secondary work

Amidu Magasa, Papa Commandant a jeté un grand filet devant nous: les exploités des rives du Niger, 1902-1962 (Paris: Maspero, 1978).

in ANFOM library, n°C7496
Notes © 1999 by Jim Jones, Ph.D.

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NOTE: This book presents a history of labor on the Office du Niger project, taken from oral sources.

Table of Contents
Heading Page
Preface (par Claude Meillasoux) 9
Avant-propos 17
I. Grands travaux et travaux forcés 21

A. les tâches 23

1. le recrutement 23

2. les travaux publics 24

3. les routes 24

4. le transport de matériaux 28

5. la construction des bâtiments 29

6. la corvée de bois 29

7. la construcion des digues 30

8. le transport de l'eau 30

B. les pratiques colonialistes 30

1. la ration du cheval 30 mesure de "gongo" 31 sauce au poulet 31 cuisine 31 perception d'imp“t 32

6.quand les plats étaient mauvais 32

7.les séances de massage 33
II. Les créateurs de l'Office du Niger 35

A. le complexe agro-pastural de l'Office du Niger 35

B. la "2ième portion" du contingent à l'Office du Niger: camps de travail ou de concentration 50

C.le temoinage des "travaux forcés" 57
III. Les colons à l'Office du Niger 83

A. la colonisation agricole des terres irriguées 84

B. du travail forcé au colonat 89

C. le témoinage des colons 97
IV. La vision du vainqueur 113

A. le S.T.I.N. ou l'étape du fouet 113

B. les technocrates (Bélime, Zahan) ou l'étape du discours 118
V. Idéal colonialiste et réalité de l'exploitation 127

A. esclavage, travail forcé et travail contractuel imposé 127

B. la féodalité, instrument politique de l'état-patron 133
VI. Luttes paysans 145

A. l'opposition syndicale et le piège démocratique (les associations agricoles indigènes) 145

B. la politique agricole du R.D.A.: des luttes syndicales à l'organisation coopérative 148
VII. Conclusions 155

Preface (written by Claude Meillasoux)

(p9) The Office du Niger was supposed to rival the development projects undertaken by the British and to provide cotton for France.

(p10) It was begun in 1920 by a private company, the Compagnie Générale des Colonies, and constructed for the most part during the 1930s. Thee private company was replaced by a public corporation in 1924.

In 1920, the engineer M. Hirsh founded the Compagnie de Culture Cotonnière du Niger. It failed in 1929 and its assets were purchased by the Colony of Soudan.

(p11) The Office du Niger never became profitable. Instead, it cost Malian lives.

Forced labor was finally abolished in 1946 in the French colonies.


(p19) The problems with this study are typical of oral tradition - people clam up in front of the microphone, few women wish to contribute, and informants have a tendency to tell the truth that they remember rather than some sort of objective truth.

I. Grands travaux et travaux forcés (p21)

(p23) One informant was Madu Bary, a marabout from the village of Seebugu, 7km southwest of Ségou along the road to Bamako. He was aged 90 (in 1976). He said that after the whites arrived, they liberated all slaves and said that everyone now worked for themself. The only condition was that they had to pay taxes.

(pp23-24) Another informant was Baba Kulubaly, aka. Dankelen, a farmer aged 75. He reported that when the call came to report to work, there was barely enough time to get ready. Workers prepared a mixture of cous-cous and peanuts that they ate for the entire week they were away at work. After work, they mixed it with a little water to make it edible.

Another informant was Fula-Bèn Sidibe, aka. Fankelen, a colonist at Fulabugu aged 59. He said that if there were no men in the family, the French took women and put them to work. The auxiliaries des gardes-cercles , who were usually the sons of chiefs, particularly sought out beautiful women, even if they themselves were already married.

Dankelen remembered that a whistle was used to call them to work in the morning.

Bary said that in the evening, they had to stand in double rows by section - road workers, porters, those who carried shells for the blast-furnace, brickmakers, etc.

