Accepted paper:

Hunting the Iron Horse: Disruption of French infrastructure and social organisation in colonial Côte d'Ivoire


David Drengk (Technische Universität Darmstadt)

Paper short abstract:

This paper provides an account of the 1910 Abbey revolt in Côte d'Ivoire, demonstrating how colonial infrastructure projects often lead to unintended socioeconomic disruption in local environments. In such contexts, it is vital to consider the two sides of the story of colonial transport endeavours.

Paper long abstract:

In January 1910, a group of the Ivorian population, the Abbey, stood up against the French colonial administration in the area around Agboville. Within one month, they attacked and destroyed the railway lines in their forests, derailed trains, and ruined telegraph lines. Train stations and some French administrative posts were under siege, and the colonizers could only regain control of the critical infrastructure systems with enormous military effort in the dense Ivorian forests. This paper shows that the railways system constructed by the colonial power had a two-fold impact. First, it made previously deserted regions accessible by land transport, thus facilitating the systematic economic exploitation of the forest. In contrast, it interfered with existing local and regional trade networks, economies, and means of social organization. I argue that the rigorous disarmament campaign by the French and the construction of the railway line itself meant a fundamental violation of the Abbeys' integrity. Hunting grounds, agricultural land and economic predominance in the area were under threat, and economic and social structures were ruptured. Archival documents from the French and Ivorian national archive illustrate how colonial infrastructure projects often led to unintended social and economic disruption. This contribution adds an unexplored facet to the discussion; It presents the other side of the story of (colonial) infrastructure endeavours and highlights the impacts experienced by the local population of the Abbey.

panel His13
Transport and travel - connections and disruptions