The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization?
In an effort to restore its world-power status after the humiliation of defeat and occupation, France was eager to maintain its overseas empire at the end of the Second World War. Yet just fifteen years later France had decolonized, and by 1960 only a few small island territories remained under French control.The process of decolonization in Indochina and Algeria has been widely studied, but much less has been written about decolonization in France's largest colony, French West Africa. Here, the French approach was regarded as exemplary -- that is, a smooth transition successfully managed by well intentioned French politicians and enlightened African leaders. Overturning this received wisdom, Chafer argues that the rapid unfurling of events after the Second World War was a complex , piecemeal and unpredictable process, resulting in a 'successful decolonization' that was achieved largely by accident. At independence, the winners assumed the reins of political power, while the losers were often repressed, imprisoned or silenced.This important book challenges the traditional dichotomy between 'imperial' and 'colonial' history and will be of interest to students of imperial and French history, politics and international relations, development and post-colonial studies.
to encourage responsible, organized trade unionism as part of its modernizing project for French West Africa.20 Nevertheless, the Administration became worried at the scale of the strike wave. The authorization of trade unions and recognition that African workers had rights and legitimate grievances led it into uncharted territory. The problems involved in pursuing such a strategy were dramatically illustrated by the tragic events at Thiès in September 1938. Following two brief strikes by some
the economic discrimination to which African farmers were – 44 – Prelude to Decolonization subject. The SAA grew quickly to over 20,000 members and within a year formed the nucleus of Côte d’Ivoire’s first political party, the Parti Démocratique de la Côte d’Ivoire (PDCI).47 The SAA was supported by the newly appointed Free French governor, André Latrille, but the measures he tried to introduce to improve the lot of African planters were consistently thwarted by Governor-General Cournarie.48
54. For a discussion of this myth, see R. Barthes, Mythologies (Seuil, 1957), p. 201. 55. M. Semidei, ‘De l’empire français à la décolonisation à travers les manuels scolaires français’, Revue Française de Science Politique, XVI, 1966, pp. 56–86. A good example is P. Kaeppelin and M. Teissier, La Géographie de la France et de ses Colonies (Hâtier, 1921). 56. M. Thomas, The French Empire at War, p. 2. 57. D. Gardinier, ‘The Second World War in French West Africa and Togo: recent research and
something of a balancing act between the two. It was a compromise that in different ways suited both France’s governing élites and many French-educated Africans. It suited colonial officials and politicians representing the various constituencies in France that wanted to retain the empire. It also offered something – – 74 – The New Political Context the promise of progress and a measure of autonomy – to the Frencheducated African élite. But it was precisely these divergences of perspective that
complete their primary education.18 Education was largely skills based, with a reduced academic content compared to metropolitan curricula. The emphasis on agricultural production and the importance attached to the acquisition of basic skills had increased further with the introduction of ‘rural schools’ in the 1930s, with the result that some pupils remembered the regime in these schools as not much different from forced labour.19 Indeed, when news arrived that forced labour had been abolished,