French Sudan

Last updated

French Sudan
Soudan français
Colony of French West Africa
Flag of French Sudan.svg
French West Africa map.png
Green: French Sudan
Lime: French West Africa
Gray: Other French possessions
Black: French Republic
La Marseillaise
Capital Bamako 1
1,241,238 km2 (479,245 sq mi)
Historical eraNew Imperialism
c. 1880
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Blank.png Wassoulou Empire
Blank.png Toucouleur Empire
Blank.png Kénédougou Kingdom
Blank.png Mossi Kingdoms
French West Africa Flag of France (1794-1815, 1830-1958).svg
Mali Federation Flag of Mali (1959-1961).svg
Today part of Mali
1 Kayes (1892–1899)

French Sudan (French : Soudan français; Arabic : السودان الفرنسيas-Sūdān al-Faransī) was a French colonial territory in the Federation of French West Africa from around 1880 until 1959, when it joined the Mali Federation, and then in 1960, when it became the independent state of Mali. The colony was formally called French Sudan from 1890 until 1899 and then again from 1921 until 1958, and had a variety of different names over the course of its existence. The colony was initially established largely as a military project led by French troops, but in the mid-1890s it came under civilian administration.


A number of administrative reorganizations in the early 1900s brought increasing French administration over issues like agriculture, religion, and slavery. Following World War II, the African Democratic Rally (RDA) under Modibo Keïta became the most significant political force pushing for independence.

French Sudan initially retained close connections with France and joined in a short-lived federation with Senegal in 1959, but ties to both countries quickly weakened. In 1960, the French Sudan formally became the Republic of Mali and began to distance itself further from Senegal and France.

Colonial establishment

The wealth of the Mali Empire; here Mansa Musa is depicted holding a gold nugget from the 1375 Catalan Atlas, which led the French to pursue colonization of the area. Mansa Musa.jpg
The wealth of the Mali Empire; here Mansa Musa is depicted holding a gold nugget from the 1375 Catalan Atlas, which led the French to pursue colonization of the area.

French Sudan was formed as a set of military outposts as an extension of the French colony in Senegal. [1] Though the area offered France little economic or strategic gain, the military effectively advocated greater conquest in the region. This was partly due to a fascination with the great empires, such as the Mali Empire and the Songhay Empire that rose to prominence in the area, and partly due to the promotional opportunities that military conquest offered for French military personnel. [2]

French conquest began in 1879, when Joseph Gallieni was dispatched to the area to establish a fort and survey the land for a railroad from Dakar in Senegal to the Niger River. [2] This was followed with the establishment of a number of French forts and political alliances with specific leaders in the region in the early 1880s. The administrative structure of the area was still largely under control of the French Governor of Senegal, and the most significant colonization were simply the military forts and outposts, including the important one established at Kayes in 1881 by Gustave Borgnis-Desbordes. [2] Though the civilian administration of the French governor of Senegal formally ruled the area, military officers in the region largely bypassed these leaders and answered directly to commanding officers in Paris. [2] Desbordes gradually took over more territory, often using inter-ethnic rivalries and political tension among leaders in the area to appoint French-supportive leaders. [3]

French civilian administrators struggled with the military leaders, and the two forces went through a number of leadership changes over the territory, until Louis Archinard was appointed military governor in 1892. Archinard led military campaigns against Samori Ture, Ahmadu Tall, and other resistant leaders in the region, with varying success. [4] Archinard's campaigns were often executed through direct military control, without civilian oversight. As costs increased, the French administration decided to replace Archinard's control over the area with a civilian governor, Louis Albert Grodet. [5]

Administration and jurisdiction

Names of colony
1880–1890Upper River
1890–1899French Sudan
1899–1902Divided into two administrative districts: Middle Niger and Upper Senegal
1902–1904 Senegambia and Niger
1904–1921 Upper Senegal and Niger
1921–1958French Sudan
1958–1960Sudanese Republic
1960Independent as Mali Federation (June–September), Republic of Mali (after 22 September)
Map of French colonies in West Africa in 1889 French Soudan 1889.jpg
Map of French colonies in West Africa in 1889

