webFuuta / History

Joseph Earl Harris
The Kingdom of Fouta-Diallon

Evanston, Illinois. 1965. 180 p. (Ph.D. Dissertation in History)

Chapter V
Precursors of Colonial Rule: British, Belgian and French Traders and Explorers

A. Early British, Belgian, and French Interests

The governments of Europe were too occupied with the French revolution, the Napoleonic wars, and other matters of domestic and European interest in the 1790's to be much concerned about expanding their West African trading posts, many of which dated back to the fifteenth century. On the other hand, individual merchants had a very real interest in extending their West African commercial influence. Some of these merchants, joined by explorers, were precursors of colonial rule in Fouta-Diallon.
In 1791 a group of British merchants and humanitarians organized the Sierra Leone Company as a means of supporting the newly established colony for liberated slaves. The Company wans not allowed to trade in slaves, but it was expected to develop legimate trade with the interior. Although the enterprise was a commercial failure, it did establish some contacts with areas in the hinterland, including Fouta-Diallon 1.
The principal commercial products in the part of Fouta-Diallon that borders on Sierra Leone vere skins, gums, indigo, ivory, and some gold. Of the several British representatives who attempted to establish commercial relations with Fouta-Diallon, the earliest seems to have been the mission led in 1794 by Dr. Thomas Winterbottom and James Watt. Although they failed to negotiate a trade agreement with the Foula, they did obtain information on cultural and economic conditions in the area. They also observed that the Foula were astute Muslim bargainers who were interested in developing trade with the coast 2.
In 1816 a Major John Peddie led another exploratory expedition into Fouta Mallon, but no agreements seem to have been made. In 1820 a more successful British effort was undertaken by Brian O'Beirne, a surgeon in Sierra Leone who led a mission to Timbo and obtained a pledge from the almamy to keep the trade route open between Freetowm and Fouta-Diallon. In 1843, C. Thompson, a Christian missionary Society linguist and traslator, sought a trade agreement on behalf of some Frectown merchants, but no accoxd was reached 3.
The French concentrated their early efforts around Boké and the Rio Nunez river which flows into the Atlantic Ocean. This area has rich soil and is strategically located as a gateway to Fouta-Diallon. African commerce centered around ivory, rice, indigo, salt, gums, honey, skins, coffee, slaves, and some gold 4.

