Dakar: Ville Impériale (1857–1960)

  • Raymond F. Betts
Part of the Comparative Studies in Overseas History book series (CSOH, volume 5)


Of the many colonial cities that the French constructed along the African coastline, none was less African or more imperial than Dakar. The city’s functions were uniquely defined by the position it was given in a growing imperial network characterized by intensifying lines of communication and administrative reorganization of a federal sort. Major maritime and naval port and capital of French West Africa, two conditions created at the turn of the twentieth century, Dakar served a hinterland beyond the colony of Senegal and faced out to an ocean with only global meaning for Europeans. With these assignments, Dakar was frequently referred to in the interwar period as a ville impériale, a grand term by which authors suggested the city’s unusual scope, if not its dramatic appearance.1


Interwar Period French Colonial Monumental Building Colonial Empire Bubonic Plague 
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  1. 1.
    Of the several articles on the subject, see Henri Labouret, ‘Dakar, ville impériale’, Afrique française, supplement to issue of 30 March 1934, pp. 125–135; E. Roume, ‘Dakar, ville impériale’, Afrique française (July 1936): 378–79; and A. Goux, ‘Dakar, Grand port impérial français’, Journal de la marine marchande (12 May 1938): 29–30.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See G. Ternaux, ‘Dakar capital’, L’AOF (21 August 1909), or, much later ‘Paris in Africa’, US News and World Report (30 April 1954): 64–66.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    ‘Rapport annexe au projet d’un fortin à établir à Dakar sur l’emplacement de l’habitation Jaubert’, (20 January 1957), repr. in: Jacques Charpy, La Fondation de Dakar (Paris, 1958), p. 125.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    On this subject see Roger Pasquier, ‘Villes du Sénégal au XIXe siècle’, Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer XLVII (1960):387–426.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See the letter-reports of L. Canard in folder 13 G 309, Archives de la République du Sénégal (henceforth referred to as ARS).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Moniteur du Sénégal, No. 758, 9 October 1870, p. 169.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Marcel Monnier, France noire (Paris, 1894), p. 23.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See F. de Coutauly, ‘A Dakar en guerre’, L’Afrique française 4 (April 1917): 123.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Copy of the decree proposed by Daladier and dated Paris, 21 October 1924, in ARS 17-22 13G.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    ‘Dakar, Ville impériale’, Le Temps, 11 November 1924.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Geoffrey Gorer, Africa Dances (New York, 1939), pp. 25–25.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Guy Mounerau, ‘Une Enquête en A.O.F.’, L’Ouest africain français, 28 September 1929.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Jean Paillard, Périple noir (Paris, n.d.), pp. 39–40.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Maynard Swanson, ‘The sanitation syndrome: Bubonic plague and urban native policy in the Cape Colony, 1900–1909’, Journal of African History 18 (1977): 387–410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Raymond F. Betts, ‘The establisment of the Medina in Dakar, Senegal, 1914’, Africa XLI (1971): 132–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    A good account of this matter is ‘Rapport, du Gouverneur-Général à Monsieur le Ministre des Colonies’, dated 15 February 1919, ARS H 57.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Letter of Lopez to Naudin, dated Paris, 24 April 1938, ARS 4P 1 (4).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
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  19. 19.
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    Mounereau, ‘Une Enquête en A.O.F.’.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    ‘Le Groupement européen de Dakar: Orientation d’une enquête’, Cahiers internationaux de sociologie XXVII (1959): 134.Google Scholar
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    Jean Rouch, Sur les côtes du Sénégal et du Guinée (Paris, 1925), p. 25.Google Scholar
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    Dr. D’Anfreville de la Salle, ‘Dakar et la colonisation française’, La Revue, No. 370 (15 June 1912): 500.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Interview with André Gutton, then Professor of Urbanism at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, 18 July 1967. Gutton was one of a team of three urbanists sent by French government to Dakar in 1945.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    The best summary is the ‘Rapport justificatif: Aménagement de la Presqu’île du Cap-Vert’, dated Paris, 15 February 1946, mimeographed. ARS 4, p. 99 (26).Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    All of these charges were carried out with a considerable degree of success by the Service temporaire de l’aménagement du Grand Dakar. STAGD was called into existence when the administrative arrangement of 1924, creating theCirconscription de Dakar was abolished in 1946. STAGD continued in service until 1959.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Information obtained by the author in an interview with M. Samir Amin, then Professeur d’Economie politique, Faculté du Droit, Dakar, 19 June 1967Google Scholar
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    See Charles Morazé, ‘Dakar’, Annales de géographie (March 15, 1936): 612. On general port growth, see Richard J. Peteric, Dakar and West African Economic Development (New York, 1967 ).Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    L’Avenir de Dakar et l’évolution de la politique africaine’, in:Dakar a cent ans, France d’outre-mer 330 (May, 1957): 16.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    J.C. Chappex, ‘Le Port de Dakar’, Thèse, Université de Dakar, 1967, p. 18.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Réponse de M. le Gouverneur-Général, 22 Mai 1936’, to the report of the Inspector-General of Colonies, ARS 13G-39 (17).Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    J.G. Desbords, L’Immigration lébano-syrienne en Afrique occidentale française (Poitiers, 1938), p. 19.Google Scholar
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    See, for instance, L’AOF 21 june 1923.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Assane Seek, Dakar, No. 9: Travaux du Département de Géographie, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines (Dakar, n.d.), p. 16.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    See Abdoulaye Diop, Société toucouleur et migration (Enquête sur la migration toucouleur à Dakar (Dakar, IF AN, 1965; mimeographed). Also seethe Annuaire statistique de l’Afrique occidentale française: Sénégal, population autochtone par groupes ethniques et par cercles en 1948, Tableau XI (Paris, 1960).Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    See Mercier, ‘Le Groupement européen de Dakar’, p. 141.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    B. Delbard, ‘Les Classes sociales’, in: Sankolé, Thomas et Fougeyrollas (eds.), Dakar en Dèvenir (Dakar, 1968 ), pp. 429–432.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Procès verbal de la 4ème Réunion du Conseil d’Administration de l’OHE de l’AOF’, 16 March 1927, ARS 4P 416 (32).Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Seek, Dakar, p. 12.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Raymond F. Betts

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