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Postcolonial national sovereignty
My profile My library Metrics Alerts. Sign in. Lehigh University. Verified email at lehigh. Articles Cited by Co-authors. Review of African Political Economy 40 , , Medical anthropology quarterly 28 1 , , International Journal of Social Inquiry 4 1 , Strategic Review for Southern Africa 35 2 , 35 , African Migrations: Patterns and Perspectives, , Te term "laptot" is, according to Curtin , "a Gallicized form of the Wolof term for sailor, and it originally had the same meaning in French.
In time, however, it shifted to mean any African who worked with the Europeans, whether as a sailor, soldier, clerk, or administrator. Some were slaves whose Senegalese masters collected half their earnings. The French also bought slaves to serve in their army; these were often Bamanan from the interior, who as outsiders were less likely to fraternize with local populations.
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One of the greatest advantages to hiring Africans as troops and sailors was their resistance to the endemic diseases that wrought high mortality rates among Europeans in Africa until well into the twentieth century. Since it would have been too costly for European powers to send large numbers of their own troops to the continent, recruitment of indigenous men was the most expedient alternative.
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As early as these men served French colonial conquest when Wolof troops were dispatched to Madagascar; were sent to Guyana in For years Wolof men from the coast dominated laptot work. After advancing to higher-status positions within the mercantile establishment, they were replaced by men from farther inland, particularly of Bamanan, Tukulor, or Soninke ethnicity who had migrated to the coast in search of wage labor. Soninke men were particularly numerous among the laptots and, by , held most of these jobs. Laptots' wages, starting at 30 francs per month, were quite competitive—even compared to wages paid in France at the time—and generally attracted men of noble birth seeking to use their earnings to compete for status back home by investing in agriculture and purchasing slaves to work on their farms.
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In fact, the French were frequently irritated by laptots' tendency to quit their service even before their contracts were complete to put their earnings to use. Thus Manchuelle concludes that, far from being coerced into migration by repressive policies such as head taxes and forced labor which began much later in the West African colonial enterprise , these men should be considered "willing migrants"—a notion to which I will return. Some of these men learned local languages during their service and acted as interpreters for their French employers in parts of Africa quite distant from their native lands.
Sergeant Camara was only one of many laptots who served in Central Africa before the official onset of France's colonial conquest of the region.
In January a dozen laptots were recruited in Dakar for an expedition to Gabon. Camara was among them. They were to accompany a handful of Frenchmen led by a twenty-eight-year-old, Italian-born French naval officer named Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza. Although he never found such a route, merely surviving the ordeal gained him renown across Europe. Upon his return to France in early Brazza was feted by various European leaders including Belgium's King Leopold II, who was eager to establish a colony of his own in the Congo Basin. The mission Camara had joined, Brazza's second, was funded in part by the French chapter of King Leopold's Association Internationale Africaine, ostensibly a humanitarian and scientific organization, and in part by the French naval ministry.
It then pressed on overland to the Congo. The "Makoko treaty" became the foundation of French colonial rule in the Congo Basin. Brazza wrote the document which neither the king nor any of his aides was able to read as a cession of territory, and three weeks after signing it he set up an outpost at M'Foa, on the Pool's right bank, flying a French tricolor to be visible to boats on the river.
Before returning to the coast, Brazza instructed his men at M'Foa to show a copy of the treaty to any European who arrived. The tiny detachment Brazza left behind was an unlikely group to represent the French Republic in its newest territorial acquisition.
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It consisted of a freed Gabonese slave and a Senegalese laptot under the command of Sergeant Malamine Camara. During the more than eighteen months that he commanded the M'Foa outpost, Malamine hunted buffalo, hippopotamus, and elephant, using a local musket when his Winchester rifle's cartridge supply ran low Chavannes He distributed meat to his subordinates and to local political leaders as a goodwill gesture.
In addition to the overseas migration, reflected in academic debates on themes such as new cosmopolitanism and imagined communities, there is a considerable migration within Africa too; in fact, most African migrants are unlikely ever to leave the continent.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork, it argues that despite an extended history of migration and settlement, West Africans have developed few social ties with the Congolese community, participate minimally in Congolese cultural practices, and frown upon Congolese—West African amorous liaisons. But does that mean that the West Africans are strangers, as Whitehouse argues? One part of the book says: yes.
It uncovers a social world that is very much on its own, inward-looking, and seeking to distance itself from Congolese society. West Africans live between the Congolese in Brazzaville rather than among them. This manifests itself especially in the way in which migrant parents deal with their children. This is expensive, however, and in everyday practice it is an option open mainly to better-off migrants.
There is one notable exception to this practice: the children of established West African traders and landlords in the sense described by Abner Cohen mix with a heterogeneous circle of West African guests. These children are immersed in West African culture and language, and they are therefore not considered tabushi back home.