A short glossary:
AEF The federation
of French Equatorial Africa, comprising Congo, Oubangui-Chari,
Chad and Gabon, the Government-General of which was based in Brazzaville.
Following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the former German colony of
AOF The federation
of French West Africa, comprising the territories of Mauritania, Senegal, Soudan, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Haute-Volta (created in 1919,
abolished in 1932 and re-created in 1947: called Upper Volta in English),
Guinea and Dahomey, the Government-General of which
was based in Dakar. Following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the former
German colony of
the authority of
chef de canton A French-appointed chief who worked for the colonial administration
colon A European settler.
territory of an imperial state (for example
settled by metropolitan settlers.
commandant de cercle: Local French colonial officer, roughly equivalent to the British District Officer.
député Elected member of the French National Assembly.
direct rule The system of colonial rule under which colonies were governed directly by the colonial administration, excluding traditional local rulers or institutions.
évolué In the vocabulary of the period (‘educated native’ is the equivalent term in British colonies), an African who had received an education of a European
type and who was therefore, in part at least, acculturated. Evolués often worked as clerks, skilled workers or minor officials.
FIDES Fonds d’Investissement pour le Développement Economique et Social: Investment Fund for Economic and Social Development, established in 1946.
forced labour Forced labour
took a number of forms. Every man liable was supposed to provide eight days’
work a year, in theory under the commandant de cercle (q.v.). However, Africans were forcibly recruited by the
Administration, notably in
Grand Conseil The Grand Conseil
was the indirectly elected federal body that met in
five representatives to sit on it.
indigénat A legislative code that allowed colonial officials to punish any native with a prison sentence or a fine as a matter of discipline and without trial. indirect rule The system of colonial rule under which colonies were administered indirectly by the colonial administration, using traditional local rulers (or their replacements) as intermediaries who retained some measure of competence and authority, for example
literally ‘valid representatives’. The term valables was used by
Loi-Cadre Framework Law or Enabling Law, defining the framework and principles to a subsequent set of more detailed legislation. The Loi-cadre of 1956 (also
known as the loi Defferre, after the minister
responsible for guiding it through the National Assembly, Gaston Defferre) set the framework for legislation implementing a
measure of self-government in the French colonies of sub-Saharan
superseded by the provisions for the French ‘Community’ in the constitution of 1958.
négritude A cultural
movement for the promotion of black culture and values, started in
Strategies of maintaining
colonial power help smooth the transition to
Colonial power did not simply operate through force, coercion and repression, but also used manipulation, influence, co-option and persuasion.
Indeed, colonial authority operated most effectively when the colonized, or their representatives, could be encouraged or induced to do what the colonial power wanted them to do without the use of coercion or force.
For this to happen, the colonizer and those speaking on behalf of the colonized need to operate within a shared system of references and values.
Chafer sums it up nicely when he says:
decolonization represents not so much the end of an era but a period of transition from colonialism to neo-colonialism, in which the links between the former métropoles and the newly independent states were maintained ‘in the
form of economic dependency, development assistance, foreign investment,
and the political, social and economic compatibility of objectives among the involved élites’
The strange politics of De-colonisation
In June 1995 a
major international conference in
conference’s opening session was chaired by the President of Senegal, Abdou Diouf, and attended by the
Prime Minister, Habib Thiam,
together with other members of the government. Also present was the French
Minister of Cooperation, Jacques Godfrain. A month
later, and just six weeks after his
election, Jacques Chirac’s first official visit abroad as President of the
Republic was to Francophone Africa. His visit took in
events are symbolic of the continuing close links between
granted as normal in both France and Francophone Africa, such events would have
been unimaginable in the former colonies of Anglophone Africa, such as
It is unlikely that a conference or a Prime Ministerial visit being organized in former British territories thirty-five years after independence to mark the beginning of British colonial rule!
(and unlikely in
The idea of an ongoing Franco-African accord whereby there is an assumed smooth colonial into independence history as a function of the effectiveness of French assimilationist policy is replete with significant myths that do not stand up to scrutiny.
nature of the French presence in Black
BUT: French control over its colonial territories in Black Africa was not fully established until after the turn of the century and that French sovereignty over these territories had formally ended in 1960, meaning that French
rule lasted for barely sixty years, was conveniently forgotten.
