The Black Man's Burden - The cost of colonization of French West Africa for French taxpayers
Was colonization very costly for the metropole? This view has been widely accepted among French historians even though little empirical evidence has been provided. Using original data from the colonial budgets of French West Africa (AOF) this paper provides new insights into the actual colonial public funding in this part of the French empire. Comparing the financial transfers from the metropole to AOF to total metropolitan expenses reveals that the cost of colonization of the AOF for French taxpayers was extremely low: French subsidies to the AOF represented on average 0.007 percent of total metropolitan expenses. From the AOF side financial transfers from the metropole were not that beneficiary since French subsidies represented on average 0.4 percent of total local revenue. Including the public loans and cash advances from the metropole does not change this general pattern. West Africans therefore funded most colonial public investments which reveal to be very small. One reason for the scarcity of public investments is the cost of French civil servants serving in the colonies which turned out to be a considerable burden for Africans: French government officials alone represented 20 percent of total local public expenses.
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