Another informant, Manyan Kulubaly, was a colonist at Bamakokura aged 85. He reported that when he worked for the railroad, he received one franc a day. In Côte d'Ivoire, before Abidjan was built, Africans were beaten with a whip if they looked directly at a white man. So he left to Senegal for three years. There he had to pay taxes.

(p25) Dankelen reported that at first, roads were made with "tonkunbilennin" or red earth (an iron-rich soil called laterite). Later, they used gravel and finally, pavement.

Fatumata Kulubaly, a housekeeper aged about 50 from Djenne, said that women were required to carry the water used to dampen the road. It was difficult because the men followed you everywhere. The gardes-cercle insulted the women.

Fankelen reported that the women had to carry gravel too. Only the mistresses of the sons of the chiefs avoided being beaten.

Bary told of songs sung by the workers that complained of their treatment. The gardes-cercles understood nothing, so the songs could insult them too.

(p26) Mamadu Kansaye, an interpreter (Peul-Dogon and Bambara- French), aged 65 years, mentioned that people were required to assist the commandant's car down a long slope near their village. Women were required to load the vehicle. After that, everyone ran away. This took place in 1935-1936.

The author mentioned that the fonio harvest took place in October-November.

(p28) Everyone mentioned carrying heavy loads - spools of wire, large pieces of wood, gravel - on their heads. The labor period was 30 days, during which time they had very little to eat.

Fatumata reported that they mixed shells, sand and water from the river and baked the results in an oven to make bricks for buildings.

(p30) Bary mentioned a worker named Mamadu who was beaten and died later that day in his tent. The workers were beaten as often as the donkeys.

(p31) Fatumata said that when a garde-cercle was in the area, each family in the village was required to supply one and a half kilograms of millet "for his horse". In large villages, this could amount to 500-700 kilograms, but in the event that his horse didn't eat it all, the garde-cercle loaded it on donkeys to take away for himself. Each person in the village was also required to provide 12 kilograms of millet to feed workers, even if there was no need for that much. They were also required to provide a chicken with which to prepare a sauce for the millet. As usual, the surplus not returned.

Fatumata also reported that the families were required to do the cooking for the gardes-cercle. It had to be better than the normal cooking, so everyone made an extra effort to prepare their best dish. It had to have chicken in the sauce or else you were beaten.

(p32) With regard to the collection of taxes, Fatumata said that when the census takers arrived, the chief of the village told the people of the village to declare a lower number than were actually in the family. She said that the people thought this was to avoid paying the full amount of tax, but it turned out to be a swindle launched by the gardes-cercle. They delivered tax payments to the French district officer based on the number of declared persons, but the people of the village were forced to pay the amount due on all of the people--declared and undeclared--to the chief, who split the surplus with the gardes-cercle.

Fatumata continued by saying that if the gardes- cercles didn't like what was cooked for them, the women who did the cooking were stripped and beaten. (p33) She also mentioned that the gardes-cercle often required the women to provide them with "massages."

II. Les créateurs de l'Office du Niger (p35)

In essence, the author says that France tried to do in the 20th century what England and the USA had done in the 19th century - develop their cotton sources on a large scale. When it didn't work, they blamed the Africans for being lazy and stupid.

(p39) This table shows the stages in the development of the Office du Niger:

Year Location Description
1926 Masina dike built by Service Temporaire d'Irrigation du Niger (STIN)
1924 Sotuba canal constructed by STIN
1925 Aigrettes 1st dam of Office du Niger
1925 Koulikoro first economic colony (village) at Nyenebale, 12km from Koulikoro
1934 Markala constuction of dam at Sansanding begins
1945 Markala dam at Sansanding completed
1960 Markala Republic of Mali takes over Office du Niger
1962 Markala Africans replace all Europeans at Office du Niger

(p51) Each year, the French inducted able-bodied men into the first and second class portions of the military. The 1st class portion carried arms while the second class served as a reserve, and in the meantime provided labor in work camps. Drafteees into the second class were concentrated in work camps in companies of 1,000 to 5,000 men.

