Dim Delobsom: French Colonialism and Local Response in Upper Volta

by Michael Kevane


Dim Delobsom was one of the first indigenous colonial bureaucrats in the French administration of Upper Volta . Born in 1897, he rapidly rose through the ranks of colonial administration, becoming a high-level functionary. He also served as the resident anthropologist of the dominant Mossi tribe of Upper Volta , and published numerous books and articles on Mossi customs. Delobsom fell afoul of an important faction of the colonial apparatus, however, when he decided to assume the chieftaincy of his natal village upon his father’s death. Colonial officials and French Catholic priests thought he would be compromised as a bureaucrat-chief, and sought to block his investiture. Delobsom died under mysterious circumstances shortly after being named chief, in 1940.  His life reveals some important dimensions of the fractured colonial experience.

Full Text PDF

Michael Kevane is an Associate Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University, California. He teaches courses on African Economic Development, the Economics of Emerging Markets, and International Economics. He has published articles on the performance of Sudanese rural institutions and markets in journals such as Review of Development EconomicsWorld DevelopmentAmerican Journal of Agricultural Economics, and Africa. He is also co-editor (with Endre Stiansen) of a book, Kordofan Invaded: Peripheral Incorporation and Sectoral Transformation in Islamic Africa, published by E.J. Brill. He currently works on gender issues, including a research project in southwestern Burkina Faso investigating how social norms determine home and market production.

Acknowledgements: Helpful comments from two anonymous referees, and from participants at the 2003 ASA panel on Burkina Faso and the Working Group on African Political Economy (WGAPE) based at UCLA are gratefully acknowledged. In particular, thanks for comments from Pierre Englebert, Dan Posner, Dorte Thorsen, Alain Sissao, Magloire Some, Arnaud Bieri-Simpore, Andreas Dafinger, and Sylvain Froidevaux. Father Ivan Page at the Archives of the White Fathers in Rome and the staff at the Archives d’Outre-Mer at Aix-en-Provence in France were very helpful in enabling access to archival material. Research assistance by Manuella Mignot was a tremendous help. This research was supported by a University Research Grant from Santa Clara University and the Dean Witter fellowship and Cheryl Breetwor fellowship of the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.