interview

Cheick Sidya Diombana, unpublished document entitled "Questions et réponses" (Bamako, handwritten notes, 1992), 6 pages

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Note: Cheik Sidya Diombana was the Secretary-General of the Association des Cheminots Rétraitées, section de Bamako when I did my research in Bamako in March-April 1992. He provided me with a handwritten list of six questions and his answers concerning the rights and working conditions of railroad workers after the 1947-1948 strike.

  1. Comment devenait un cheminot à lépoque colonial? Critère d'embauche. Date a peu près de la 1ere embauche au Soudan? (How did someone become a railroad worker during the colonial period? What were the requirements for getting a job? When were the first African railroad workers hired?)

    Cheminots required three to four years of training at the Section ferroviaire of the École Terrasson de Fougères, founded in 1933 in Bamako. They were trained for service in one of four divisions, Voie et Batiments, Matériel de Traction, Exploitation or Approvisionnements Généraux (supplies). All of the other workers, none of whom had diplomas, were hired as auxiliaires. The railroad favored the children of railroad workers and other Africans employed by Europeans as auxiliaires. but it was open to anyone. Diombana personally knew some former cooks and "boys" who became excellent railroad masonry workers and even chef de chantier (foreman).

    When the graduates of the École Terrasson de Fougères joined the railroad, they found well-trained African workers who had learned their skills from the French military engineers.

    The first construction work in the Soudan was the construction of the Kayes railroad station from 1888-1890. Diombana supposed that this was the first time that Africans were hired for railroad work.

  2. Existait il un dépôt pour la formation et qualification professionelle? (Where were railroad workers trained?)

    Africans were trained during the construction of the warehouses at Kayes-Ville (built in 1888-1890), and during the construction of the buildings "d'Exploitation" at Kayes-Plateau (constructed 1895-1897). The station at Mahina was built during the period 1900-1904. The station at Toukoto was built during 1902-1905. The warehouses and station at Bamako were used as the training center in 1924. A special center served as the main training center at Toukoto from 1952-1960. After independence, all training was done in Bamako.

  3. Les differentes hièrarchies à gravir, distinction dans traitements entre cheminots soudanais et patronement blanc (How were railroad workers ranked for the pupose of compensation?)

    The three old cadres -- cadre local sécondaire, cadre local supérieur, cadre commun supérieur -- were reorganized in a single cadre under the Statut du personnel permanent (SPP, created in 1947). There were ten levels to the SPP. The old cadre local sécondaire became the first level, the cadre local supérieur became the second, and the third cadre (known as 335/704) was the "cadre transitoire." The fourth level was the cadre supérieur and the rest were the cadre général or statut général. There were a total of nine levels of promotions and a worker was eligible for promotion every two years. Promotion took place by exam or by special recommendation.

  4. Quels etait nos advantages et droits? (What benefits and rights did railroad workers receive?)

    At the end of the year, railroad workers received performance bonuses equal to 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of their monthly salary. Expatriate workers received six months of vacation every two years, while local workers received three months of vacation every three years. All rail travel during the vacation was free.

    There were various allowances for travel and lodging during the course of work. Medical care was free. Taxes were not withheld from wages.

    There was a buying cooperative that supplied vegetables and fruits from a jardin potager (vegetable garden) at Thiès, plus building materials, basic foods, and other necessities.

    New workers received aid in the form of discount furniture from the workshops, bedding, etc. "Personnel de conduite" (people involved with scheduled train operations) received a free pocket watch, while painters and welders received free milk. Emergency loans were also available for baptisms and funerals. Residential areas and the largest stations were equipped with "pompes Worthington," wells and water towers, plus electric lighting. The stations also provided industrial ice.

  5. Pouvez vous évoquée des moments épiques, des évenements importants qui ont jalonné la vie du cheminot Soudanais et qui ont abouté a l'obtention de certains droits? (Could you describe any important events that empowered the railroad workers?)

    Diombana claimed that the 1921 strike in Kayes inspired later activity by Soudanese cheminots. He mentioned Tiémoko Garan Konyaté as the leader. He also mentioned Mahmadu Cissé, the chef de gare at Tabako, who died rather than accept transport from strikebreakers to the hospital at Kayes. "Il est ainsi resté pour tous les cheminotsSoudanais, le modéle et la référence" (He [Cissé] has been a role model for Soudanese railroad workers.]

  6. Voyez vous une différence entre la vie présente du cheminot et celle que vous avez connu? (How is the life of a modern railroad worker different your experience?)

    First, I'd like to state that cheminots were aware of the negative impact of colonialism because they were members of society. They saw or heard about the gardes-cercle and the white commandants. They experienced forced labor.

    Cheminots also met honorable Europeans who provided good examples. For example, M. de Fongalland (Directeur du Chemin de Fer Dakar-Niger), M. Caillot who founded the École Nationale des Ingénieurs in Bamako, Father Bouvier who loved this country when it was young.

    After the colonial period, the Federation of Mali fell apart, with bad consequences for cheminots. They were forced to flee Senegal, but the cheminots were willing to give up everything for independance, for which no price was too much to pay.

    The same courage allowed Malians to survive the recent Sahelian drought. Cheminots had faith in the UDPM (ruling political party) and believed that it could provide the same unity that was characteristic of the Malian civilization, strong enough to resist any outside force. The UDPM had evolved, but it has not broken with tradition or taken on a foreign identity.

    Soudanese are not "tricksters." They try to live in a spirit of love and charity, with mutual respect. Those qualities enabled the Soudanese to withstand one of the strongest colonial powers in the world.

    During the 1939-1945 war, our schools suffered greatly. Two Soudanese teachers, Karamoko Sangaré and Tiémoko Sangaré, risked their careers to lead students from the École Terrasson de Fougères in protest over poor food. They also exposed a corrupt European inspector at the école de la Poudrière in Bamako.