The region was governed under a number of different names between 1880 and 1960. The area was Upper River from 1880 until 18 August 1890, when it was renamed French Sudan, with its capital at Kayes. On 10 October 1899, French Sudan was divided, with the southern cercles joining coastal colonies, and the rest split into two administrative areas called Middle Niger and Upper Senegal. In 1902, the region again was organized as a unified colony under the name Senegambia and Niger (Sénégambie et Niger). [6] [7] The name changed again in 1904 to Upper Senegal and Niger (Haut Sénégal et Niger). Finally, in 1921, the name changed back to French Sudan (Soudan Français). [6] [7]

Borders and administration of the colony similarly changed a number of times. Originally, and for the initial period, the colony vacillated between military administration and civilian administration from Senegal. [8] In 1893, French Sudan formally came under civilian administration, which lasted until 1899. At that point, a reorganization of the colony split 11 southern provinces to other French colonies like French Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Dahomey. [1]

The area that was not reorganized was governed in two administrations linked to other French colonies. Following this, the territory of the colony was reestablished in 1902. Though the borders shifted slightly, there was little territorial change until 1933. At that point, the colony of the French Upper Volta (Haute-Volta, modern Burkina Faso) dissolved, and the northern territory was added to French Sudan. [1]

In 1947, Upper Volta was reestablished, and the French Sudan borders became those that eventually became the borders of Mali. [6] [7] Kayes was the original capital city from the 1890s until 1908 when the capital moved to Bamako, where it remains. [9]


The colony supported mostly rain-fed agriculture, with limited irrigation for its first 30 years. The only cash crops were nuts gathered close to the railroad between Kayes and Bamako. [10] However, following successful tests of growing Egyptian cotton in West Africa during World War I, Émile Bélime  [ fr ] began to campaign for the construction of a large irrigation system along the Niger River. [11] Starting in 1921, significant irrigation projects around Koulikoro and later at Baguinéda-Camp and the Ségou Cercle began to bring water. [12] The French believed this project could rival the major cotton growing centers of Egypt and the United States. [13]

Unlike other agricultural projects in French West Africa, the French Sudan irrigation project initially relied on families voluntarily resettling along lines established by the colonial authority. Unable to attract enough volunteers, the colonial authorities began to try forced resettlement to the cotton project. [14] The Office du Niger was founded in 1926 as the main organization facilitating planned, irrigated agricultural projects. [15] Farmers resisted forced resettlement and petitioned for permanent land rights to the irrigated land (which was usually held as property of the Office du Niger). Despite these efforts, a significant cash crop economy did not develop in the French Sudan. [16]

Religious policy

Like much of the rest of French West Africa, the colony had a number of policies regarding Islam and the Muslim communities. [17] The Arabic language and Islamic law were preferred in the colony by the French in the establishment of colonial government, largely because both were codified, and thus easy to standardize. [18]

Though they maintained a formal neutrality policy in regard to religion, the French colonial administration began to regulate Islamic education in the early 1900s. [19] In addition, fear of a pan-Islamism political rise throughout North Africa and the Sahel led the French to adopt policies that aimed to prevent the spread of Islam beyond where it already existed and to prevent Muslim leaders from governing non-Muslim communities. [20] [21] Indigenous religions and Christianity existed under less formal policies, and French efforts often used these to balance the spread of Islam in the region.

