Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, African History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 07 October 2022

Policing, Surveillance, and Prisons in French Colonial West Africalocked

Policing, Surveillance, and Prisons in French Colonial West Africalocked

  • Kathleen KellerKathleen KellerDepartment of History, Gustavus Adolphus College


Police and prisons played important roles in the operation of the colonial administration of French West Africa (Afrique Occidentale Française, AOF). As foreign institutions and tools of colonial power and domination, they aimed to support and defend imperial rule, not reform or respond to problems within society. The police in AOF aimed to keep order, repress crime, and monitor people and groups who were identified as potential security threats because they supposedly challenged the authority of the state. Police operated largely in urban areas, beginning in during the interwar era. Surveillance was a tool of policing that worked to identify potential threats to colonial rule. The law code known as the indigénat, which applied to Africans designated as subjects (as opposed to those who were citizens—a very small group of the overall population), was an important bridge between policing and prisons as it served to police behavior and frequently resulted in short prison sentences. Prisons were some of the earliest colonial institutions, accompanying military conquest and serving repressive political means and labor demands. Prisons and policing were institutions that relied on techniques (including surveillance) that colonial authorities transplanted from France to West Africa, and which had a profound social impact.


  • Colonial Conquest and Rule

You do not currently have access to this article


Please login to access the full content.


Access to the full content requires a subscription