Suggestions for Research Projects

© 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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  1. The Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger rarely earned a profit during eighty years of French operation, in part because it was used as an instrument of economic policy to funnel subsidies to specific purposes--government operations, defense, export agriculture, education, and so on. This was achieved by creating rate schedules that offered reduced rates for favored forms of freight.

    In 1948, the Gouverneur du Soudan Français criticized this approach, and in particular, the use of the tarif degressive. Tarif translates to "freight rate" (cost per weight to ship something), but what exactly does degressive mean?

    Assignment: Write a paper on the rate policy followed by the railroad. Note historical changes, particularly in 1904 and 1923 when major construction projects were completed, and after World War II when the railroads of French West Africa were combined.

  2. One of the largest efforts at economic development in Africque Occidentale Française was an attempt to produce cotton and rice for export from the Middle Niger Valley. Between 1923 and 1947, the French built dams, dug canals, constructed port facilities and created new towns in an effort to make the project work.

    However, capital was always in short supply, so improvements were not uniform throughout the valley. For instance, a chart of transport times for goods from various places along the Niger indicates that goods from some of the towns east of Mopti required extra days for loading.

    Assignment: Find out when port improvements were carried out at different locations in the Middle Niger Valley, and draw conclusions about their consequences for economic development efforts.

  3. French authorities asked Seydou Nourou Tall to persuade African railroad workers not to strike in 1937. Assignment: Who was this person, and how was s/he related to the colonial government, African railroad workers, and the African population as a whole?

  4. The completion of a railroad like the Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger made it possible to ship larger loads from the coast to the interior. Assignment: Write a paper that explains how this influenced the timing of development projects in the Middle Niger Valley like the Office du Niger.

  5. In 1906, a group of European merchants in Kayes asked that the government collect taxes in cash rather than in local produce in the areas where Europeans merchants had established shops. Why did they care about the form of tax payments? Assignment: Write a paper on the efforts of the French government and private enterprise to introduce a cash economy to the region.

  6. In the late 1920s, there was much concern among French colonial officials about the spread of pan-Africanism in their jurisdiction. (For one example, see the annual political report for the French Soudan in 1928.) Were the French being paranoid or was there an increase in such activity? Assignment: Write a paper that explores the roots of pan-African thought and the ways that it reached French West Africa. Make sure to consider events that made the French fearful about the loyalty of their African subjects.

  7. During World War II, the French authorities in French West Africa remained loyal to the Vichy French government. However, there was opposition, and some sense of relief when Allied troops landed in North Africa in November 1942. Underground groups prepared for that moment, including the people who composed a report on the "situation at Gao" in the Soudan. Assignment: Examine the report to learn which groups opposed Vichy rule and write a paper that explains why they took this position.

  8. The French relied on African labor for building projects and to operate systems like the railroad after they were completed. Assignment: Write a paper using data from this Web page to explain what work Africans performed, and why the French preferred to employ Africans for certain types of work.

  9. In interviews, many Africans explained their success against the colonial system in terms of the "idea of the family." Assignment: Write a paper that explains the meaning of the "idea of the family" and how it contributed to the end of the colonial system.