France: Atonement for sins against Africa?

FROM the report by some Nigerian dailies, France has decided to name some monuments after its soldiers of African descent who participated on its side during the Second World War and helped in its liberation war against German conquest in 1944. During the Second World War which coincided with the era of colonialism in Africa and some parts of the world, Africans from the colonies were recruited into the Allied Army in their war against Germany. Africans fought the war under the egis of the West African Frontier force in a war that had nothing to do with their lives. One remarkable benefit of African fighting this proxy war was that it shattered the myth of White superiority and this fact led to the clamour for independence. Another impact is that Africans proved their mettle as dogged fighters and their act of bravery helped in the liberation of Europe from German conquest. As regards France, Africans soldiers, according to the reports, helped in liberating Toulon and Marseille. In all, about 400,000 soldiers belonged in the Free French Forces which took part in the allies landings in the South of France in August, 1944.

Seventy-six years after this event, France is reviving the honour due to some of these soldiers who laid down their lives for the emancipation of their conquerors! What an irony. All along, the heroic deeds of these  Africans have been consigned to the dustbin of history. World events like Trans Atlantic Slave Trade since 1500, colonialism and globalization have all placed Africa as a weak player in the global socio-economic and political race. The dehumanizing events did not only cripple Africa’s march to nationhood, it also denied it of its human dignity. Both in the Diaspora and on its home soil, Africans are rated as second class citizens of the world. Racism is one of the evils that were an outcrop of intergroup relations in Europe and America after the abolition of slave trade. Africans in the United States were subjected to series of dehumanizing experiences through racism,  which kept the blacks at a disadvantaged position in their relation with the Whites in their supposed homes. The brutal murder of  George Floyd by US police on May 25, 2020 at Minneapolis, Minnesota caused uproar and directed global attention to the precarious conditions of black Americans. The protests that followed was unprecedented. On June 6, 2020, half a million people turned out in nearly 550 places across the United States in a single day and protested the dastardly act. This was replicated in major cities of the world under the aegis Black Lives Matter. During the protest, statues identified with colonialism were pulled down or vandalized in the US and Europe.

According to BBC, France’s reappraisal of its colonial past is fuelled by the global antiracism protests and Black Lives Matter. In consequence, France’s Armed Forces Ministry has provided local authorities with the guide to 100 Africans who fought for France in World War II, so that streets and squares may be named after them. There is no doubt that France is out to atone for the sins it committed against Africa. However, street or square naming after ex-African French soldiers is not enough and cannot obliterate the memories of years of humiliation. Frankly speaking, France’s quest for colonies abroad, especially in Africa, was more of a search for glory abroad after its loss of Alsace and Loraine during Franco-Prussia War of 1870 – 1871. This is unlike British imperialism which was based on the quest for primitive accumulation and exploitation. Though France’s lost of prestige in Europe forced it to seek territories abroad, exploitation of the resources of colonies for the industries could not be removed from its imperialism in Africa. Nonetheless, French colonial policies in Africa, especially Assimilation and later Association, were meant to integrate Africa into French sociopolitical and economic formations. In this wise, Francophone African nations were tied to the apron strings of France.

Politically, representatives of the colonies were given seats in the French parliament in Paris. Economically, the resources of Francophone Africans were exploited through French multinationals companies while finished products from France were brought back for sale in Africa. Besides, colonial armed forces were made an appendage of French military establishment.. This made the recruitment of African armies possible. In addition, the currency  of  Francophone Africa was issued from the Bank of Paris and the value determined by  same. On some occasions, the budgets of francophone Africa were augmented by France. Socially, French language was introduced as national language to suppress indigenous languages, while many of citizens of colonies needed no visa to enter France. This no-visa policy led to the large member of Africans in France, many who have nationalized and integrated into sporting activities, military and so on.

Basically, France’s policies in Africa, as beneficial as they looked, were detrimental to Africa and its development. As a matter of fact, France was not ready to grant its colonies autonomy. Charles De Gaulle’s policy of Federal Community was rejected by Guinea under Sekou Toure. Guinea was the only country that opted for independence from France. This action won Guinea independence, and France reacted by recalling all their professional people and civil servants and removing all transportable equipment from Guinea. Even at independence, France poked its nose into the internal affairs of its ex colonies and imposed and deposed leaders at will. As a matter of fact, progressive leaders in Africa were hounded into their untimely deaths by France in collaboration with fellow ex colonial masters. In summary, the underdevelopment of Africa which is epitomized by economic backwardness, political instability, poverty, lack of unity, and lack of integration among others was caused by colonialism, with France as one of the leading culprits. Black people all over the world lost their prestige, humanity and development through the inhuman policy.  Therefore, atonement for the sins committed against Africa by erstwhile colonialists should be beyond the renaming of monuments after few ex-service men of African origin in France. France and other colonialists should soften their hold and remove their knees from the necks of their ex-colonies and allow them to grow.

  • Adegbite writes in via



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