1917, p. 270.
28. G. Vieillard, ‘Notes sur les Peuls du Fouta-Djalon’, Bull. IFAN 1940, No. 1, p. 171.
29. These were, as we have seen, the taxes collected on the Fouta before the conquest.
30. Archives de Dalaba, Rapport du 9 janvier 1955 sur l'état de la chefferie.
31. G. Vieillard, op. cit., p. 133.
32. Governor General Carde, Circular of 11 October 1929.
33. ‘The chefs de canton, accustomed to their independence, would never again permit effective authority to either of the Almamys, a fact which always led them to ally with the weaker against the stronger of the two. This was the lesson that was learnt from the conference of Pita of October 1945.’ Letter from Barry Diawadou (son of the Almamy of Dabola and future Deputy) to the Governor of Guinea, 28 May 1947 (Archives of Faranah).
34. After 1946, when Guinea had a second seat, Mamba Sano (a Kissi) was also elected by the votes of the other ethnic groups.
35. This was partly subsidised from Metropolitan France (the funds of the F.I.D.E.S.) but a compulsory percentage had to come from the budget of the territory.
36. Archives de Dalaba, Dossiers des chefs: plaintes.
37. Ibid., Rapport trimestriel, 3e trimestre 1954.
38. Here are some extracts from the file on the chief of Kankalabe: ‘Has very good reports in spite of his drunkeness and his “gay parties” encouraged by some very high officials who do not object to taking part in them. Charge (for murder and extortion) filed by order of the governor who admits “the facts seem likely” but sees no reason for pursuing the charge. He orders the charge for libel brought against the man who denounced him to be filed. He should nevertheless be watched. He was dismissed on 31st August 1957.’
39. Archives de Dalaba.
40. Guinée: Prélude à l'indépendance. Paris, Présence Africaine, 1958, p. 23.
41. Ibid., p. 41.
42. Ibid., p. 49.
* Marguerite Verdat
French Islamic Policy