Guinee un Demi Siecle de Politique 1945 2008 (Etudes africaines) (French Edition)
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FIAF Mission. PIP Mission. It is an economic and social study which goes to the margins of combat, because the price demanded from the country a crushing effort. At the same time as it demanded troops, the French demanded that African peasants continually produce more. The imperatives of war demanded forced labour to construct roads, and pushed up the production of rubber and of gold since AEF always had need of more financing. To highlight the thoughts of the Africans, Jennings calls on numerous testimonies, and discusses their resistance, desertions, and revolts. He was hostile to abuses but restrained by his patriotism.
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The book finally reveals itself to be not only a history of Free France in French Africa, but also a history of Africans under Free France. What we can wish for in the future, is to be able to compare this work with what was, at the same time, British policy in neighbouring countries. It is difficult to believe that just over a decade ago so little was actually known about the French Empire during World War II.
While the significance of the war was widely discussed in many of the studies about the gradual disintegration of this empire in the postwar years, few scholars looked specifically at the French colonies during the war. The book, therefore, not only contributes to our knowledge about French participation in the war but also enhances our understanding of the nature of French colonialism in Africa and its ramifications both on the metropole and on the African populations living in the colonies. The book is based on a wide range of primary sources collected from archives in France, Britain, Germany, and United States, as well as in African archives in Congo, Cameroon and Senegal.
It is divided into three parts. The first introduces us to the struggle between Vichy and Free French supporters over French Equatorial Africa FEA and the initial attempts of the Free French to legitimize their rule over the federation following their grasp of power. One way of acquiring legitimacy was by presenting the unfamiliar French leader, de Gaulle,to Africans through the use of propaganda. Jennings offers us a fascinating glimpse here to the African reception of this image by quoting an African legend distributed at the time according to which de Gaulle had been dead for five years and had come out of his grave to save France In this part of the book we also learn about the ideological and practical conflicts within the newly established regime.
The second part of the book deals with the military participation of French Equatorial Africa in the war. Here Jennings does not retell known stories about important battles on the African continent but rather completes these stories by putting them in their African and colonial context. Thus in the first chapter of this part he concentrates on the role of African soldiers in the battles and their relations with General Philippe Leclerc, the military commander of Free French in Africa, and in the second he focuses on the policies of recruitment and the everyday lives of African soldiers stationed in the federation.
In the third part of the book Jennings leaves the military domain and deals with the everyday reality of Africans who were forced to work for the military effort. Using complaint letters African farmers and workers submitted to colonial administrators, Jennings manages to expose the harsh reality in which Africans lived during the war and the racist attitudes they encountered. This part of the book reveals the incredible measure of colonial repression and extortion of resources that the Free French exercised in French Equatorial Africa.
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The conditions of forced labor, which were severe enough before the war, became even worse due to the pressure to produce more to support the war effort. Jennings thus demonstrates how the Free French turned the federation into a war machine.
Finally, in his epilogue Jennings discusses the ways in which the Free French episode in Africa was later remembered. In his introduction Jennings emphasizes that his book has no political agenda and objectives but was rather written to better understand the history of Africans who lived through the war in French Equatorial Africa This rich account of the Free French rule in Africa raises a number of important and interesting questions.
For the purpose of this round table I would like to point to two that seem the most crucial to me. The first regards the lessons that can be drawn from the comparison between the Free French rule of French Equatorial Africa during the war and the Vichy rule in the neighboring federation of West Africa. The second question, which is related to the first, regards the extent to which the war years in both federations marked a shift from the former colonial reality. He therefore gave preference to Africans from the traditional elites and encouraged the agricultural sector in the colonies.
The idea that African traditions must be maintained and that assimilation should be avoided was also adopted by the Vichy colonial administration in French West Africa. The question I would like to raise for discussion is, therefore, what we can learn from these similarities. In what way were the huge ideological differences between Vichy supporters and Gaullists blurred or even erased in the colonial context? Following that, if indeed the ideological division between the Vichy and the Free French was irrelevant in the colonial situation, how did the war mark a shift from the former colonial reality as Africans had experienced it?
It is obvious that the war influenced the Western-educated elites and reshaped their perceptions of French colonialism. After all, that was the essence of colonialism — the ability to exploit colonial subjects for the interests of the metropole while totally ignoring their own interests or claiming that they were identical to those of the colonizers. The question is then in what way if at all was the war significant to Africans who did not belong to the elite and were not directly involved in the war effort?
Did it affect their lives and did they accept the African political discourse that was developed after the war? By completing the picture of WWII in the French empire, Jennings opens the door for a wide array of questions that can teach us not only about the specific subject of the book but about the French colonial experience in general.
More than anything, Jennings reminds us that while it is important to remember the contribution of the empire and its peoples to the war effort, we should not forget that this contribution was usually not voluntary. It was part of a long tradition of colonial repression. The striking similarities in the colonial context between two regimes with two opposing ideologies should not be blurred by the myths African politicians helped to encourage after the war and which they doubtfully believed themselves.
Current French and African celebrations of the loyal empire and its part in the victory over Nazi Germany should therefore not obscure the fact that even the anti-fascist regime of the Free French was part of a repressive colonial system based on the same values it supposedly rejected. As German forces occupied France in , the notion of continuing hostilities overseas was entertained in some Empire-minded quarters within the French establishment. Nothing came of the idea. Shut out of France and confined to London with barely more than symbolic military means, de Gaulle had little choice but to seek a territorial base in the Empire.
It represented a vital asset in the struggle to gain legitimacy and recognition, as well as a much-needed shield to fend off aspersions that Free France was no more than an outfit of stooges beholden to and operating on behalf of Perfide Albion. Eric Jennings endeavors to draw attention to it. From cover to cover, it reads like a novel. Critical but fair, the narrative focuses on the French while striving to give Africans as much attention as the records permit.
Alongside this principal source, he used the archives of French diplomatic missions available in Nantes, military papers, and a variety of private holdings. He even consulted British, German, and American archives. It is a little puzzling that the French Foreign Affairs archives were not checked for references to French Equatorial Africa in interaction with Britain and the United States.
He makes good on that commitment. An even better insight would have been gained had the author investigated local circumstances in French West Africa AOF with a view to highlighting the specificity of the AEF. Was the more important presence of Vichy military personnel in the AOF the sole difference? Another question that comes to mind is why Vichy did not attempt to squelch the incipient secession. Is there evidence that it entertained such a plan? Was possible British intervention the only deterrent?
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Their day-to-day lives and living conditions are described at length. The subordinate status of African tirailleurs was much what the colonial order prescribed. Free French attitudes did not depart from standard conceptions toward the colonized. The book confirms that Free France was no more enlightened than Vichy or previous regimes.
Forced labor continued unabated, even intensified because of wartime necessity. Self-determination or political rights for the colonized were nowhere on the agenda. The status of Africans remained that of subjects; French citizenship was not extended to them between August and February He did not consider the abolition of forced labor to be possible in wartime. Part III covers two themes. Both the French and the British colonies in Africa were called upon to provide the rubber that was no longer available because of the loss of South-East Asia to Japan.
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