Myth 2: the benefits that French colonial
rule brought to Black Africa, which have traditionally been linked to
transition to independence being attributable to French training of the
qualified personnel that
Most historians have suggested, rather, that one of the reasons for the reluctance of French West African leaders to call for immediate independence in the 1950s was the economic, political and administrative dependence of their territories on France, a product – in part at least – of the dearth of qualified Africans!
These myths, which were –and still are –
widely shared by members of the generation of
Why these myths have been so enduring.
Part of the
answer to this lies in the way in which they
tapped into deeply rooted elements of French national culture, both
underpinning and justifying the notion
to ideas of French universalism and the superiority of French culture, a notion widely held on both the right and left.
Left/Right Ideological identities of a positive Assimilationist narrative
At the same time, they served, on the right, to sustain myths of French grandeur,
particularly in the military and diplomatic fields, while on the left, they served to legitimize the notion that French colonialism was modernizing and progressive through the export of the republican values of liberty and equality and the promotion of economic development.
Detached from the vocation coloniale, they have continued to underpin French
attitudes and policy towards Black
They have acquired an explanatory function by suggesting that the largely peaceful transition was the product of a deliberate government strategy.
So why on the whole by 1960 were
Why did French West Africa, and more generally French Black Africa, go the way it did, whereas in Indochina and Algeria the end of colonial rule was marked by war and, ultimately, the eviction of the French?
In a study of French and British decolonization, Smith (1982) suggests that there are three situations in which nationalist élites can be expected to enter into violent conflict with an imperial regime:
1) ‘where a native élite dependent on foreign power has never been created;
2) where such an élite, once created, is destroyed; and
3) where such an élite has been displaced by the rise of a rival political formation’.
None of these
cases applied to
T. Smith, ‘Patterns in the
transfer of power: a comparative study of French and British decolonization’,
in P. Gifford and W. R. Louis, eds,
The Transfer of Power in
The native élite was in a weak position because it was obliged to fight on two fronts, against the imperial power on the one hand, and against more radical local groups striving to replace it on the other.
Smith again: ....dominant élites in this situation are prudent to avoid open confrontation with the colonial power: ‘This is not only because it is sensible to recognize that, given the great disproportion of military resources, it is mostly their fellow citizens who will be killed.
The élites understand as well that they suffer first military setbacks
and in the predictable chaos the dominant élite may well find it loses out to rival leaders.
well the situation in which African political leaders such as Senghor (
They were constantly forced to look over their shoulders, fearing initially Communist influence and, later in the 1950s, the spread of radical nationalist ideas, because both of these represented a threat to their strategy of cooperation and negotiation with the colonial power, which depended for its success on the maintenance of both a stable situation within the colony and stable relations with France. This was the main reason for Houphouët-Boigny’s decision to break with the Communist Party in 1950.
The ambivalence of the assimilated African elite
Much of the French-educated élite
Even radical nationalists who demanded
immediate independence as well as more moderate nationalists wanted to maintain close links with
All were impressed by French superiority in the military, technical, scientific, economic and cultural fields, and sought to share in the benefits of this superiority through the acquisition of French education and though closer contact with France.
French-educated African élite saw French colonialism as modernizing and progressive and to believe that African emancipation would take place through integration within a Greater France, rather than through secession from it.
This belief endured in significant sections of this élite right up to, and beyond, political independence.
more radical members of the French-educated élite who
advocated secession from
Like the nationalist leaders whose moderate stance they rejected, they were French educated; and it was by reference to French models and norms that they demanded the expansion of education for Africans, equal rights, equal status and equal pay for equal work.
Such contradictions and ambiguities were to be actively exploited by African political leaders who sought to challenge the legitimacy of the radical nationalists’ position.
Decolonization - measures of success?
The decolonization process was largely
peaceful and it was this smooth transition that enabled
At a political level this is exemplified by French presidential visits and the
Franco-African summits. This has been accompanied by a significant economic
effort: since 1960, between half and
two-thirds of French economic development aid has consistently gone to its
former colonies in sub-Saharan
The political and economic effort has in turn been underpinned
a) by the Franc zone,
b) by the maintenance of permanent French military bases and
c) the promotion of French language and culture through cultural cooperation and the organization of La Francophonie.
None of this would have been possible if the decolonization process had been marked by violence and bloodshed, as happened elsewhere in the French Empire.
Houphouët-Boigny put it in 1957: "if