The Métis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa

By Hilary Jones | Go to book overview

6
Electoral Politics and the Métis (1870–90)

The decade of the 1870s offered new opportunities for the métis to assert power and influence within the colonial system. Although they had lost their monopoly over the middleman sector of the colonial economy, the economic, cultural, and social networks that métis families had developed allowed them entry into the political arena. In the 1870s, when the Third Republic expanded electoral institutions in Senegal, the métis capitalized on these reforms by winning seats in the local assemblies. Because of their education, ties to metropolitan commerce and the administration, and their familiarity with the local situation, the métis were well positioned to take advantage of the expansion of democratic institutions, and French officials relied on their cooperation.

Histories of modern politics in Senegal tend to cast the late nineteenth century as an intermediary phase between a politics of French hegemony and the emergence of African nationalism, in which “electoral clans” dominated commune politics and candidates relied on patron-clientage to mobilize African voters in support of their candidates.1 Racial identity had little to do with political alliances. The métis supported political parties that identified with Bordeaux commerce, the clergy, and Gaspard Devès’s coalition of “Senegalese interests.” Prominent African town residents organized the African electorate to support candidates with whom they had established ties, regardless of race. Saint Louis held particular importance as the capital of the colony, the headquarters of the General Council, and the commune with the largest population. Politics in Senegal’s capital differed little from city politics in metropolitan France. Commune politics involved strategic alliances, questionable tactics, and even “buying” votes.2

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