secondary work

Babacar Fall and Mohamed Mbodj, "Forced Labor and Migration in Senegal" in Forced Labor and Migration: Patterns of Movement within Africa, edited by Abebe Zegeye and Shubi Ishemo (New York: Hans Zell Publishers, 1989)

Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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Note: This chapter appears in pages 255-268.

(p255) Thanks to the groundnut (peanut) economy, the government did not have to interfer as strongly in the monetarization of social relations.

(p256) As the Senegal colonial economy became integrated into the world economy, the free labor market was the dominant force that induced Africans to participate in the system. In addition, taxation, forced labor conscription for transportation projects and price regulation to induce groundnut agriculture were also inducements. [See Bernard Founou-Tchuigowa, Fondements de l'économie et traite au Sénégal (Paris: Silex, 1981), pp52-53.]

From 1840-1930, the "liberal period", groundnut agriculture flourished and the peasant remained relatively better off than the urban worker. Thus urban workers tended to migrate to the country during the rainy season for agriculture, and back to the cities in the dry season to take temporary jobs.

The colonial government did little to interfer with the flow of workers, and mostly encouraged it. The main flow for groundnut cultivation was from the Soudan and French Guinea to Senegal. This flow, called the navétanat, created a free market exchange of groundnut agriculture labor for money to pay taxes and acquire goods for import to the home colonies. The principal form of government intervention was to regulate the size of the worker flow in order to assure sufficient labor power. The main determinant of labor force size was the price of groundnuts.

(p257) Salaried, specialized labor developed earliest in Senegalese towns like St. Louis, Dakar and Rufisque. There was demand for specialized labor outside of Senegal, so regulations beginning in 1895 were intended to prevent the loss of scarce specialized labor. In 1915, the government recognized the need to requisition labor from May to October for the railroad shops at Thiès and the port of Dakar. [See "Rapport sur la main d'oeuvre (A.O.F. 1915) in Archives Nationale de Senegal K55 (19).]

Although more limited than in Guinea or Soudan, forced labor in Senegal was distinquished by its military organization and the violent methods of recruitment, which relied on collaboration between the French administration and native authorities.

(p258) Between 1900 and 1936, the administration used forced labor principally for building and maintaining the transport system. The population resisted and rather than raise wages, the French used coercion. The French military, having finished with conquest, turned towards "pacification" in order to provide labor, both for government and private enterprises.

Corvée exactions were regulated by the local decree of November 25, 1912 which required tax payers to provide, in addition to taxes, a fixed number of days of work for transportation route construction. All able-bodied men were required to go, and only the elderly, soldiers, provincial guards, customs or forestry workers were exempt. Corvée labor was not required during the agricultural seasons.

(p259) In addition, no one could be assigned to corvée labor at a distance of more than five kilometers from the village of origin without providing rations in cash or kind. The length of service varied, but in 1926, the corvée was eight days in Senegal, ten in Guinea and twelve in Soudan and Mauritania.

In 1930, the Geneva Convention outlawed the corvée as a form of forced labor. The French passed their own law, the decree of September 12, 1930, which exchanged labor service for a direct tax charged against all men aged 18-60. This tax could be paid in cash or produce, although some people were required to pay only in cash. The same law reduced the number of chargeable days, and a subsequent law of November 3, 1936 reduced those days further.

Corvée labor maintained all roads and airfields. These were developed much later than river and railroad transport. At first, road building was limited to prevent competition with the railroads, but after 1916 roads were constructed as feeders for the railroad network. [See "Rapport politique annuel" (1916) in ANS 2G 16/4 Sénégal for a quotation concerning the need for roads to complement railroad construction.]

(p260) In Senegal after 1920, the introduction of trucks and the growth of the groundnut trade led to the rapid increase in road construction. [See Serigne Bamba Ndiaye, La mise en place du réseau routier au Sénégal 1900-1940 (Memoire de maitrise Université de Dakar, Départment d'Histoire, 1977-78), pp19-24.]

From 1900 to 1928, the pre-existing network of roads and tracks was improved to ensure connections between urban centers and economic zones. Routes had no economic justification, but were instead creations of the adminsitration, built to facilitate inspection tours. As a result of the colony's limited financial resources, the administration was obliged to use forced labor to construct these roads.

After 1928, economic growth had reached the point that it could support, through taxes and customs duties, an effort by the department of public works to build quality all-season roads. Until 1936, most labor was unskilled and obtained by the corvée, but after 1937, the corvée system was reformed, substituting cash payments for labor service. With the resultant income, machines were purchased and road work was paid.

(p261) Corvée labor was organized as follows: Due to the shortage of finances and material resources, road work was seasonal until 1928. At the end of the rainy season, the Provincial Governor would summon the local administrators and pass on their quota for recruitment. Chiefs made the local decisions as to who would serve. This was a substantial part of their power over the local people. They also chose overseers from among their own relatives and subordinates. The Provincial Governor provided military auxilliaries, provincial guards and translators to oversee the workers.

(p262) The workers recieved tools from the adminsitrators--machetes, hatchets, spades and baskets--for weeding, tree-cutting and leveling of the road surface.

Although official records suggest that the French provided rations for all laborers more than five kilometers from home, the recollections of workers who were interviewed suggest that this was rare. The pooling of food amongst the workers was one basis of group solidarity.

(p263) The corvée was so unattractive to Africans that whole villages deserted rather than comply. According to the authors, "The desertion of villages along the length of the major highways attests in concrete form to the disastrous results of this policy." [See "Lettre du ministre des Colonies à M. le Gouverneur de l'AOF" (Paris, March 9, 1938), in ANS K8 (1)]

(p264) A number of private companies relied on the colonial administration for labor, including the Compagnie des Cultures Tropicales en Afrique (CCTA) at Wassadou in Tambacounda province, La Société de Plantation de la Haute Casamance (Kolda), La Société des Salins de Sine-Saloum (Kaolack); La Société Agricole de Lat-Mingué (Kaolack) and La Société Industrielle des Mines du Falémé-Gambie. All were in southeast Senegal where labor was in short supply. The labor of salt extraction was particularly unpleasant.

The CCTA recruited workers and gave them a financial stake in groundnut production in order to keep them and to encourage them to instruct new workers.

(p265) In Lat-Mingué between 1921 and 1925, the CFAO experimented with the use of heavy engines (more than 20 American tractors) and machinery for agriculture. When the experiemnt failed, they turned increasingly to labor supplied by the corvée. This type of work conflicted with the Africans' own agricultural work, so the company was unable to attract free labor.

One of the demographic consequences of this policy was that Senegal's population remained low, growing at a rate of only 1.8% per year between 1900 and 1946.

(p266) The migration of navétanes continued throughout these period and created mor significant effects than the temporary displacements caused by the corvée.

A few significant migrations did occur. Toucouleurs moved from the Senegalese left bank to the Mauritanian right bank of the Senegal River where the corvée was less strictly enforced after 1911. A similar movement took place from Sine-Saloum towards the Gambia after 1910. Much later, in 1934-36, the Administration organized migration in the "Terres Neuves" program.

(p267) In conclusion, forced labor policies had relatively little impact on internal migration in Senegal.