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French Haute Volta

At the end of the nineteenth century, the peoples of the Volta basin became the stakes of competition between the French, British and German colonial powers. Upper Senegal and Niger (Haut Senegal et Niger) was part of French West Africa, and developed from Senegambia and Niger in 1904. The territory from upper Dahomey was added in 1907. Niger was a separate military district after 1911, and a separate colony after 1922. The Annuaire du gouvernement general de I'Afrique occidentale francaise published in 1914 states that the area is about 2,500,000 square kilometers (sq. km. = 0.3861 sq. m.). This includes the Saharan regions occupied by nomads. The area having a sedentary population, which extends northward to about the seventeenth parallel, does not exceed 1,000,000 square kilometers.

The country embraced the basins of the upper Senegal, the middle Niger, and the upper Volta. The native population is estimated at somewhat over 5,600,000, of whom about 5,508,000 are French subjects. The white inhabitants number about 1100, almost entirely French. Of the natives who are French subjects, the number of Mohammedans is stated at about 1,405,000, and of fetishists at about 4,101,000.

The Upper Volta was removed in 1919 and became a separate colony. The remaining lands had a name change in 1920 to French Sudan. Upper Volta Colony was the southern section of the former Upper Senegal-Niger territory. It had an area of about 154,400 square miles and a population of about 3,000,000.

By a French decree dated March 1, 1919, Haute-Volta (Upper Volta), a new French colony, has been constituted from a part of the colony “Haute-Senegal et Niger” (Upper-Senegal and Niger). The French West African Government general was in process of establishing the colonial form of government. The new colony had seven administrative circles or divisions. The seat of government will be at Koulouba. The plan of organization was published in the “Journal Officiel de l'Afrique Occidentale Francaise,” dated October 25, 1919.

Until the French conquest of Senegal the only outlet for the trade of what is now the French Sudan was northwards across the Sahara, the dense forests that lay to the south of it cutting off all communication in that direction. When the French occupied Senegal Sudanese trade was diverted westwards. The distance between the Sudan and the sea was thus reduced from four thousand to two thousand miles, but transport was still difiicult. With the driving of a railway through the hitherto impenetrable forests between the Sudan and the Ivory Coast, the distance was reduced to six hundred miles.

The French Sudan was then practically divided into two portions: the area which is drained by the Upper Senegal and Upper Niger continued to send its trade westwards, while the area drained by the Upper Volta found an outlet to the south. The possibilities of this opening-up of the Sudan are enormous. The inhabitants of the Ivory Coasts and the forests to the north of it badly need meat. They now have access to the Sudanese stock-markets.

The political consciousness of cotton farmers is quite unique in West Africa, and is deeply rooted through the role of cotton in the traditional societies of several ethnic groups, which attached to cotton issues a high “emotional content”. This shaped the collective action of cotton farmers during the colonial period, when farmers resisted forced cultivation. The political importance of cotton meant that West African governments had always taken a keen interest in managing the sector and benefiting from its success.

For most of their history, West African cotton economies utilized monopsonistic state companies for extension services, input, and credit provision, and the marketing of outputs, with prices for seed cotton set pan-territorially and pan-seasonally. This state-led strategy therefore ensured a high degree of government control, but also addressed several of the most important market failures that smallholders face, such as poor access to credit, inputs and information, and highly variable output prices. But despite early successes, the state-led strategy became increasingly criticized by the late 1980s. Foremost among the cited problems were growing financial insolvency due to bad management and corruption in cotton parastatals.

According to oral traditions, the cultivation of cotton has always had a specific place in Burkina Faso for several ethnic and social groups. Woven strips were used to pay for tradable goods (salt, kola) and cotton was processed by local craft men for domestic and ritual needs. In Burkina Faso, ethnic groups were specialized in its cultivation (for example, the Sénoufo and the Bwa) and processing (for example, the Marka). This early specialization shaped the later interaction of farmers with officials, with the specialized ethnic groups being the first to expand cultivation and to organize collective action.

Cotton then became a coercive tool of the French Upper Volta colony when cultivation became compulsory in the 1920s, but farmers circumvented the “forced corvée” through out-migration and by selling their cotton on the local parallel market or by exporting it to Ghana (Gold Coast). Similar failures can be found in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere in the region. So in spite of several adjustments, the failure of the colonial policy in the Upper Volta led to it being dismantled in 1932.

Upper Volta was abolished in 1932, It is only in 1947 that it has reconstituted itself within its present borders. Independence was established on August 5, 1960.





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Page last modified: 04-06-2017 19:01:16 ZULU