General issues: Federation of French colonies 1936-1946, Federation of French overseas territories 1946-1958
Country name on general issues: Afrique Equatoriale Française
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1936-1958
Population: 3 410 000 in 1936, 5 194 000 in 1958
Political history French Equatorial Africa
Although French Equatorial Africa has issued stamps only from 1936 until 1958, this profile will provide an overview of the history of French possessions in central Africa from the first settlement of the French to the dissolution of French Equatorial Africa.
Establishing the French presence
The French first settle in central Africa in 1839 in the future Gabon. In 1849, Libreville is founded and in subsequent years the interior is explored – an effort that gains momentum from 1875 when the French explorer De Brazza embarks on his first journey. In 1880, Brazzaville is founded. At the 1885 Berlin conference where the colonial powers divide their respective spheres of interest in Africa, the territories explored by De Brazza are claimed by and awarded to France. The French – who have administered their settlements in the region in different ways from 1839 – in 1886 establish the colonies of French Congo and Gabon. As the French consolidate their presence in 1888, French Congo is joined with Gabon to form the colony of Gabon-Congo and in 1891 Gabon-Congo is renamed French Congo.
Extending the French presence
From French Congo the French extend their possessions in central Africa. In 1891, a settlement is founded in Bangui and in 1894 Ubangi-Shari is proclaimed a French territory. Establishing effective colonial rule in Ubangi-Share will take until 1903. Moving further north, in 1900 Fort Lamy is founded, and in the same year Chad is proclaimed a French military territory. Establishing effective colonial rule in Chad will take until 1920.
Defining the external borders
The borders with most of the neighboring countries are defined through a series of treaties signed between 1885 and 1900. A major border adjustment with Cameroon – then a German protectorate – is agreed upon with Germany as a result of the treaty of Fez – one of the treaties leading up to the establishment of a French protectorate over Morocco. A small part of Cameroon is transferred to Chad, larger parts of the French possessions are transferred to Cameroon. The parts transferred to Cameroon are returned to France after WWII in 1919. The border with Libya is first defined in 1890 but will be disputed between 1919 and 1994 – the so called Aouzou strip changing hands several times. In 1994, the Aouzou strip is officially awarded to Chad. Finally, the border with French Niger – part of French West Africa – is adjusted in 1930 – Chad gaining the Tibesti Mountains.
Administrative changes and the establishment of French Equatorial Africa
The French possessions in central Africa will go through a number of administrative changes during the colonial era. In 1903 – effective 1904 – French Congo is defined as a higher level of government administration – a federation of French possessions. Within this federation Gabon and Middle Congo are established as separate colonies – along with the territory of Ubangi Shari and the military territory of Chad, all subordinate to the commissioner general – from 1908 the governor general – of French Congo. The federation of French Congo will, in 1910, be renamed to French Equatorial Africa.
Ubangi-Shari and Chad are, in 1906, joined to form Ubangi-Shari-Chad – to be separated again in 1914, now as the colony of Ubangi-Shari and the territory of Chad. Finally, Chad is elevated to the status of colony in 1920.
French Equatorial Africa, in 1934, is transformed into one administrative unit – the colonies technically being called regions. As soon as 1937, however, the federal structure is reestablished – the colonies now technically being called territories.
Internal border adjustments
Aside from administrative changes, a number of border adjustments had been effected between the French possessions in central Africa. As a result of the exchange of territories with Cameroon in 1911, and again in 1919, parts of Middle Congo are transferred to Ubangi-Shari – part of Gabon is transferred to Middle Congo. In 1920, part of the coastal region of Gabon is transferred to Middle Congo- Middle Congo thus gaining access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Haut Ogooué province of Gabon is, from 1926 to 1947, part of Middle Congo. The border between Ubangi-Shari and Chad is frequently adjusted – the final border being established in 1936.
Towards independence and the dissolution of French Equatorial Africa
The French possessions in central Africa in WWII are the first to adhere to the Free French led by the De Gaulle – Chad being the very first to do so. After WWII in 1946 all French possessions gain the status of French overseas territory – French Equatorial Africa thus becoming a federation of French overseas territories. In 1958, the constituent parts of French Equatorial Africa gain self government as the republics of Chad, Congo (Brazzaville) and Gabon and the Central African Republic. The federation of French Equatorial Africa is dissolved in 1958. In 1960, these self governing entities gain full independence from France.
Postal history French Equatorial Africa
The individual issues of the French possessions in central Africa 1886-1936
The first post office to be opened in what will become French Equatorial Africa is opened in Libreville in 1862 – using the general issues for the French colonies. In 1881, a post office is opened in Brazzaville, also using the general issues for the French colonies. The first stamps are issued for Gabon in 1886 – to be used both in Gabon and French Congo. The issues of Gabon are, from 1891, superseded by the issues for French Congo – by then the name for the combined colonies of Gabon and French Congo. As the French open post offices further afield, the stamps of French Congo will also be used in those offices. The first post office in Ubangi-Shari is opened in 1893 in Bangui, the first post office in Chad in 1905 in Fort Lamy.
As Gabon and Middle Congo are established as separate colonies in 1904, they will issue stamps from 1904 and 1907 respectively, superseding the issues of French Congo. Ubangi-Shari and Chad are, until 1915, postally administered from Middle Congo. In 1915, a separate postal administration is established in Ubangi-Shari – the postal administration of Ubangi-Shari also including Chad. Thus – although Ubangi-Shari and Chad have, in 1914, become separate political entities within French Equatorial Africa – in 1915 stamps are issued for Ubangi-Shari-Chad. Chad will gain its own postal administration in 1922 – Chad and Ubangi-Shari to issue stamps separately from 1922.
French Equatorial Africa
From 1936, the issues of the constituent parts of French Equatorial Africa are superseded by the issues of the federation. The first issues in 1936 are overprints on stamps of Gabon and Middle Congo – the overprint reading ‘Afrique Equatoriale Française’. Definitives are issued from 1937. During WWII, in 1940, stamps are issued for use in Equatorial Africa by the Vichy regime in France. As these are never put to use in French Equatorial Africa, only mint issues are listed in the catalogs. A the same time – also from 1940 – stamps are issued in the name of the Free French – overprints on earlier issues, the overprints reading ‘Afrique Française Libre'‘Free French Africa’ and ‘Libre’. In 1941, definitives are issued inscribed ‘France Libre, Afrique Equatoriale Française’. The last stamps of French Equatorial Africa are issued in 1958 – these to be superseded from 1959 by the issues of the individual, now self governing, countries.
For an overview of the political and postal development in the form of a diagram, please refer to the country diagram of French Equatorial Africa.