Investigating the Investigators

French Colonial Attempts to Supervise Its Policing System during the 1930s*

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Ruth Ginio Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

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Three cases of re-opened murder investigations in French West Africa are at the heart of this article. My aim is to examine these cases as a lens into everyday colonial policing that was not directly linked to major anti-colonial protests. All three inquiries into low-ranking colonial officers and the way they conducted their investigations took place during the 1930s, in Mauritania, Senegal, and Dahomey. While their circumstances were different, the cases reflect the flawed and unprofessional character of colonial investigations. They also demonstrate that murder investigations—as well as criticism of them—were powered by two crucial French colonial notions: the maintenance of public order and the ideology of the civilizing mission.

Contributor Notes

Ruth Ginio is associate professor at the department of History in Ben Gurion University of the Negev. One of her current research projects is murder investigations in French West Africa. The other is the Jeandet Affair in Senegal at the late 19th century. She is the author of two books: The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization (Nebraska University Press, 2017) and French Colonialism Unmasked: The Vichy Years in French West Africa (Nebraska University Press, 2006). She had published numerous articles and book chapters and edited two volumes: With Efrat Ben Ze'ev and Jay Winter, Shadows of War: A History of Silence in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. With Pal Ahluwalia and Louise Bethlehem, Violence and Non-Violence: African Perspectives. London and New-York: Routledge, 2007. Email:

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