French Colonial Treaties in Africa: The Treaty of Bardo or Treaty of Ksar Said in Tunisia

Tunisie-Traité du Bardo de 1881
First page of the Treaty of Bardo, signed on 12 May 1881

Today, we will talk about the Treaty of Bardo or Treaty of Ksar Said which established a French protectorate over Tunisia. It was signed on 12 May 1881 between representatives of the French Republic and the Tunisian bey Muhammad III as-Sadiq, thus placing Tunisia under the control of France from 1881 until World War II.

As always, the treaty, like so many signed by the French on African soil, allowed France to extend its control over a large area of North Africa, and also to “protect” the Bey from internal opposition. Right… remember how they placed most African countries under “protectorates” to protect them? from who? Often, it was always claimed that it was protection from internal opposition or external invaders, etc, when in reality, it was to protect from them, the French, because face it, they were usually the ones arming the invaders and opposition.

Tunisie_Muhammad as-Sadiq
Portrait of the bey of Tunis, Muhammad as-Sadiq

The name of the treaty originated from the site of the residence of the Tunis court, Le Bardo, where the Husainid beys had established themselves in the early 18th century. What is a bey you may ask? Well the bey of Tunis was the monarch of Tunis who reigned from 1705, when the Husainid dynasty acceded to the throne until 1957 when the monarchy was abolished.

Tunisie_Signature du Traité du Bardo
Signature of the Treaty of Bardo – Reproduction of a drawing showing the signing of the treaty of Bardo, from left to right: Mohamed Larbi Zarrouk, Mohammed Aziz Bouattour, Mustapha Ben Ismaïl, Mohammed Khaznadar, Sadok Bey (Muhammed as-Sadiq), the general Élias Mussali, Théodore Roustan, general Bréart, general Pierre Léon Maurand and the translator Amard Tirage

How did the treaty come to be? As always France used a pretext: a raid on Algeria by the Tunisian Khroumir tribe served as a pretext for France to invade Tunisia in April of 1881. Remember the French pretext of an argument on the river Oueme to attack the King of DahomeyBéhanzin? Well, for the occasion, the French foreign minister, Jules Ferry, deployed an expeditionary force of approximately 36,000 troops to defeat the Khroumir tribe (as you can see, 36,000 troops sounds quite a lot for a tribe, it looks more like an invasion of the territory beyond the Khroumir’s, which was the rest of Tunisia). As you can imagine, the French troops were met with very little resistance, and they kept going until they reached Bardo (a suburb of Tunis). On May 12th, 1881, the French army arrived in proximity of Bardo, where the palace of the bey was located, and handed him a treaty of 10 articles for which he had less than 2 h to examine and sign. The bey, Muhammad III as-Sadiq had no choice but to sign the treaty in his palace of Ksar Said, where he handed over the foreign affairs, the defense of his territory, and the reform of his administration to France. His country was thus placed under the “protection” of France, even though it was only until 8 June 1883 that it officially became a protectorate of France after the signing of yet another treaty, known as the Conventions of La Marsa.