Niger (French Territory) #1 (1921)

French Niger #1 (1921)
French Niger #1 (1921)

The French Colony of Niger (Colonie du Niger) was a French colonial possession covering much of the territory of the modern West African state of Niger, as well as portions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. It existed in various forms from 1900 to 1960, but was titled the Colonie du Niger only from 1922 to 1960. For details about the pre- and post-French colonial periods of Niger, please see my previous entry on this blog.

Following the 1885 Berlin conference during which colonial powers outlined the division of Africa into colonial spheres, French military efforts to conquer existing African states were intensified in all French colonies including Niger. This included several military expeditions including the Voulet Chanoine Mission, which became notorious for pillaging, looting, raping and killing many local civilians on its passage.

The first post offices in French Niger were opened in 1894 using the stamps of French Sudan. These were followed by stamp issues of Senegambie and Niger and then Upper Senegal and Niger.

On May 8, 1899, in retaliation for the resistance of queen Sarraounia, captain Voulet and his men murdered all the inhabitants of the village of Birni-N’Konni in what is regarded as one of the worst massacres in French colonial history. French military expeditions met great resistance from several ethnic groups, especially Hausa and Tuareg groups. The most notable Tuareg revolt was the Kaocen Revolt. The French authorities also abolished the widespread slavery among Tuareg communities.

While French booty took control of some of the areas of modern Niger began in the 1890s, a formal Zinder Military Territory was formed on July 23, 1900. This military territory was based at the village of Sorbo-Haoussa near Niamey, where the headquarters was moved in 1903. Administratively, it was part of the Senegambia and Niger Colony from 1900 to 1904 and Upper Senegal and Niger colony from 1904 to 1911. While commanded by officers of the French Troupes de marine, its budget and administration was dependent on the Lieutenant Governor at Kayes (latter Bamako), and military decision making — as well as contact with authorities in the Metropole or other colonies was through the Governor General in Dakar. The area also appears on French maps as the “Third Military Territory”.

On June 22, 1910, the territory was renamed Niger Military Territory, and included parts of modern northeast Mali (Gao Cercle) and Northern Chad (Tibesti Cercle). On June 21, 1911, the Cercle of Gao ceded to French Sudan, and throughout the late nineteen-teens, efforts were made to establish permanent French posts in the north and east, in Bilma, N’guigmi and elsewhere. In 1911, the headquarters of the territory was moved to Zinder, reflecting both the relative peacefulness of the west of the territory, and the fear of incursion from the British to the South and the Italians from Libya. Despite this, French control of the northern and eastern areas remained minimal. Along with Mauritania, Niger remained the only part of French West Africa to remain under military rule.

The first stamps issued under the new civil authority were definitives of Upper Senegal and Niger using the 1914 camel and rider design (Scott #1-21). These were overprinted TERRITOIRE DU NIGER and released between 1921 and 1926. Seven of these were also surcharged between 1922 and 1926 (Scott #22-28). From 1926 until 1940, pictorial stamps were issued using three designs in a set that eventually numbered 40 stamps (Scott #29-72). The colony’s stamps were now inscribed NIGER in large letters and either AFRIQUE OCCIDENTALE FRANÇAISE or AOF in smaller letters to show that French Niger was part of the federation of French West Africa.

On October 13, 1922, the civilian Colony of Niger took control of most of the southern and western areas, with a lieutenant governor reporting to the Governor General of French West Africa. The 1919 creation of French Upper Volta as a civil colony removed the areas of modern Niger west of the Niger River. In 1926, the capitol was moved again to Niamey from Zinder. In 1930, Tibesti Cercle ceded to Chad Colony in French Equatorial Africa, and in 1932, the colony of French Upper Volta was divided amongst its neighbors, with the Cercles of Dori and Fada N’gourma ceded to Niger Colony.

Niger participated in seven different French omnibus stamp issues between 1931 and 1939 including two sets of semi-postal stamps (Scott #73-88 and #B1-6). A set of semi-postals was released by the civil government in 1941 (Scott #B7-10). Other back-of-the-book issues include air post stamps released in 1940 (Scott #C1-6), air post semi-postals in 1942 (Scott #CB1-4), and postage due stamps in 1921 (Scott #J1-8) and 1927 (Scott #J9-21).

During World War II, Niger Colony officials, unlike neighboring Chad, remained loyal to the French Vichy government after 1940, and thus closed its southern border (to Nigeria) and eastern border until 1944. The Vichy government in France released stamps for the colony which weren’t ever placed on sale in Niger  in 1941 (Scott #89-90 and #B8-B13) and 1944 (Scott #B13A-B13B). It is also likely that the Vichy government air post stamps of 1942 weren’t placed on sale there either (Scott #C6-C13). Niger used the stamps of French West Africa from 1944 until 1959.

On December 31, 1946, the Military Territories of N’Guigmi and Agadez were ceded to Niger Colony, leaving only Bilma Cercle as the last military-run section of modern Niger. This area in the far north east only came under French civilian administration in 1956.

In 1947, French Upper Volta was reconstituted, and the Cercles of Dori and Fada N’Gourma ceded to Upper Volta Colony. While there were minor border changes after 1947, the modern borders of Niger were roughly established with this change.

Following the Overseas Reform Act (Loi Cadre) of July 23, 1956, rudiments of internal rule were created with the Territorial Assembly of Niger elected by popular vote, but holding only advisory and administrative powers. On August 25, 1958, the lieutenant governor became High Commissioner of Niger, but remained Head of State of a quasi-independent state which controlled some purely internal administration. With the establishment of the Fifth French Republic on December 4, 1958, Niger became an autonomous state within the French Community.

On December 18, 1958, the Republic of Niger was officially created with Hamani Diori as the head of the Counsel of Ministers of the Republic of Niger. The Constitution of February 25, 1959, was created by and then ratified vote of the Constituent Assembly of Niger, a body created for this purpose from the elected Territorial Assembly of Niger in December 1958. On March 12, 1959, the Constituent Assembly became the Legislative Assembly of Niger, with the head of government, Hamani Diori, retaining the title of President of the Council. Nominal executive powers were vested in the Assembly. with the constitution establishing elements, such as the flag of Niger, the national anthem and the coat of arms, along with language on naming of political bodies, rights and powers which have been retained in subsequent texts.

Following the Algerian War, the colonies of the French Union became fully independent in 1960. On July 11, 1960, Niger decided to leave the French Community and acquired full independence on August 3, 1960, with Diori as its first president. Niger ratified its first fully independent constitution on November 8 of that year and Jean Colombani stepped down as High Commissioner on November 10.

Scott #1 is a 1-centime brown violet and violet stamp originally released by Upper Senegal and Niger in 1914, overprinted TERRITOIRE / DU NIGER in black ink by the colony’s civil government in 1921. It is printed on unwatermarked paper, perforated 13½x14 and portrays a camel with a rider.

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