French Equatorial Africa - Encyclopedia

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"FRENCH EQUATORIAL AFRICA (Afrique Equatoriale Frangaise; or A.E.F.), formerly French Congo (see 11.99), is an immense region stretching from the mouth of the Congo to Tripoli, from the Atlantic to Egypt, covering an area of about 870,000 sq. miles. It is therefore more than four times the size of France. The coast is but little developed and is as a rule flat and sandy. There are few good ports. At a short distance from the Atlantic the country rises to a plateau between 2,300 and 2,700 ft. high, in which lies the vast depression of the closed basin of the Chad. The chief characteristic of the colony is its magnificent river system. It has the Congo for a distance of 370 m. of its course of 2,500 m., its great tributaries (the Sanga or Sangha and Ubangi), the Ogowe (801 m.), and the huge expanse of Lake Chad, which receives the water of the whole of the Schari and Logone valleys. In natural characteristics there are two clearly distinct zones - forest and brush. Tropical forest with luxuriant vegetation and intense animal life covers the Gabun and the valleys of the Sanga and Ubangi; brush reigns up to and beyond Lake Chad. The climate is extremely humid and painfully hot.

Estimates of the population range from 6 to 10 millions. Sleeping sickness is very prevalent. There are many different races and varied types among the natives, but two main groups can be recognized. There are the sedentary people of the forest zone who are very savage and occasionally cannibal, but can adapt themselves to agriculture, and the Nomad tribes of the brush country who are warlike herdsmen influenced by Islam.

A.E.F. is a colony of special growth. Its frontiers were laid down by diplomacy before the country had been explored. The main steps in French occupation of Equatorial Africa were: - (I.) Foundation of French Congo (1842-82), and the great exploration expeditions of de Brazza. (II.) The Berlin Conference and the General Act of 1889 which established international understanding with regard to freedom of navigation and trade in basins and mouths of the Congo and the Niger, and as to the formalities to be observed in order to make the fresh occupations of Africa effective. (III.) The period of political and diplomatic action over the Congo between 1889 and 1909, when a number of Boundary Conventions were signed. (IV.) French expansion towards the Upper Nile, which gave rise to the Fashoda incident (1898) and a declaration in 1899 in which the eastern limits of the French zone of influence in West Africa were laid down.

(V.) French expansion in the Chad. The work of the great explorers Crampel, Maistre, Gentil and Maj. Lamy brought about the realization of the ambitious plan of linking up, through Lake Chad, the oases of Algeria and the shores of the Ubangi.

In 1911, following upon the Agadir incident, A.E.F. enabled France to compensate Germany for the rights she ceded to France in Morocco. The colony then lost nearly 10o,000 sq. m. of territory, which was joined on to German Cameroon. This was restored by the Treaty of Versailles.


A.E.F. is an amalgamation of four different colonies under a governor-general. This post was created by decree June 26 1908, and a further decree Jan. 15 1910 gave definite form to the new administration.

The Government General of French Equatorial Africa consists of the following colonies: Gabun (cap. Libreville) 104,000 sq. m. Middle Congo (cap. Brazzaville) 89,000 sq. m. Ubangi-Schari (cap. Bangi) 193,000 sq. m. Chad (March 17 1920) 482.000 sq. M.

The supreme administrative head is the governor-general who resides at Brazzaville. The different colonies preserve their administrative and financial autonomy and are governed by lieutenantgovernors with the exception of the Chad, which has either a civil or a military administrator. A government council assists the governor-general, who has his delegates in Paris at the Office Colonial and at the Supreme Colonial Council.


The policy pursued with regard to colonization of this vast country has not been very successful. Big concessions have been given to large colonizing companies for the economic development of large tracts of country. Of 40 concessionary companies only very few have proved successful. The only benefit derived from this system has been that river transport has been organized and the resources of the country have been made known. The great drawback in A.E.F. is lack of transport. The rivers provide practically the only means of communication, and the execution of the plan of railway construction is urgently desirable. A bill authorizing a loan of 171,000,000 francs for the construction and improvement of all methods of communication was approved in 1920.


Natural produce is varied. Rubber is the chief vegetable resource. It has so far been found impossible to establish practical rubber plantations, and the rubber output of the colony is wild. Rubber exports, naturally, suffered from the world crisis. Exports in 1913 were 1,600 tons, 1914 600 tons, 1915 1,400 tons, 1917 3,000 tons, 1920 2,140 tons worth 14,156,000 francs. The quality is undeniably good, but there is no great demand for this type of rubber on the French market.

The oil palm is the next important resource. It is very widely distributed but was but little exploited before the war. The export of kernels has been greatly encouraged by the administration and has attracted European firms, thanks to which the export figure for 1920 was nearly 7,000 tons of the value of over 4,000,000 francs. Tobacco and cotton grow wild in the colony. Cocoa and coffee cultivation is on the increase and is attracting attention from European firms. Of all the French colonies A.E.F. is the most richly wooded, 54,000 sq. m. being covered by dense forest, in which the presence of mahogany and rosewood, of tulip and walnut, show the diversity of this almost inexhaustible source of wealth. Before long the annual log production will amount to 450,000 tons. In 1921 the figure was 150,000 tons. Exports in 1920 amounted to 66,000 tons of a value of 6,238,000 francs. The possibility of producing wood-pulp on a large scale has to be borne in mind.

So many elephants have been killed that there are large stocks of ivory in the country. Exports of ivory in 1920 amounted to 93,636 kgm., worth 4,700,000 francs.

The export of whale-oil has been recently started. There are large herds of sheep and cattle in the brush country of the northern districts, which will become of increasing value as it is opened up. There would seem to be a mining future before the country. But few companies have been floated and the underground wealth is still but little known. Copper exists with a yield of 45%, and mines are' in some places already being worked, but in a rudimentary fashion, on a belt of about 60 m. in the middle Congo. Railways alone can bring about the proper development of this district, which is 190 m. from the coast.

General Trade reached its top pre-war figure in 1913 with 57,846,- 000 francs. It fell to just over 22,000,000 francs in 1915 and has since slowly picked up. In 1920 the total was 49,801,000 francs, a figure partly due to inflated prices. There are signs, however, of a return to the normal progress in trade. Imports accounted for over 18,000,000 francs of this sum. (G. A.; M. R.*)

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