Imagens da página
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

had been definitely secured, deputations from the Soudanese
towns both up and down the river appeared to enquire if
trade could be re-opened. Satisfied that commerce would be
safe under French protection, the merchants at Bandiagara,
Djenné, Diaréfaré, and Mopti have, we are told, manifested
their confidence in the security of their market by sending in
lighters full of grain and Soudanese produce. The caravan
traffic also, which had lately fallen into disrepute for want of
protection, was expected to resume its movement across the
desert, or possibly in the direction of the route to Saint Louis
by Nioro.
In regard to this caravan traffic across the Sahara to Morocco,
some slight idea of what it was not long ago may be gained
from an example furnished by M. Lacoste, the French Consul at
Mogador, who gives details of the actual cargo transported by a
large caravan from Timbuctoo across the desert to Tendouf, on
the frontier of Morocco, after a journey of fifty-five days in
1887. This caravan consisted of 650 camels, of which 50 were
employed to carry water and 600 laden with merchandise,
ivory, gold dust, ostrich feathers, &c., together with more than
520 slaves. The total value was 36,680l. But the traffic in
slaves will anyhow cease to be carried on by this route in the
face of the French occupation. Most of the slaves were sold
at Tendouf with proportions of the heavier merchandise. The
remainder of the giraffe skins and Soudan cloths were disposed
of at the market of Iligh in the Tazeroualt. The ostrich
feathers, gold, ivory, and gum, however, are taken on to the
merchants of Mogador who own the cargo and fitted out the
consignment. Formerly the Morocco port was the town of
Agadir, where there is an excellent harbour; but the Sultan has
closed this port to commerce, as he could not control the exports
and imports. The export of Soudan products from Mogador
has averaged annually, in gum 326,000 francs, in feathers
377,000 francs; whilst from Tripoli it has been valued at
507,000 francs of ivory, 1,825,000 francs of ostrich feathers,
and of hides 235,000 francs.
Taking Timbuctoo as the centre trade-mart of the Soudanese
traffic, it has been well remarked that there are three channels
for its commerce, each of which has its advantages as well as
its disadvantages, viz., the desert, the Senegal, and the Niger.
France is the only European nation which possesses, north of
the Sahara, ports along an extensive stretch of the Medi-
terranean coast; and, therefore, the question of a Trans-Saharan
railway has always possessed a fascination for a number of
French economists and speculators. The way across the desert


is healthy, the base of operations on the Mediterranean frontage is likewise healthy, inhabited by Europeans and in close connexion with the European ports. The objections lie in the enormous distance, nearly 2,000 miles between the termini, the desert nature of the intervening country, and the indubitable hostility of the marauding nomad tribes; obstacles which make any mode of transit except by a protected line of railway impossible. The way by Senegal is infinitely shorter. From Kayes, at the head of the navigation of the Senegal, it is only 280 miles to Koulikoro on the Niger. The Senegal in fact forms almost a continuation of the main artery of the Middle Niger, and, as M. Schirmer points out, the old geographers were not far wrong when they described this ‘Nile of the Blacks’ as issuing by way of the Senegal delta into the Atlantic. The defects of this route are the numerous obstacles in the channel of the rivers, which obstruct navigation, on the Senegal at 217 kilometres from the coast, and at 280 on the Gambia; and further, the bars at the mouths and embouchures, which make Dakar, 124 miles away from Saint Louis, the true port of the French colony. Again, more particularly on account of its climate on the coast, Senegambia can never become a colony with a permanently resident European population. Not only are local malarious fevers prevalent, but yellow fever recurs so constantly as to be well-nigh endemic. In addition there must be taken into account the absence of all convenient harbour or dock accommodation; so that, as it has been aptly remarked,

the real base of operations in Senegal is at Bordeaux, Last, there is the natural channel of the Lower Niger, which traverses a yet more unhealthy, in fact a deadly climate. In Senegal, at all events, Europeans can labour during the dry season; thus the railway from Dakar to Saint Louis was constructed by European labour. Similar work is impossible for white men at the mouth of the Niger. The delta of the Lower Niger and all its lower course is through the forest region of Equatorial Africa; yet, nevertheless, even a fatal climate cannot prevent this route being by far the most advantageous from a commercial point of view. A noble stream, navigable for steamers of some size and bordered by the rich Haoussa country, it gives access not only to the Soudan, but, by the stream of its great affluent, the Benue, to a far greater distance into the interior of the African continent than the main Niger itself. The Benue is a large river at 600 miles from its confluence with the Niger, and by its waters steamers can approach at flood-time within a hundred leagues from Lake Tchad. The Benue is the true road to and from the heart of the Black Continent; Continent; and forms a great transverse artery, east and west, through the most populous and productive regions of Central Africa. That powerful British association, the Royal Niger Company, by purchasing all the French factories and establishments" in the Delta, has obtained the practical monopoly of all the trade on the Lower Niger and the Benue; and although the navigation of this important commercial highway is by treaty declared open to all nations, yet Britain has officially notified her protectorate over the countries possessed by this great Company.