In the 1940s, a religious movement called Allah Koura began in the San Cercle based upon the visions of a single person. [22] Local administrators allowed the Allah Koura movement to spread and practice, seeing it as a potential limiting influence on the spread of Islam farther south. [23] In the late 1950s, Muslim protests and riots throughout the colony further contributed to a growing independence movement. [21]

Slavery policy

The French slavery policy for much of the 19th century was inconsistent and context-dependent. Slavery had been formally outlawed in 1848, but enforcement was often non-existent. Slaves were freed in directly administered colonies in 1883, and active interdiction of slave caravans began in the 1890s. This was dependent on the military situation, however; slavery was not interfered with in allied areas, but anti-French chiefs saw their runaway slaves welcomed and settled in villages de liberte. These functioned as labor reserves for the French, however, and many former slaves left them quickly. [24] :382–3

In 1903, the government instructed French administrators not to use slave as an administrative category anymore and to not help masters recapture runaways. [25] [24] :384 In March 1905, a slave exodus began in Banamba that preceded by six months a formal French decree ending slavery throughout French West Africa. [26] [24] :376 With legal protection, almost a million slaves followed this example by moving away from their masters and settling elsewhere. [25] The French supported these efforts by creating settlements around the Niger River and digging wells for communities elsewhere so they could farm away from their former masters. [27]

This process affected the southern and western parts of present-day Mali most significantly, but in the northern and eastern parts of the colony large numbers of slaves remained in servitude to their masters. [26] According to rough estimates, throughout the area of present-day Mali, about one-third of former slaves moved away from the slavery relationship, while two-thirds remained with their masters. [28] In the 1920s, most Tuareg households still had slaves who tended to the house and animals. [29]

Though slavery persisted, some aspects of the relationship changed with the French administration. Escaped slaves could find official protection by French authorities in the cities for a limited time. [29] Slaves could sometimes renegotiate the terms of their servitude in the changed political situation. Some were willing to agree to remain in servitude if they received control over their family life and some land to pass to their children. [28] In addition, the French administration actively worked to end slave raiding and the most clear manifestations of the slave trade, greatly reducing those means of acquiring slaves. [30] However, for many decades after the 1905 abolition of slavery, the practice continued in much of French Sudan. [31]


Printed textiles commemorating Modibo Keita, the first President of Mali, who led French Sudan to independence Keita 001.jpg
Printed textiles commemorating Modibo Keïta, the first President of Mali, who led French Sudan to independence

Following the passage of the Loi Cadre by the French National Assembly in 1956, many of the colonies in French West African began to hold elections to increase the self-determination of their territories. In the first elections held in French Sudan in 1957, the African Democratic Rally (Rassemblement Démocratique Africain, commonly known as the RDA) won the elections in French Sudan, as well as winning majorities in neighboring Ivory Coast, French Guinea, and the Upper Volta. [32] Following the French constitutional referendum of 1958, which received an overwhelming majority in support, the République soudanaise  [ fr ] declared itself a republic with internal autonomy on 24 November 1958. [33] The Sudanese Republic, as the area was now called, was the second colony after Madagascar to join the French Community, which provided it internal autonomy while linking its currency, foreign policy and defense with France. [33]

In early January 1959, there were plans for a federation linking the Sudanese Republic with Senegal, Dahomey, and the Upper Volta in a federation of autonomous states. [34] By April, however, neither Dahomey's nor Upper Volta's legislatures had ratified the federation, and so the Mali Federation was formed with only the Sudanese Republic and Senegal. [35] [36] In 1959, Modibo Keïta's RDA party won all 70 seats in the legislative elections in the Sudanese Republic and joined forces with the dominant party in Senegal, headed by Léopold Sédar Senghor. [37] The federation achieved independence on 20 June 1960 within the French Community; however, divisions between Senghor and Keïta on the governance of the federation resulted in its dissolution on 20 August 1960. [38] The area of French Sudan formally proclaimed itself the Republic of Mali and, with increasing radicalization of Keita, left the French Community in September 1960. [39]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">French West Africa</span> Colonial federation from 1895 to 1958

French West Africa was a federation of eight French colonial territories in West Africa: Mauritania, Senegal, French Sudan, French Guinea, Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Dahomey and Niger. The federation existed from 1895 until 1958. Its capital was Saint-Louis in Senegal until 1902, and then Dakar until the federation's collapse in 1960.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Upper Senegal and Niger</span> French colony in West Africa (1904-21)

