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Francophone Africa: beyond archives     

 l’Afrique francophone: au-delà des archives 

Welcome! Bienvenue!

You have arrived on a multidimensional digital platform holding a unique collection of historical and contemporary resources on regions of Africa occupied by France during the colonial era. It asks questions about how histories and futures are shaped by European colonial legacies and how cultures resist, reject and survive the legacies of colonisation.

In this resource we pay particular attention to the gendered experiences of life in the colony. Our resources reveal the influence of European colonial culture in shaping notions of gender. They uncover how these notions have persisted into the postcolony. They discuss how colonial beliefs in binary cisgender and fundamental gender differentiation between boys and girls, men and women created fundamentally different life chances and opportunities for citizens and resulted in gender injustices for girls and women in many aspects of their lives.

Gender injustices permeated the European colonies of Africa. At independence they did not disappear. These inequalities crossed the colonial divide and continued to undermine the efforts of girls and women to fulfil their potential in Africa, as they did in Europe and many other parts of the world. In Francophone African countries gender injustice has now taken on a particular urgency. Girls’ access to formal education and basic literacy skills is  reportedly lower than in any other region of the world, and from our findings (see Gender and Literacy), the situation is worsening.

Our scholarly materials and archives are offered to researchers, particular those with a keen interest in gender discrimination, on open access to encourage critical evidence-based analysis of European colonisation in Africa and its enduring impact in our time.

Images serve as rich sources of information throughout this site. The pedagogic value of the colonial image is an invitation to explore beyond the scene. Our homepage desktop photo is an example; the scout troop parading through the streets of Dakar in 1930 draws the viewer’s attention to key aspects in the making of the colonial world: its militaristic visual vocabulary, its gendered values. Meanwhile the attractiveness of  the image reminds us of the nostalgic pull photos can exercise over current generations when such images are left unchallenged. Our visual texts provide teachers with a stepping stone into historical analysis and a window on to the legacies these highly organised colonial worlds hand down to us today.

Teachers are invited to explore materials suitable for classroom activities in LEARN  – which include resources selected for GCSE Geography, French, History curricula – and in ACTIVITIES. A list of websites, archives, and other resources of interest to teachers and researchers is accessible in LINKS.

Meet the team and learn about the origins of the project by clicking here.

For a short  introduction to the website from the project director click play below.

The CONTACT page provides information on how to get in touch with us.

We hope you enjoy your time on this site and find resources of interest and value.  You are welcome to use the resources citing as your source: Francophone Africa: beyond archives Si vous voulez citer une source ou une information présentée dans le site, nous vous prions de bien vouloir citer notre siteWeb ainsi: Francophone Africa: beyond archives

Please let us know if you found what you needed, and do feel free to get involved in debates around these topics in English, French or in African languagesVeuillez consulter la page CONTACT pour échanger avec nous et, le cas échéant, proposer des ressources ou fonctionnalités supplémentaires en vue d’améliorer votre utilisation de ce siteweb et de ses ressources. 

CONDITION DE LA FEMME ET DE LA FAMILLE EN A.O-.F. dit “le rapport Savineau” fut rédigé par Denise (Moran) Savineau lors d’une tournée officielle effectuée en Afrique-Occidentale française entre octobre 1937 et mai 1938, le rapport Savineau  comprend dix-sept rapports sur les régions et pays visités. A la difference de maintes missions et tournées entreprises par les agents du Ministère des Colonies durant l’entre-deux guerres, Savineau tourne son regard vers les femmes noires. C’est un geste essentiellement colonial, certes, comme toute tournée d’enquête d’ailleurs, mais ici nuancé par un regard radical et proto-féministe.

Elle nous explique l’objectif primordial de son enquête en A.-O.F. : “le présent rapport envisage les principaux problèmes sociaux, en insistant sur tout ce qui concerne la femme et l’enfant. Selon les directives qui m’ont été données, j’ai signalé les difficultés, les erreurs [de l’entreprise coloniale] sans vaines circonlocutions mais sans malveillance. Ce rapport est le fruit d’une année d’études des coutumes africaines, de sept mois de voyage, et d’une expérience préalable de la vie villageoise. Il porte sur les colonies du Soudan, du Niger, du Dahomey, de la Côte d’Ivoire et de la Guinée.


Running to over 800 pages, WOMEN AND FAMILIES IN FRENCH WEST AFRICA 1938, known as the SAVINEAU REPORT is the largest single archival resource stored in this website. The report was written in French, and a number of key reports have been translated into English for this website. Compiled in 1937-8 by French journalist Denise Moran, writing here under her late husband’s name, Savineau, the observations are penned from a Socialist-Communist standpoint and constitute an unusual addition to the historiography of the colonial era.

At times the Savineau Report resonates with a much later postcolonial era as the author engages in a bitter denunciation of colonial practices, including what she sees as modern-day slavery in the Niger Office. Other observations are very much of their time, over-valuing imported practices to the detriment of local culture.

Reading with and against the grain, we can just detect African voices from the past through this colonial text; as the Mogho Naba of Ougadougou remarked to Mme. Savineau, “No-one has ever asked our opinion before”.

The unique complete archive is available here.

A l’occasion du Forum mondial sur l’éducation pour tous, tenu à Dakar en 2000, les leaders des pays de l’Afrique francophone se sont engagés à éliminer l’analphabétisation enfantine dans la sous-région. Et depuis, sans aucun doute, la situation éducative dans ces pays a progressé dans le sens que des milliers de jeunes gens ont eu accès à une éducation formelle et de qualité pour la première fois, et de plus en plus jusqu’aux niveaux supérieurs.