In 1817 Gaspard Mollien led an expedition into Fouta-Diallon and reported that rice and tobacco crops were abundant. He also saw an active trade in cotton, oxen, goats, gold, lemons, and salt. When Mollien reached Timbo he saw that “all women wear silver bracelets, large gold earrings, an indication of luxury.” Although Mollien observed that Fouta-Diallon engaged in frequent trade with Sierra Leone, he did not negotiate a trade agreement but he did encourage the almamy to increase trade in the Nunez region where French merchants predominated 5.
Mollien's accounts were confirmed in 1828 by another French explorer, René Caillé, who also observed tobacco and cotton fields, ond a vigorous market in Labé. Caillé was especially impressed by the calabashes and earthen pots, some of which were glazed 6.
The publicity attendant upon the visits of these early explorers made Rio Nunez, Boké, and the Foula interior attractive to French colonials in Senegal who hoped to prevent the British from establishing an economic sphere of influence in the region, especially along the Nunez. The first serious step the French took occurred on May 13, 1837, when Captain de Corvette Dagorne, two colonial officials, and two merchants left Senegal to explore the trade possibilities of the Nunez and to secure trade routes leading to Fouta Diallon 7.
Dagorne found that the coastal ethnic groups (Baga, Nalou, and Landouma), many of whom had been pushed out of Fouta-Diallon by the Foula conquerors, were vassals of the Foula almamy who had personal representatives in the area to collect tribute and report on general developments there. Dagorne and several of the chiefs succeeded in concluding agreements providing for anchorage rights and security of trade in Nunez for the French in exchange for annual rents to the chiefs. In 1839, however, the Governor of Senegal informed the French Minister of Colonies that while the trading potential was good around Nunez, the merchants would not exploit the possibility fully without government protection 8.
European traders were always subject to periodic raids. Not only were plantations and businesses establishments raided, but ships were pillaged also. Finally, in 1845 the French and Nalou signed a treaty guaranteeing that Nalou trade caravans be directed to French traders in exchange for arms, ammunition, tobacco, and 1000 francs annually. Up to this point no negotiation had taken place for any cession of land 9.
At about the same time, Belgian merchants began making a bid to develop their influence along the Nunez river. In 1847 the Belgian government commissioned J. Van Haverbake to establish commercial houses on the West African coast. After having encountered opposition from English traders in Gambia and Sierra Leone, he finally chose the Nunez area. Although British and French merchants were already active in the region, neither was firmly entrenched and neither offered much resistance to Haverbeke. Finding the local chiefs willing to negotiate, the Belgian concluded a treaty in 1848 in the name of Leopold I. Under the terms of the agreement Leopold was promised sovereignty over the Rio Nunez, and Belgian traders and their property were guaranteed protection. In exchange, Belgian promised to make an annual payment of 1000 gourds of merchandise 10.
Obviously these chiefs felt no obligation to respect the French accord of 1845. On the other hand, the conclusion of the 1840 agreement was no assurance that the Belgians would monopolize the Nunez trade.
On the contrary, the Belgian consul in 1854 informed Brussels that trade in the area was risky and uncertain not only because of the competition among the English, French, and Belgians, but also because of local wars and raids on European businesses 11.
From the late 1830's French economic influence continued to expand around Boké, with the result that French traders and naval commanders intervened on several occasions to resolve conflicts between ethnic groups regarding land jurisdiction, control over trade routes, and succession of chiefs. The Belgians, however, were at a distinct disadvantage. This was partly because they feared the possibility of military action by the french, and partly because several deputies in Brussels argued that Nunez was not worth the expense. Belgium, therefore, refrained from taking any strong measures to assure economic control 12. Thus French influence remained unchecked by Europeans and soon prevailed in Nunez.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the French realized that the treaties negotiated with the coastal chiefs were ineffective largely because ultimate authority over the region rested in Fouta-Diallon. In 1850, therefore, the governor of Senegal sent Lieutenant Hyacinthe Hecquard to Timbo to establish friendly relations with the almamy and to obtain a guarantee of security for French trade. After about two month in Fouta without securing the agreement, Hecquard reported that his mission failed because of the influence of Sierra Leonian traders. He expressed the opinion, however, that the almamy was interested in developing closer ties with the French 13.
In 1859 all French establishments betgween the island of Gorée and Sierra Leone were placed under the jurisdiction of the governor of Senegal, Colonel Louis Faidherbe, who called upon the French government to provide firm control over Nunez in order that all traders would be assured uniform treatment. He observed that land rentals varied from 1000 francs per month to 1000 per year and that some chiefs recognized their treay commitments and others did not 14.
The only way to resolve this situation, according to Faidherbe, was for the French to occupy the region. The first step taken in this direction was in 1859 when Faidherbe dispatched Lieutenant Arsène Lambert to Timbo. The result was an agreement ceding Boké to the French in exchange for gifts and a guaranteed market for Foula traders along the Rio Nunez 15.
The Boké region was finally occupied by the French in 1855 when Faidherbe's successor sent troops to the town and without any military resistance secured a treaty of protection. The Boké administrator informed Alfa Ibrahima, the Labé chief, that France had occupied and fortified the area and that he was invited to send a personal representative to Boké. When the administraotr reminded Alfa Ibrahima that the almamy had ceded the territory to the French 1860, the Labé chief launched an attack which was easily repelled. But the French, realizing the necessity of maintaining friendly commercial relations with the Foula, persuaded the coastal chiefs to double their tribute to the almamy. Thus rewarded, Ibrahima withdrew his troops 16.
In spite of the several commercial treaties, the European traders and their businesses remained subject to periodic harassment and pillaging. Partly because of this continuous harassment and partly the result of a treaty of friendship which Governor Valesius Gouldsbury of British Gambia made with the almamy in 1881, the French in 1884 dispatched a ship of war to the Nunez with Dr. Jean-Marie Bayol, Lieutenant Governor of Senegal. Boké was occupied and Bayol concluded a treaty with the principal chiefs. Under the terms of this agreement the chiefs recognized the cession of the area to the French, accepted responsibility for peace along the Rio Nunez, guaranteed commercial rights to the French and agreed that no other trading company would be permitted without authorization from Senegal. The French promised to pay the most powerful chief, Youra, 1200 francs annually 17.
The treaty of 1884 established French colonial claims to the Nunez region and secured an important gateway to Fouta-Diallon. But the developments in this area were only one part of simultaneous French penetrations into the area. Farther in the interior a colorful Frenchman was attempting to set up a French empire in Fouta-Diallon.

