The French had been using camel-mounted troops in North Africa for some time. With typical patrol areas equivalent to travelling from London to Naples and back (2,500 miles), they had proven ideal for ‘flying the flag’ in the remote desert areas of the Sahara and Maghreb. With similar large areas to cover it was natural that they should raise similar units in the Côte française des Somalis.
The Méharistes had originally been established in the Sahara as a nomadic gendarmerie, drawn from the local population, but with French officers and NCOs, drawn from the Bureau deAffaires Indigènes (Native Affairs Bureau). Unlike the similar Spahis and Tirailleurs however, the Méharistes were paramilitary formations and only served within their own locales. The system was later extended to the Mandate in the Levant and into French Somaliland.