Upper Senegal and Niger was a colony in French West Africa, created on 21 October 1904 from colonial Senegambia and Niger by the decree "For the Reorganisation of the general government of French West Africa".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamps and postal history of French Sudan</span>

French Sudan was established in the late nineteenth century and occupied roughly the same territory as modern Mali.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mali Federation</span> 1959–1960 French territory then independent country in West Africa

The Mali Federation was a federation in West Africa linking the French colonies of Senegal and the Sudanese Republic for two months in 1960. It was founded on 4 April 1959 as a territory with self-rule within the French Community and became independent after negotiations with France on 20 June 1960. Two months later, on 19 August 1960, the Sudanese Republic leaders in the Mali Federation mobilized the army, and Senegal leaders in the federation retaliated by mobilizing the gendarmerie ; this resulted in a tense stand-off, and led to the withdrawal from the federation by Senegal the next day. The Sudanese Republic officials resisted this dissolution, cut off diplomatic relations with Senegal, and defiantly changed the name of their country to Mali. For the brief existence of the Mali Federation, the premier was Modibo Keïta, who would later become the first President of Mali, and its government was based in Dakar, the eventual capital of Senegal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sudanian savanna</span> African region south of the Sahel

The Sudanian savanna or Sudan region is a broad belt of tropical savanna that runs east and west across the African continent, from the Ethiopian Highlands in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west. It represents the central bioregion within the broader tropical savanna biome of the Afrotropical realm. The Sahel acacia savanna, a belt of drier grasslands, lies to the north, forming a transition zone between the Sudanian savanna and the Sahara Desert phytochorion. To the Sudan's south, the more humid forest-savanna mosaic forms a transition zone between the Sudanian savanna and the Guineo-Congolian forests that lie nearer the equator.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gustave Borgnis-Desbordes</span> French general

Gustave Borgnis-Desbordes was a French general. He was a major figure in the French Imperial conquest of the French Sudan, modern Mali. He was Commandant-Superior of the French Military Territory of Haut-Sénégal, attached to the colonial government of Senegal, 1880 to 1883.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colony of Niger</span> 1900–1960 French possession in West Africa

The Colony of Niger was a French colonial possession covering much of the territory of the modern West African state of Niger, as well as portions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. It existed in various forms from 1900 to 1960 but was titled the Colonie du Niger only from 1922 to 1960.

The Ikelan are a caste within Tuareg society, who were at one time slaves or servile communities.

The French conquest of Senegal started in 1659 with the establishment of Saint-Louis, Senegal, followed by the French capture of the island of Gorée from the Dutch in 1677, but would only become a full-scale campaign in the 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamps and postal history of Burkina Faso</span>

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Burkina Faso, known as Upper Volta until July 1984.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Postage stamps and postal history of Mali</span> Aspect of history

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Mali.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Slavery in Mali</span>

Slavery in Mali exists today, with as many as 200,000 people held in direct servitude to a master. Since 2006, a movement called Temedt has been active in Mali struggling against the persistence of slavery and the discrimination associated with ex-slaves. There were reports that in the Tuareg Rebellion of 2012, ex-slaves were recaptured by their former masters. Moreover, the phenomenon of descent-based slavery still persist in different ethnic groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">France–Mali relations</span> Bilateral relations

France–Mali relations are the current and historical relations between France and Mali.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Albert Grodet</span> French civil servant, colonial administrator and politician

Louis Albert Grodet was a French civil servant, colonial administrator and politician. He trained as a lawyer, then worked his way up the ranks in the Ministry of Commerce and then the Colonial Ministry. He was governor in turn of Martinique, French Guiana, French Sudan, French Congo and French Guiana for a second term. Although forceful, he lacked leadership skills and had poor judgement. In the French Sudan he was unable to stop the army from ignoring government instructions and pursuing a costly expansionist policy. He tried but failed to suppress slavery, at a time when the local troops often expected a share of booty in the form of slaves. After retiring he was Deputy of French Guiana from 1910 to 1919.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mali–Senegal border</span> International border