B. Olivier de Sanderval and His Visions of a French Empire

The most controversial of French precursors of colonial rule in Fouta-Diallon was Olivier de Sanderval who adopted the title of "Comte" de Sanderval. As early as 1877 he had proposed that the French establish an empire in some part of Africa. This idea encouraged him to visit Africa on several occasions as explorer and merchant. After his visit to Fouta-Diallon in 1879, he concluded that he had finally discovered the place where the French empire should be founded. Not only was he impressed by the economic possibilities of the area, but he believed that the inhabitants of Fouta would be adaptable to colonial rule, and that the French could carry out their "noble mission." He wrote:

A white chief, a chief who by nature is superior and without competition from ambitious blacks, who would seek to organize their [Foula] instincts of independence... could make a great accomplishment. Such beneficial, devoted power, continued for three generations, would prepare a great nation; our republican principles must realize that organization 18.

Howevers Sanderval's motivation did not derive solely from his personal belief in the inherent inferiority of the African; he was also moved by his dedication to the enhancement of the power and prestige of France, and to the isolation of Great Britain. He visualized Fouta-Diallon, for example, as supplying a great army which he would lead to Tunisia, and in a few hours to Bizerte.…

“Let us retake our provinces [Alsace-Lorraine], make peace with Germany, with Europe, and not listen to England, the enemy of Europe.”19

In order to accomplish this mission, Sanderval advocated that France organize Fouta-Diallon and proceed to found “the first black and white state, the empire of Soudan.” The explorer thus devoted himself to gaining influence in Fouta-Diallon and extending his exploration into the region toward Chad 20.
Sanderval has written that he developed a friendly relationship with several Foula almamys —Ibrahima Sori III, Bokar Biro, and Oumarou Bademba— and other prominent Foula chiefs, including Alpha Yaya of Labé Province. He even claimed credit for having been instrumental in the election of Bademba as almamy 21. Sanderval has not, however, explained satisfactorily how he acquired such influence or how the Foula reacted to it. Many Europeans showered chiefs with gifts, but few if any ever won the kind of influence which Sanderval claimed.
Just as the Bayol mission to Nunez in 1884 resulted partly from the Gouldsbury treaty of peace and friendship with Timbo, so too did Sanderval's efforts increase after the Gouldsbury mission. In 1881 he sent a delegation to Timbo where an agreement was reached with Almamy Ibrahima Sori granting Sanderval a concession to build a railroad to the coast. He and Alpha Yaya later concluded an agreement vhich gave the explorer the right to construct trading houses in Kadé. His greatest accomplishment, however, was the acquisition of the Kahel district of Fouta-Diallon. For this fertile plateau Sanderval promised the almamy gifts and French trade 22.
Sanderval assumed the title of “king” and ruled the Kahel as his personal fief for about fifteen years, according to his account. When the French invaded Fouta in 1896, Sanderval placed his personal troops at the disposal of the French commanders; and when the protectorate was proclaimed in 1897, he relinquished all of his claims to the French administration in expectation of compensation. The French government, however, refused to compensate him or his heirs, who continued to press claims until the late 1920's. In a lengthy report published in 1927, the French held that some of the treaties the explorer claimed to have negotiated were never produced and that other treaties were signed by chiefs whose authority was not confirmed. The report also was unable to confirm that Sanderval enjoyed a close relationship with Foula almamys and provincial chiefs. Finally, the report denied that the French government had promised to compensate Sanderval. On this latter point, the explorer had observed in 1887 that the vagueness with which the administration had promised to consider his claims made him doubtful of compensation 23.
Although this dramatic chapter in the history of Fouta-Diallon still remains controversial, it is clear that Sanderval was a dreamer with visions of personal greatness and grandeur for France. It is noteworthy, however, that few records of him have been found in Guinea's archives and that only a small number of Foula recall having heard his name 24. One must conclude, therefore, that he had little real impact on either the Foula, or the French government, and that his hopes for the founding of a French empire in Fouta-Diallon remained only a dream to be fulfilled by the French army in 1897.

