General issues: Federation of French colonies 1944-1946, Federation of French overseas territories 1946-1959
Country name on general issues: Afrique Occidentale Française
Special issues: Regional issues Dakar-Abidjan 1959
Currency: 1 Franc = 100 Centimes 1944-1959
Population: 18 746 000 in 1944, 20 655 000 in 1959
Political history French West Africa
French West Africa is a federation of French possessions in western Africa. Although French West Africa has issued stamps from 1944 until 1959 only, this profile will cover the history of French West Africa, from its formation until its dissolution, to allow for an overview profile of the complex history of the area.
Establishing the French presence in western Africa
With the exception of Senegal, the French first settle in western Africa in the course of the 19th century. By the middle of the 19th century the French have settled in what will become Dahomey, French Guinea, Ivory Coast and Senegal. French control at the time is limited mainly to settlements in the coastal regions. An important boost to the process of colonization is the Berlin conference of 1885. At this conference the spheres of influence of the colonial powers in Africa are divided. An important prerequisite for continued recognition of awarded claims is the establishment of effective colonial rule. France, at the conference, acquires large parts of western Africa – most lying well beyond the limits of French control at the time of the conference.
Extending colonial rule
The French, in the course of the 19th century, had settled in western Africa mainly by signing treaties with the local rulers often forming protectorates. These protectorates are, by the end of the 19th century, annexed to become colonies. Having established themselves in the coastal regions, the French, from the end of the 19th century, extend colonial rule further inland. In the process, the first step may be to again sign treaties of protection with the local rulers. Often though the advance will be by military force leading to the establishment military territories with military administration. As the process of ‘pacification’ progresses, civil territories will be formed with civil administration. Finally, the civil territories will be elevated to colonies. This process will take the French until the 1920’s to complete.
The formation French West Africa
In western Africa the French, in 1895, appoint a governor general to whom the governors of the individual possessions report – thus, the federation of French West Africa is de facto established, albeit the name ‘French West Africa’ will be used officially only from 1904. The capital of the federation is St. Louis and from 1902 Dakar – both in Senegal. In 1895, four French possessions are part of French West Africa: French Guinea, French Sudan, Ivory Coast and Senegal. Dahomey becomes part of the federation in 1899.
At the outset, the governor general had limited authority over the individual countries within the federation, the lieutenant governors, often bypassing the governor general, reporting directly to the colonial office in Paris. It took until 1904 for the authority of the governor general to be fully established.
The development of French West Africa
The external borders of French West Africa are defined through treaties with the neighboring countries – mostly between 1890 and 1900. The internal borders are changed frequently as the administrative organization of French West Africa changes – the last major changes to be effected in 1947. An overview of these changes is given below – for more details please refer to the profiles of the countries involved.
- As French West Africa is formed in 1895, French Guinea, French Sudan, Ivory Coast and Senegal are part of French West Africa – Dahomey to be added in 1899. At the time, sometimes large parts of these countries have yet to be brought under French control.
- French Sudan is dissolved in 1899. Several provinces become part of Dahomey, French Guinea and Ivory Coast. The remainder becomes the French territory of Upper Senegal & Middle Niger consisting of one district with civil administration, two districts with military administration and a vast territory that has yet to be brought under French control.
- In 1902, Upper Senegal & Middle Niger is renamed Senegambia & Niger. Also, the so called ‘pays de protectorat’ – protectorates administered by Senegal and until then part of Senegal – are transferred to Senegambia & Niger. Next to the existing civil territory and the two military territories a third military territory is formed.
- In 1904, Senegambia & Niger is renamed Upper Senegal & Niger and the ‘pays de protetorat’ are transferred back to Senegal. One of the military territories is added to the existing civil territory and the two other military territories are joined into one military territory. The status of Upper Senegal & Niger is changed from territory to colony.
- Also, in 1904, Mauritania – in which protectorates have been formed from 1902 that were administered from Senegal – is detached from Senegal to become a separate French – civil – territory within the federation of French West Africa.
- In 1907, Upper Dahomey – awarded to Dahomey when French Sudan was divided – is transferred to Upper Senegal & Niger.
- In 1911, French Niger is detached from Upper Senegal & Niger as a separate French – military – territory within the French West African federation.
- In 1919, Upper Volta is detached from Upper Senegal & Niger as a separate colony.
- In 1920, the remainder of Upper Senegal & Niger becomes the colony of French Sudan. Also in 1920 Mauritania becomes a colony and French Niger a civil territory, French Niger to become a colony in 1922.
- In 1931, the border with Chad – part of French Equatorial Africa – is adjusted by the transfer of the Tibesti Mountains.
- In 1933, Upper Volta is dissolved, for economic reasons, and divided between Dahomey, French Guinea and Ivory Coast to be reinstated as a country again in 1947.
- In 1944, a part of French Sudan – the El Hodh region – is transferred from French Sudan to Mauritania.
- Togo – a German colony – is, during WWI, occupied by Great Britain and France and part of it becomes a French mandated territory in 1922. French Togo is de jure not a part of the federation of French West Africa, but is de facto in many ways administered as part of the federation.
The closing years
In 1946, the French colonial empire is reorganized and the French possessions gain the status of French overseas territories within the French Union. In 1958, the French Union is succeeded by the French Community and the overseas territories at this occasion gain a large amount of self government, French Guinea gaining full independence. This step marks the end of the federation of French West Africa. The countries involved gain full independence in 1960.
Postal history French West Africa
Country specific issues
With the exception of Upper Senegal & Middle Niger country specific issues have appeared in all countries within the federation of French West Africa as follows:
- Senegal 1887-1944
- Benin 1892-1899 – to be superseded by Dahomey 1899-1944
- French Guinea 1892-1944
- Ivory Coast 1892-1944
- French Sudan 1894-1900 and 1921-1944
- Senegambia & Niger 1903-1906
- Upper Senegal & Niger 1906-1921
- Mauritania 1906-1944
- Upper Volta 1920-1944
- French Niger 1921-1944
Please note that the year in which stamps were first issued is often later than the year in which a political entity was formed – stamps of the preceding entity would sometimes be used for several years.
Common design and common issues
As the federation of French West Africa gained more and more authority over the individual countries, the country specific issues would, from 1906, be inscribed with the name of the country and the additional inscription ‘Afrique Occidentale Française’ or ‘AOF’ to signify that they were part of the federation of French West Africa. Also, many country specific issues from 1906 on would be of a common design used in all countries in French West Africa.
All country specific issues are, from 1944, superseded by the issues of the federation of French West Africa. The issues of French West Africa will be used until the countries within the federation gain self government in 1958 and, subsequently, in 1958 or 1959, resume issuing stamps of their own design again.
The last issue
The last issue from French West Africa is inscribed ‘Dakar-Abidjan’ and was issued in 1959 for use in Ivory Coast and Senegal. This issue is listed only in Michel and Stanley Gibbons.
For an overview of the political and postal developments in French West Africa, please refer to the country diagram of French West Africa.