The Volta-Bani War of 1915: French West Africans’ Rebellion Against French Military Conscription During World War I

The Volta-Bani War was a major yet obscure anti-colonial rebellion which took place in French West Africa, in the areas of modern Burkina Faso and Mali between 1915 and 1917. This conflict emerged as indigenous African forces, uniting various local communities, protested against enforced military conscription by rising against the French colonial authority.

The Volta-Bani War of 1915: West Africans’ Rebellion Against French Military Conscription During World War I

The roots of the Volta-Bani War can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time when European powers vied for control over Africa’s vast resources and territories. France, one of the foremost colonial powers, sought to expand its dominion in West Africa, imposing its authority through a system of indirect rule and exploitation.

In the region encompassing present-day Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, the French established a colonial administration known as French West Africa. Despite promises of development and progress, the colonial regime subjected the indigenous populations to forced labor, taxation, and cultural suppression.

In the midst of this environment of oppression, discontent grew among the inhabitants of the region, primarily comprising the Marka (Mali), Bwa (Burkina Faso), Lela (Niger), Nuni (Burkina faso) and Bobo people (Burkina faso). Fueled by grievances over land dispossession, economic exploitation, and disdain for indigenous customs, resistance movements began to take shape.

The spark that ignited the flames of rebellion came in 1915 when Joost van Vollenhoven, the Governor-General of French West Africa, attempted to forcefully conscript locals from the region into the Senegalese Tirailleurs to support their war efforts in Europe during World War I. This brazen act of exploitation, coupled with the increasing direct taxation of locals who had no voice in the governing of the colonies, served as the catalyst for widespread resistance.

The Volta-Bani War of 1915: West Africans’ Rebellion Against French Military Conscription During World War I

Under the leadership of local chiefs, the populace rebelled against colonial rule, launching attacks on colonial outposts and disrupting French control over the territory. Armed with traditional weapons and a passionate spirit of independence, they waged a guerrilla war against the french colonial forces. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the insurgents remained elusive, employing hit-and-run tactics to evade capture. Nonetheless, the conflict took a severe toll on the African fighters, whose weaponry paled in comparison to the might of the French arsenal; one battle near Bobo-Dioulasso in May 1916 left over 1,800 dead.

At its height in 1916, the rebels comprised a coalition of indigenous forces, numbering between 15,000 to 20,000 men. The rebels, drawing upon their superior knowledge of their terrain and a fierce determination to reclaim their freedom, engaged the French Army on multiple fronts. After about a year of warfare, the French army ultimately defeated the insurgents, imprisoning some leaders and executing others. However, resistance continued until 1917.

While not widely known, the Volta-Bani War stands as one of the most notable instances of armed resistance against colonial rule across Africa between 1914 and 1918.

Uzonna Anele
Uzonna Anele
Anele is a web developer and a Pan-Africanist who believes bad leadership is the only thing keeping Africa from taking its rightful place in the modern world.


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