This is a list of work camps for the Office du Niger: on the right bank, Markala (workshops), Pingely (navigation canal), Jamarabugu (dam constuction) and Npebugu (for carriers). On the left bank: Sarakala (main water inlet canal), Bucyrus (not explained), Banjugu (canal du Sahel), Kayo (canal nord) and Kokiry (outlet canal). Each camp had between 350 and 850 men under the control of a French commandant and sub-officers, plus African auxiliaries.

(pp58-60) Bilali Jalo, a former slave from Tènèkum, "muezzin" (Muslim leader) and mason, describes his years in the forced labor service. His testimony covers several pages and mentions a variety of jobs - ditch digging, dike construction, peanut cultivation. Interestingly enough, he worked as a laborer before he was drafted for labor. As a peanut farmer, he received 3 francs a day. He also mentions the large number of men who deserted because the work was too hard and the rations insufficient.

(p71) Another worker, a mechanic named Cèm•g• Keyita, was born in Kita around 1910. He worked as a mechanic on the Niger river boats. He mentions that the boat Gallieni was built at Koulikoro about 1928 and that he was part of the group that built the Archinard and "le cent vingt tonnes" (the 120 tons) in one month and 25 days. He also mentions wood-fired mechanical excavators ("biches russes") at work along the river near Markala.

III. Les colons à l'Office du Niger (p83)

(p111) This table provides a list of villages colonized by the Office du Niger:

Year colonized Name of village Ethnicity of inhabitants
1935 Sangarebugu Bambara
1936 Dar Salam Bambara
1936 Medina Bambara
1937 Bamakokura Bambara
1937 Segukura Bambara
1937 Nèmabugu Bambara
1937 Wayiguya Mossi
1938 Siginogo‹ Mossi
1939 Tugankura Samogo
1940 Lafiyala Samogo
1941 Namsigo‹ Mosi and Samogo
1938 Fulabugu Minyanka

IV. La vision du vainqueur (p113)

(p114) In 1929, the STIN constructed workshops and stores at Markala.

(p115) In 1930, the STIN built its headquarters, power plant, water tower, store, and two garages in Ségou using 600-700 workers.

(p116) During the period from 1926-1934, the STIN spent 13 million francs on salaries for whites and 15 million on wages paid to African workers.

V. Idéal colonialiste et réalité de l'exploitation (p127)

(p144) The Loi no.52 1322 du 15 Decembre 1952 included provisions advanced by both the Communist party and the R.D.A. (which was seated with the PCF in the French National Assembly). They included the right to strike, a 40-hour week (but not for agricultural workers) recognition for unions, paid vacations and prestations familiales et prénatales (maternity and family leave).

VI. Luttes paysans (p145)

(p145) In April 1944, African colons at Niono (Cercle de Ségou) demonstrated for the right to leave their fields and go home.

In 1954, Dr. Mamadou Gologo createed the Syndicat des Colons et Agriculteurs de l'Office du Niger (Union of Settlers and Farmers of the Office du Niger), which was allied with the centrale syndicaliste à Bamako (union federation in Bamako).

VII. Conclusions (p155)

(p155) The Office du Niger was a forced labor camp.

Since 1913, peanut culture in Senegal drew navétanes from Mali, particularly from Kayes, Bamako and Bougouni.

(p156) Most came from Kita and Kaarta (Nioro-Nara-Nema) to work for Senegalese property owners

One third of work was for the land owner (two days of work per week), two thirds for themselves and one day off.

Ten percent of what they earned from selling their produce went to the land owner. In addition, theey had to pay for food and lodging. If they had a bad year, they had to find work at the docks or other labor to pay taxes that were sometimes levied at their village of origin as well as the village where they worked.