C. Conclusion

Of the colonial precursors in Fouta-Diallon—Belgian, English, and French—the influence of Belgium was the least consequential because the country was both unable and uninterested in challenging the economic, military, and diplomatic policies of the British and French. When King Leopold II decided to venture into Africa, he chose the Congo, an area farther removed from the vigorous competition of the great powers. The short lived Belgian presence in the Nunez region, therefore, had virtually no impact on either the indigenous or foreign developments in Fouta-Diallon.
Britain and France, however, did compete for Fouta-Diallon and the surrounding area. Because the British operated primarily from Sierra Leone, their main thrust was directed toward the interior of Fouta. On the other hand, since the French missions were dispatched from Senegal, their earliest concentration was focused on the Nunez region. The British base in Sierra Leone suffered the disadvantage of being separated from the heart of Fouta-Diallon by greater distance and more rugged mountains. But perhaps the most important factor which ultimately gave the French dominance in the general area was that during the last quarter of the nineteenth century the British concentrated their main African economic, military, and diplomatic efforts in Egypt, and compensated the French in West Africa for their frustrations in the Nile Valley 25.
By Anglo-French agreements of August 10, L389, and June 9, 1891, the frontiers of.French Senegambia and Guinea were drawn to the advantage of the French. This resulted in the following complaint by the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce:

In West Africa the British Governments of the last decade have been outstripped by Germany and France; the Gambia has dwindled; the Cameroons has been lost; two foreign powers have intervened between Lagos and Gold Coast Colonies—which Colonies should have been coterminous—the French have spread themselves over Senegambia, and the British Governments have yielded 26 the districts of the Northern Rivers of Sierra Leone.

Prime Minister Salisbury explained:

The Colonies of Gambia and Sierra Leone, with limited revenues barely sufficing for their administrative expenditure would have been unable to bear any strain in the direction of military expenditure, and the sanction of Parliament was not to be expected for the employment of Imperial resources adequate for the purpose 27.

It seems, therefore, that Victorian economic and strategic priorities did not include West Africa, except to bargain with other powers. The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 resulted in an intensification of British and French moves to solidify their control over African territories generally. For the French this was manifested in West Africa in general and in Fouta-Diallon in particular. In addition to the Anglo-French agreement of 1889 and 1891 regarding Gambia and Guinea, the two powers signed conventions on June 26, 1891 and January 24, 1895, defining the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone. On May 12, 1886, an agreement was reached between France and Portugal establishing the boundary between Fouta-Diallon and Portuguese Guinea. A similar accord was negotiated with Liberia on January 13, 1911 28.
These agreements, concluded without consultations with the Foula, were obvious steps to solidify French control of Fouta-Diallon and Guinea in moves toward the foundation of a French West African empire. The Foula, however, never regarded these boundary agreements as final, in part because they had not been involved in the negotiations, but mainly because their language, culture, and history were interrelated with that of many inhabitants of Senegal, Gambia, Portuguese Guinea and Sudan. Consequently, the centuries old migrations back and forth in these territories continued unabatedly for many years after the border agreements were signed 29.
In spite of the Anglo-French agreement, British agents continued to seek commercial and friendship treaties with the almamy, who frequently accepted them without regard for conflicts of interest and with no real feeling of obligation to either party 30. This very likely was the case with Sanderval who provided Foula chiefs with many gifts in exchange for what he hoped would be a monopoly of trade and ultimate political control. This was also true in the Nunez area where the French frequently renegotiated treaties in attempts to assure continued commitment on the part of the chiefs to French traders. Nonetheless, by 1895 the French had secured the fertile Atlantic-Nunez gateway to Fouta Diallon, drawn the boundaries between Fouta and neighboring non-French possessions, and had greatly minimized the influence of foreign traders in the territory. The stage was thus set for the firm establishment of direct political and economic control.

