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

By Hilary Jones | Go to book overview

7
Urban Politics and the Limits
of Republicanism (1890–1920)

And there it is gentlemen, the accusations that help those who
would succeed in introducing in a country the prejudice of color! …
You know that in no other country do elections take place with as
much calm and courtesy between candidates and voters; that far from
making choices based on origin, each list [in Senegal] includes black,
white and mulatto candidates. The reasoning of Mr. Sonolet is, therefore, in all
points contradictory to the truth and it is enough to destroy the arguments of
he who opposes the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, to remind
him that in this country we have always firmly followed the sublime principles
of the Revolution summarized by these words inscribed in the frontispiece of
all the public monuments, “liberty, equality and above all fraternity.”

—Georges Crespin, General Council session, February 1912

M. Louis Sonolet, like many twentieth-century observers, considered the existence of democratic institutions in Senegal to be an anomaly. In his view, republican institutions such as the General Council amounted to a premature and dangerous gesture that placed the weighty responsibility of governance in African hands.1 On the eve of World War I, French objectives in West Africa no longer concerned managing two coastal settlements and a handful of river trade posts. Instead, French rule involved maintaining authority over a territory of approximately 4.7 million miles and a vast population of different linguistic, cultural, and political identities.2 Assimilation no longer seemed a logical or rational system for colonial administration. Officials in Dakar and Saint Louis looked to consolidate their

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