When the French regained possession of their colonies in 1818, the colony of Senegal consisted of two coastal islands, Saint-Louis and Goree, and several trading posts. When France agreed reluctantly to abolish the slave trade in the Treaty of Paris (1815), it deprived Senegal of its commercial base. The mixture of metis (those of mixed blood) and French traders who dominated the colony had to find a new source of wealth. After the failure of a colonization scheme, Saint-Louis thrust itself into the trade in gum, produced from acacia trees on the north bank of the Senegal River. Goree lived off coasting trade until the development of peanut exports in the 1840s provided Senegal with the crop that was thenceforth the basis of its economy.
France depended on its relations with neighboring African states, to whom it made annual payments for the right to trade. In 1848, these relations were briefly disrupted by the French abolition of slavery. Fearing flight to the French towns, several African states cut off trade. In 1854, a new governor, Louis Faidherbe, decided to force a change in these obligations. In a three-year war, he forced the Moors to accept suppression of customs payments, occupied Walo, the kingdom opposite Saint-Louis, and established French hegemony over the Futa Toro, a kingdom that stretched along the Senegal River. Later, he occupied parts of Kajoor and forced the kings of Siin and Saalum to accept French posts. War in Europe and military defeat suspended the forward movement, and the French were forced to allow their major enemy, Kajoor’s Damel, Lat Dior, to return to power. A decade later, Lat Dior objected to French plans to build a railroad for the export of peanuts from Kajoor. The railroad was built, Lat Dior was defeated and killed in 1886, and by 1891, almost all of Senegal was in French hands.
The 1880s and 1890s also saw the conquest of what became French West Africa. The federation was established in 1895 and received a definitive form in 1904.
Senegal, however, differed from the other colonies in two ways. First, Senegal was France’s partner in the conquest. France conquered West Africa with an army of Africans, mostly of slave origin and largely recruited in Senegal. Dakar was the capital and Senegal provided the clerks, telegraph operators, riverboat captains, and railway workers. There was a Senegalese quarter in Bamako and Senegalese traders and officials through western and equatorial Africa. One Senegalese, Mademba Sy, was made fama, or king, of the Sansanding in the French Sudan.
The second difference is that the Four Communes, the old coastal towns, had a measure of self-government shared by no other colony in Africa. The colony had representatives to French parliaments the revolutions of 1789 and 1848, and then after the establishment of the Third Republic in 1871, won the right to municipal self-government, to an elected General Council, and to a representative in the French parliament. The General Council had control over part of the budget, though the lines of authority were regularly contested. The existence of African elected officials served to limit the arbitrariness that marked colonial rule elsewhere and softened many of the harsh edges. Senegal experienced much less brutality and discrimination. The deputy was French until 1902, when a metis lawyer was elected and then, in 1914, an African, Blaise Diagne. Up to this time, the rights of people in the Four Communes were not clearly defined, but Diagne made a condition of his support for military recruitment in World War I confirmation of the citizenship of his electors. Thus, they were not subject to the indigenat, the law code that ruled most of French Africa and had all of the rights of other French persons. The French often talked of assimilation as a goal, but only in Senegal—and mostly in the Four Communes—did much assimilation take place. After the war, the General Council was renamed the Colonial Council and was emasculated with the addition of a series of appointed chiefs who could be counted on to support the colonial government. Diagne, however, was regularly reelected until his death in 1934, when he was succeeded by another African, Galandou Diouf.
The rest of Senegal was divided into cantons, headed by chiefs recruited mostly from traditional ruling families. The cantons were grouped into cercles, each headed by a French administrator. Increasingly, however, real authority devolved on Muslim leaders called marabouts. The most effective resistance to the French conquest was from a series of Muslim reformers. Faidherbe realized early that if he wished to govern Senegal he had to find allies in the Muslim community. The most important was Bou-el-Mogdad, who was cadi of Saint-Louis and undertook several missions for Faidherbe. Not all of his successors
Agreed with Faidherbe’s policy, but eventually it prevailed. The colonial state used Muslims as agents, built mosques, financed the pilgrimage of the most loyal to Mecca, and was sensitive to their religious sensibilities. As the superiority of French arms became evident, more religious leaders decided to yield the political sphere to the French. The most important of these was Malik Sy, a disciple of the tijaniya religious brotherhood. His major rival was Amadu Bamba, son of Lat Dior’s former cadi. He founded his own religious order, the Mourides, which preached piety, submission, and hard work. The French feared his popularity and deported him twice, but with time accommodation prevailed. Mouride colonies spread peanut cultivation into east and south into areas hitherto used mostly by pastoralists. Mourides were recruited for the French army and the French, in turn provided money for the construction of a large mosque at Touba, the order’s capital. Politicians from Diagne on generally sought Mouride votes and financial aid.
In 1946, the constitution of the Fourth Republic extended the vote to all parts of the empire. In the first election, socialist candidates Lamine Gueye and Leopold Sedar Senghor prevailed. A poet, grammarian, and former teacher of Greek and Latin, Senghor became known as the deputy for the peasants. In 1951, with Mouride support, he challenged Gueye and won. He served in the French parliament until 1958, when Senegal was given self-government and Senghor became its first president.
Martin A. Klein
Barry, Boubacar. Senegambia and the Atlantic Slave Trade: Senegambia before the Colonial Conquest. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Cruise O’Brien, Donal. The Mourides of Senegal: The Political and Economic Organization of an Islamic Brotherhood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
Johnson, G. Wesley. The Emergence of Black Politics in Senegal: The Struggle for Power in the Four Communes, 1900-1920. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1971.
Manchuelle, Francois. Willing Migrants. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1998.
Robinson, David. Paths of Accomodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 2001.