‘The position of the English representatives, supported by over two hundred treaties, is no longer challenged, and the support of the Home Government is gradually transforming their prerogatives into a political dominion. Not only can the Company trade along the river to the exclusion of all others, but it has also the right of buying or otherwise acquiring mines, quarries, forests, fisheries, and manufactures; of cultivating the land and erecting structures on it. The Company is moreover the political ruler of “all the territories ceded to it by the kings, the chiefs, and peoples in the Niger basin,” and, in return, undertakes to treat with justice “the nations in its territories,” to respect their religions, their laws and properties. Nevertheless, the Company is bound to treat with the natives for the gradual abolition of slavery, on this condition obtaining a royal charter which places it under the control of the Secretary of State. Thus has been constituted a second East India Company, which enters on possession of a territory with a coast-line of no less than 600 miles, and at least double that distance along the inland stream.'t

We have seen how France has obtained possession of the route by the Senegal, and has opened a railway to Bafoulabé; but the continuation of the line from Bafoulabé to the Niger, a distance of 264 miles, has been laid aside for the present, and it would seem as if public opinion in France was again turning more favourably to the Trans-Saharan route. This is due in a great measure to the special pleading of M. Rolland, to the extension of the Algerian railway system towards the south, and to the change of situation at the present day, one line from Oran to Ain Sesra crossing the high plateau, whilst that from Constantine reaches the desert at Biskra, and another line is projected between Biskra and Ouargla. The Anglo-French convention of the 5th of August, 1890, it will be remembered, includes the following clause:—

* La Société française de l'Afrique équatoriale, founded by Count de Semellé, and La Compagnie 3. Sénégal, which had extended its operations to the Niger. t. Universal Geography, vol. xii., p. 324. By Elisée Reclus. Edited by A. H. Keane. But M. Reclus must include the whole coast-line from Porto Novo to Rio del Rey, including the Oil Rivers' Protectorate, not under the Niger Company, to measure 600 miles. Perhaps 600 kilometres are intended?


‘The Government of her Britannic Majesty recognizes the sphere of influence of France to the south of her Mediterranean possessions, up to a line from Say on the Niger to Barruwa on Lake Tchad, drawn in such manner as to comprise in the sphere of action of the Niger Company all that fairly belongs to the kingdom of Sokoto; the line to be determined by the Commissioners to be appointed.’

By this agreement the whole of the Sahara, worthless indeed except for facilities of transit across to Tunis and Tripoli, west of the 16th meridian, is handed over to France, whilst all the rich Haoussa States between Bornou and the Niger fall to the share of Great Britain.

The Colonial party in France, as represented by certain publicists, insist upon the construction of the Trans-Saharan line, however costly, as indispensable to the conquest of this region. M. Henri Schirmer points out how his country has her hands too full already of populations in a state of tutelage, of dominions only held at the point of the sword— Algeria, Tunis, Dahomey, on the Niger, Tonkin, Madagascar. With these to hold against hostile populations, is it prudent to enlarge these vast possessions by undertaking new extensions of territory by conquest ? He declares that such undertakings do not belong to the State, they are for private enterprise. Look at England, he says: “Regardons l’Angleterre, la grande colonisatrice: partout ses colons ont precédé le protectorat.' Those English push their way into Africa, merchants, engineers, surveyors, well armed and supplied by syndicates, and their Government only intervenes to protect them from foreign interference and to reap, later on, the fruit of their labours. Of what good would it be for France to make new conquests in Africa when there are no Frenchmen ready to turn them to account?

A great French company is said to be forming to carry out the Trans-Saharan Railway, and such an enterprise deserves all encouragement. With sufficient capital, and under able direction, it ought not to be a difficult task to accomplish the conquest of Bornou and to open up a free transit across the Sahara. A few hundred Europeans, well armed, have nothing to fear from the scattered tribes of Touareg nomads in the desert. South of the Niger, as we have seen, armies consisting of less than 800 natives, with but 300 Frenchmen, have conquered the whole French Soudan; and the Royal Niger Company holds its territory with but 70 European officials and 500 Haoussa soldiers.

A private A private company thus formed, on the pattern of the English companies, authorized by the State, can indeed claim support and ought to succeed; but the French are not in the habit of doing anything without official subsidy. The fact is that they themselves recognize the fact that their tenure of power in tropical Africa can never be anything but ephemeral ; and all that we can hope to witness, at least in the immediate future, is the introduction of some amount of discipline over the refractory tribes of the desert and the amelioration of the worst horrors of the slave-hunting Sofas, from the banks of the Niger and the swamps of Lake Tchad to the Atlantic coast.

Lastly, there is no reason why there should be any enmity, or indeed rivalry, between France and England throughout these regions. Great Britain enjoys the most profitable share of the bargain, and can well afford to be generous in future boundary commissions. The conquest of the Soudan Français by our neighbours may for a time divert, in a trifling degree, some of the local trade from our ports on the Gambia and at the mouth of the Niger, or at Sierra Leone; but, with quiet and prosperity in the interior, such a general increase of trade must inevitably ensue, that Liverpool, as well as Bordeaux, will sensibly perceive the benefit of French expansion throughout the Soudan.

The Republic has expended many valuable lives and much capital in acquiring this costly dominion, which can never be properly colonized by Europeans; and it remains to be seen whether it can ever return a profitable interest on this expenditure by an increase of commerce through her ports. Whilst we are writing, the French Colonial party is becoming excited over the recent so-called Anglo-Congolese convention of the 12th of May; and whilst political affairs in France are in their present unstable state of equilibrium, it is impossible to forecast the shape in which the inevitable French remonstrance may form itself. Of one thing we may almost be certain, and that is, that the new Colonial Minister must find his hands full, and sincerel y protest against his responsibilities being increased by any additional territorial aggrandizement, at least by any extension of the boundaries of the French Soudan.


« AnteriorContinuar »