French Equatorial Africa (Afrique équatoriale française), or the AEF, was a federation of central African French colonial possessions from 1910-1934 and a French colony in its own right from 1934 to 1958, extending northwards from the Congo River to the Sahara, and comprising what are today the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, and Gabon. The capital was Brazzaville, and the population was 3,400,000 in 1936.
The first post office in what would become French Equatorial Africa was opened in Libreville in 1862, using the general issues for the French colonies. In 1881, a post office was opened in Brazzaville, also using the French colonial stamps. The first individual stamps were issued for Gabon in 1886; these were used both in Gabon and French Congo. From 1891, the issues of Gabon were superseded by those for French Congo. As the French opened post offices further afield, the stamps of French Congo were also used in those. The first post office in Ubangi-Shari was opened in 1893 in Bangui while the first post office in Chad was established in Fort Lamy in 1905.
Gabon and Middle Congo were established as separate colonies in 1904 and issued stamps beginning 1904 and 1907 respectively, superseding the issues of French Congo. Ubangi-Shari and Chad were, until 1915, postally administered from Middle Congo. In 1915, a separate postal administration is established in Ubangi-Shari — the postal administration of Ubangi-Shari also including Chad. In 1915, stamps are issued for Ubangi-Shari-Chad. Chad will gain its own postal administration in 1922 with Chad and Ubangi-Shari to issuing stamps separately starting that year.
Established on January 15, 1910, the Federation of French Equatorial Africa contained five territories: French Congo, Gabon, Ubangi-Chari, Chad, and French Cameroon (after World War I), although the last was not organized as a separate entity until 1920. The Governor-General was based in Brazzaville with deputies in each territory. In 1911, France ceded parts of the territory to German Kamerun as a result of the Agadir Crisis. The territory was returned after Germany’s defeat in World War I, while most of Cameroon proper became a French League of Nations mandate not integrated into the AEF.
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the anti-colonial movement Société Amicale des Originaires de l’A.E.F. was established by André Matsoua, seeking French citizenship for the territory’s inhabitants. Until 1934, French Equatorial Africa was a federation of French colonies like French West Africa. That year, however, the AEF became a unitary entity and its constituent colonies became known as regions, later becoming known as territories in 1937. There was a single budget for the unified colony; prior to unification, each member had had its own finances.
From 1936, the stamp issues of the constituent parts of French Equatorial Africa are superseded by the issues of the federation. The first issues that year saw stamps of Gabon and Middle Congo overprinted AFRIQUE / ÉQUATORIALE / FRANÇAISE. A definitive series for the colony followed in 1937, featuring local scenes and key (French) figures in the formation of the colony, with various color and value changes each year through 1940.
During World War II, the federation rallied to the Free French Forces under Félix Éboué in August 1940, except for Gabon which was Vichy French until November 12, 1940, when the Vichy administration surrendered to invading Free French; the federation became the strategic center of Free French activities in Africa.
in 1940 by the Free French, and in 1941 they issued a series depicting a phoenix rising from the flames.
In 1940, stamps were issued for use in Equatorial Africa by the Vichy regime in France. As these were never put to use in French Equatorial Africa, only mint issues are listed in the catalogues. At the same time, stamps were issued in the name of the Free French — the 1937 series was overprinted AFRIQUE FRANÇAISE / LIBRE or just LIBRE. In 1941, definitives were issued inscribed FRANCE LIBRE / AFRIQUE EQUATORIALE FRANÇAISE.
As of 1942, the AEF was administered by a governor-general, who had “the supreme direction of all services, both civil and military.” However, his power was limited in practice by France’s centralizing colonial policy. “Most important legislation is enacted in Paris,” wrote the authors of the 1942 British naval intelligence handbook for the colony, “whilst the governor-general fills in minor details and penalties.” The governor-general was assisted by a consultative council of administration (Conseil d’Administration) composed of important local officials and some members, both African and European, elected indirectly.
Under the unified colony, three of the constituent territories were administered by a governor, while Moyen-Congo was under the purview of the governor-general. Each had a council of local interests (Conseil des Interêts Locaux) similar to the council of administration. Locally, the territories were subdivided into départments and subdivisions overseen by appointed officials. The only municipalities were the capitals of the territories, which were classified as communes mixtes as opposed to Senegal’s communes de plein exercise which had democratically elected councils. Although these municipalities possessed certain powers of local self-government, their mayors and councils — which included African representatives — were appointed.
Under the Fourth Republic (1946–58), the federation was represented in the French parliament. When the territories voted in the September 1958 referendum to become autonomous within the French Community, the federation was dissolved. The last stamps of French Equatorial Africa were issued on December 10, 1958, and were to be superseded from 1959 by the issues of the individual, now self-governing, countries. In 1959, the new republics formed an interim association called the Union of Central African Republics, before becoming fully independent in August 1960.
Scott #142 is a 5-centime brown stamp, the lowest value in a set of 14 issued by the Free French in 1941 depicting a phoenix rising from the flames. Printed by photogravure, the stamps were perforated 14×14½. In Greek mythology, a phoenix (φοῖνιξ) is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Associated with the Sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor. According to some sources, the phoenix dies in a show of flames and combustion, although there are other sources that claim that the legendary bird dies and simply decomposes before being born again. According to some texts, the phoenix could live over 1,400 years before rebirth. Herodotus, Lucan, Pliny the Elder, Pope Clement I, Lactantius, Ovid, and Isidore of Seville are among those who have contributed to the retelling and transmission of the phoenix motif. In the historical record, the phoenix “could symbolize renewal in general as well as the sun, time, the Empire, metempsychosis, consecration, resurrection, life in the heavenly Paradise, Christ, Mary, virginity, the exceptional man, and certain aspects of Christian life”.