Mais cette progression évolue de manière extrèmement inégalitaire. Les privilèges et les désavantages qui caractérisaient les systèmes éducatifs coloniaux en Afrique subsaharienne demeurent visiblement présents dans les taux d’alphabétisation nationaux. Les plus faibles taux du monde sont observés en Afrique subsaharienne parmi ses populations féminines. Pire encore, dans certaines regions ces taux déjà extrèmement faibles connaissent une déstabilisation voire une diminution causée par l’escalade de violence dans le Sahel. Une situation qui touche très particulièrement les pays francophones.

COVID-19: Les jeunes les plus vulnérables sont maintenant confrontés à “une crise dans la crise” empirant leur situation de marginalisation et de pauvreté. Partout dans la région du Sahel, le COVID-19 risque d’exacerber les impacts d’exclusions sociales, conflits politiques et catastrophes climatiques.


Even before Covid-19 struck, violence in the Sahel region of West Africa was making a bad situation worse. Girls had been excluded from schooling and literacy programmes since their inception back in the colonial era, and they still experience very unequal access to education now, over six decades after Independence. Literacy levels are staggeringly uneven across this region.

This bad situation is getting worse. In rural areas of the north of the region fighting has broken out between Islamist militants and national governments leading to the closure of hundred of schools. If you’re a girl your chances of getting to an alternative more distant school are poor. So while the world boasts unprecedented levels of global literacy, increasing numbers of girl children are being left behind. We provide current information on this worrying trend in the research pages of our website. The team is bringing together new findings and producing  infographics on literacy among young women aged 15-24 years in the most affected countries, Mauritania, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Chad, and for comparison, Senegal.

Please click on the captions under the images below to access more information.

Veuillez cliquer sur le texte en dessous des images ci-dessous pour accéder aux informations.

Research tools designed to exploit specifically the Savineau archival holdings are uploaded on the SAVINEAU REPORT page accessed through the top menu. This part of the platform also contains bibliographies of published research on the main archival holding, translations of the reports, and related  documents from the interwar colonial era in French West Africa.

Research tools and findings on contemporary social development issues and gender justice in the former French African colonies are uploaded on the RESEARCH page. The replication of themes and lines of enquiry from the colonial to the postcolonial eras is deliberate and reflects our view of history not as an inevitably progressive journey but rather as a set of changing, at times cyclical, and always multiple, realities.

In addition to materials for use by students, scholars, and teachers, and research findings being used by development professionals in sub-Saharan West and Central Africa, we have sources translated from French into English to help bridge the divide that separates non-speakers of French from the wealth of scholarship published in French.

Veuillez trouver les outils de recherches adaptés à l’expoitation des archives historiques, tel Voyant, sur la page SAVINEAU REPORT. Les données et analyses portant sur les questions de justice sociale et du genre en Afrique francophone sont à votre disposition sur la page RESEARCH.

FA:ba is a resource for students and teachers interested in  the histories and cultures of the richly multilingual regions of West Africa that share French as an international language of communication.

Teaching materials are tagged for AS/A level French, History and Geography on the LEARN page. A wide variety of interactive ideas for classes and workshops for all levels and ages are accessible on the ACTIVITIES page.

Activities for students to consider life under colonial rule and aspects of life in African postcolonial nations today. An interactive map of West Africa maps Savineau’s journey.  Art and creative writing activities are proposed alongside an Interactive language space inviting African language translations and key terms in African languages to enhance the archival glossary. We invite African participants to help build African language presence. It is so important that the use of international languages, such as French and English, does not annihilate the use of African languages. As Ngugi wa Thiongo explains: ” Knowing your own language – and then adding French – is empowerment. But it is essential to know your African language as a mother tongue”. Thinkspace invites contributors to start a conversation about challenges facing young people today, en français, en anglais, ou en langues africaines, à vous de choisir vos langues de communication préférées. Bon jeu à tous et à toutes!

from the archive…

Amadou Hampaté Ba

Malian writer and ethnologist (1901-1991) , first African scholar at the Institut français de l'Afrique noire (IFAN).

Report 1

Amadou Ba met Denise Savineau in October 1937 in Bamako. She writes about their encounter in Report 1, describing Ba as well educated, a devout Muslim, and influential in the local Peul community. She also identifies the writers that occupy his bookshelves, noting that his books include works by Pascal, Dumas and A Thousand and One Nights.

Call the Midwife

Graduates from the 1939 intake of the Midwifery College in Senegal, French West Africa

Colonial Health Services

French health services in colonial times were first provided by the Navy, and then by a civilian service headed by male French doctors. Gradually African professionals were allowed entry in assistant positions. Initially women were excluded completely, but then midwives and community nurses gained access in the inter-war era, and, as Savineau reports, were making their mark in the 1930s.

Dim Delobsom

One of the first African colonial administrators (1897-1940)

Report 8

Dim Delobsom was the son of a local notable from Ouagadougou in the Mossi country. He was a published scholar and won a major prize for his book entitled ‘Les Secrets des sorciers noirs’ in 1934. He was also criticised in some quarters for strongly opposing the influence of the local, powerful Catholic mission. He died at a relatively young age, the cause of which is not entirely clear.