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Moyen-Congo - Administrative Structure

When Brazza was named commissioner of the French Congo in 1882, the colony included the areas of Gabon and the Congo and was administered from Libreville. During the early years of French rule there were numerous changes in the administrative structure. As the French became progressively able to effectively occupy and control the upper reaches of the Oubangui River and the Chad region, it was necessary to create new administrative districts. Communication from one part of the colony to another proved extremely difficult ; and in 1905, in an effort to decentralize, the administration decided to move the headquarters of the commissioner from Libreville to Brazzaville. At the same time the entire French-controlled area was divided into four regions: Gabon, Moyen-Congo, Oubangui-Chari, and Chad. The administration, however, was marked by instability, and ten commissioners succeeded each other at the Brazzaville post within a two-year period. By 1908 the French had been able to establish administrative posts covering only 26 percent of the territory.

As a result of the outcry against the abuses by the private concessions, the French government made increased efforts to organize effectively its central African territories. In 1910 the four colonies were administratively combined to form the Federation of French Equatorial Africa. The administrative organization was very similar to that of the Federation of French West Africa, which had been organized six years earlier.

By 1912, 60 percent of the area was considered to be occupied by French administrators or military units, and another 20 percent was considered to be under firm French influence. The advent of the Great War, however, proved to be a setback to the colonial organization as personnel were drained from the colonies to aid the war effort.

The general administrative structure given to AEF at its inception remained essentially the same throughout the colonial period. The top level of responsibility for the colonial administration rested in Paris with the Ministry for the Colonies. The ministry was assisted by several councils, the most important of which was the Supreme Council for the Colonies, known after 1937 as the Supreme Council for Overseas France (Conseil Superieur de la France d' Outre-Mer). The council was composed of deputies from all French colonial areas (although the deputy from Senegal was the only member from Africa), delegates elected by French citizens in the colonies, and several members nominated by colonial governors to represent native interests.

Administration of AEF was in the hands of a governor general, who was called high commissioner after 1947. He resided in Brazzaville and was responsible to the minister for the colonies and ultimately to the French Parliament. As the chief authority for the entire federation, the governor general controlled all civil, judicial, and military services. Assisting the governor general with his administrative functions were a secretary general for the federation and an advisory council.

Each of the colonies comprising the federation was headed by a lieutenant governor, who was the direct subordinate of the governor general. He was assisted by a secretary general and an advisory council. Although in theory the administration of each colony was to have a great deal of autonomy, the actions of the lieutenant governors were closely controlled from Brazzaville. In 1934 the territorial budgets were removed from the direct control of the lieutenant governor and placed under the administration of the governor general. Budgetary autonomy, however, was restored to the colonies, and a separate federal budget was established in 1946.

Moyen-Congo was divided into six regions, which were in turn divided into districts, each of these subdivisions being under the authority of an administrator. The power of African chiefs was closely bound to the French administration, and they could be dismissed and replaced at will. There were village, canton, and tribal chiefs, with the village being the smallest administrative unit. Most of the chiefs above the village level were appointed by the French colonial administration and performed the duties of lower colonial functionaries, which involved tax collection, labor and military conscriptions, and the execution of other administrative orders.

In accordance with French law, the inhabitants of the colonies were divided into two groups, those who were French citizens by birth or naturalization and those who were French subjects. Very few Africans of AEF ever attained the status of French citizen. Most were considered subjects of France and, as such, could be drafted for work on public projects or for military service. They were also subject to a separate legal system, as French civil and criminal codes were applied only to French citizens, while those having the status of French subjects were under customary law administered by indigenous courts. Customary law courts were presided over by French administrative officers, who could apply punishment at their own discretion. These arbitrary punishments and forced labor were the two major grievances against the French colonial administration.

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