1. John D. Fage, An Introduction to the History of West Africa, pp. 108-109.
2. M. Winterbottom, Thomas Winterbottom: An Account of the Native Africans in the Neighborhood of Sierra Leone (London: 1803), pp. 230-233; Hopewell, "Muslim Penetration Into French Guinea." p. 142.
33. Journal of Assistant Staff-Surgeon Brian O'Beirne (1820), and Hopewell, “Muslim Penetration in French Guinea,” pp. 142, 144.
4. Houis, La Guinée Française, pp. 42, 43; and Demougeot, "Histoire du Nunez," p. 194.
5. Mollien (translated by Richard Philipps), Travels in Africa to the Senegal and Gambia in 1818 (London: 1820), pp. 81-99.
6. Caillé, Journal, pp. 289-300.
77. Demougeot, "Histoire du Nunez," pp. 192, 193, and Houis, La Guinée Française, pp. 42-43.
8. Demougeot, "Histoire du Nunez," pp. 193-203.
9. Ibid., pp. 205-206.
10. Chr. Monheim, L'Affaire du Rio Nunez (Louvain, Belgique: 1931), pp. 9-10.
11. Ibid. p. 36.
12. Menheim, L'Affaire du Rio Nunez, p. 36.
13. Hecquard, Voyage sur la Côte, pp. 273, 346; and Houis, La Guinée Française, pp. 42-44.
14. Demougeot, "Histoire du Nunez," pp. 238-240.
15. Feuille officielle du Sénégal et Dépendances, 22 Août 1860.
16. Demougeot, "Histoire du Nunez," pp. 239-251.
17. Demougeot, Notes, pp. 24, 25 and "Histoire du Nunez," 260-261; and Journal du Boké, 1884.
18. Comte de Sanderval, Soudan Français: Kahel (Paris: 1893), p. 424.
19. Ibid., p. 425.
20. Ibid., pp. 30-32.
21. Sanderval, Conquête du Foutah-Diallon (Paris: 1899), pp. 49-50.
22. Sanderval, Soudan Français, p. 37, and Conquête du Foutah-Diallon, pp. 209, 215, 222.
23. Colonie de la Guinée Française, Inspection des Affaires Administratives, No. 11, Conakry, le 12 Mai 1927; and Sanderval, Conquête du Foutah-Diallon, p. 41.
24. Actually, he left a name and a physical legacy in the heart of Conakry. An entire quartier is still called Sandervaliya. And his cone-shaped house sits in the middle of the National Museum of Guinea. [T.S. Bah]
25. This is the central theme of Ronald Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians (New York: 1961). For different views see the following: Henri Brunschwig, "Les Origines du Partage de l'Afrique Occidentale," Journal of African History,V, 1, 1964; C.W. Newbury, "Victorians, Republicans, and the Partition of West Africa," Journal of African History, III, 3, 1962.
26. Quotation from the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, Report of the West African Colonies as cited in Ronald Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians, p. 332. 27. Quotation from Parliamentary Papers as cited in p. 383.
28. Correspondances Diverses, Administration du Fouta Djallon; Houis, La Guinée Française, pp. 47-48.
29. This is the basis for some Guinean claims that Portuguese Guinea should be part of a greater Guinea.
30. Circulaire de la Région du Labé, Mai, 1808.