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France: Atonement for her sins against Africa?

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From the report by some Nigerian Dailies, France has decided to name some monuments after her soldiers of African descent who participated on her side during the Second World War and helped in her 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 Allies Army in their war against Germany. African fought the war under the egis of the West African Frontier force in a war that has nothing to do with their lives.

One remarkable benefit of African fighting this proxy war is that it shattered the myth of White superiority and this fact led to 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.

76 years after this event, France is rejuvenating 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, but it also denies her of her human dignity. Both in Diaspora and on her home soil, Africans are rated as second class citizens of the world. Racism is one of the evil that was an outcrop of intergroup relation in Europe and America post abolition of the slave trade. African-American, especially in the United States, was subjected to a series of dehumanizing experiences through the enactment of racism which kept the blacks at a disadvantageous position in their relationship with the Whites in their supposed homes.

The brutal murder of George Floyd by US Police especially on May 25, 2020, at Minneapolis, Minnesota caused uproar and directed the world attention to the precarious condition of the Black Americans. The protest that followed in the US 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 Scavengers 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 allot for the sins she committed against Africa. However, street or square naming after ex-African French soldiers are not enough and cannot obliterate the memories of years of humiliation.

Frankly speaking, France quest for colonies abroad, especially in African was more of the search for glory abroad after her loss of Alsace and Loraine during the Franco-Prussia War of 1870 – 1871. This is unlike British imperialism which was based on her quest for primitive accumulation and exploitative. Though France’s loss of prestige in Europe forced her to seek territories abroad, exploitation of the resources of colonies for the industries could not be removed from her imperialism in Africa. Nonetheless, French colonial policies in Africa, especially Assimilation and later Association were meant to integrate Africa into French socio-political and economic formations. In this wise, Francophone Africa was tied to the apstron strings of France. Politically, representative of the colonies was given seats in the French parliament in Paris.

Economically, resources of Francophone Africans were exploited through French multinationals companies while finished products from France were brought back for sale in Africa. Besides, colonies 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 the same.

On some occasions, budgets of francophone Africa were augmented by France. Socially, French language was introduced as a 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 the sporting activities, military and so on.

Basically, France policies in Africa as beneficial as they look were detrimental to Africa and its development. As a matter of fact, France was not ready to grant her 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 though w0n Guinea her Independence, France reacted by recalling all their professional people and civil servants and by removing all transportable equipment from Guinea. Even at independence, France poked her nose into the internal affairs of her ex-colonies and imposed and deposed leaders at will. As a matter of fact, progressive leaders in Africa were hounded into their untimely death by France in collaboration with fellow ex-colonial masters.

Summarily, underdevelopment of Africa which is epitomized by economic backwardness, political instability, poverty, lack of unity, and lack of integration among others were caused by colonialism which France is one of the leading culprits. Black people all over the world lost their prestige, humanity as well as her development through the inhuman policy.

Therefore, atonement from the sins committed against Africa by her erstwhile colonialists is beyond the naming of monuments after few ex-servicemen of African origin in France. France and other colonialists should soften their holds or remove their kneels on the neck of their ex-colonies and allow them to grow.


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