The Mali–Senegal border is 489 km in length and runs from the tripoint with Mauritania in the north to the tripoint with Guinea in the south.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ivory Coast–Mali border</span> International border

The Ivory Coast–Mali border is 599 km in length and runs from the tripoint with Guinea in the west to the tripoint with Burkina Faso in the east.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burkina Faso–Mali border</span> International border

The Burkina Faso–Mali border is 1,325 km in length and runs from the tripoint with Ivory Coast in the west to the tripoint with Niger in the east.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burkina Faso–Ivory Coast border</span> International border

The Burkina Faso–Ivory Coast border is 545 km in length and runs from the tripoint with Mali in the west to the tripoint with Ghana in the east.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nigerien nationality law</span>

Nigerien nationality law is regulated by the Constitution of Niger, as amended; the Nigerien Nationality Code, and its revisions; and various international agreements to which the country is a signatory. These laws determine who is, or is eligible to be, a national of Niger. The legal means to acquire nationality, formal legal membership in a nation, differ from the domestic relationship of rights and obligations between a national and the nation, known as citizenship. Nationality describes the relationship of an individual to the state under international law, whereas citizenship is the domestic relationship of an individual within the nation. Nigerien nationality is typically obtained under the jus sanguinis, i.e. by birth in Niger or abroad to parents with Nigerien nationality. It can be granted to persons with an affiliation to the country, or to a permanent resident who has lived in the country for a given period of time through naturalization.


  1. 1 2 3 Imperato & Imperato 2008, pp. lxxxii–lxxxiii.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Klein 1998, p. 78.
  3. Thompson & Adloff 1958, p. 146.
  4. Klein 1998, p. 91.
  5. Klein 1998, p. 92.
  6. 1 2 3 Lea & Rowe 2001, pp. 276–277.
  7. 1 2 3 Klein 1998, p. 124.
  8. Klein 1998, p. 122.
  9. Lea & Rowe 2001, p. 276.
  10. Becker 1994, p. 375.
  11. Becker 1994, p. 374.
  12. Becker 1994, p. 376.
  13. New York Times 1921, p. 4.
  14. Becker 1994, p. 380.
  15. Becker 1994, p. 387.
  16. Becker 1994, p. 383-385.
  17. O'Brien 1967, pp. 311–314.
  18. O'Brien 1967, p. 309.
  19. O'Brien 1967, p. 311.
  20. O'Brien 1967, p. 314.
  21. 1 2 Mann 2003, p. 278.
  22. Mann 2003, p. 266.
  23. Mann 2003, p. 279.
  24. 1 2 3 Roberts, Richard, and Martin A. Klein. “The Banamba Slave Exodus of 1905 and the Decline of Slavery in the Western Sudan.” The Journal of African History, vol. 21, no. 3, 1980, pp. 375–94. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Dec. 2023.
  25. 1 2 Klein 2005, p. 831.
  26. 1 2 Mauxion 2012, p. 197.
  27. Mauxion 2012, p. 200.
  28. 1 2 Klein 2005, p. 833.
  29. 1 2 Seddon 2000, p. 220.
  30. de Bruijn & Pelckmans 2005, p. 76.
  31. Mauxion 2012, p. 203.
  32. Durdin 1957, p. 3.
  33. 1 2 Washington Post 1958, p. A5.
  34. Cutler 1959, p. 1.
  35. Teltsch 1959, p. 1.
  36. Anda 2000, p. 79.
  37. Howe 1959, p. E5.
  38. Chafer 2002, p. 185.
  39. Mann 2006, p. 141.


Books and Journal articles

Newspapers (organized chronologically)

Further reading

12°39′N8°0′W / 12.650°N 8.000°W / 12.650; -8.000