History of Colonization

Revolts in French ruled countries as opposed to Britain ruled countries

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To understand the causes of consequences, it becomes binding to have an idea of the background before the matter in dwelled into as a larger picture.

The scramble for Africa started at the end of nineteenth century. European powers wanted to establish separate dominances over varied parts of the continent. After the initial hindrance of the geographical location was taken care of, each European power had vested interest in particular areas. Thus, they redrew the boundaries and the structure of the countries in the continent was revised to an immeasurable extent. The already existing political institutions were not concentrated upon. It led to forced partitions and mergers of a majority of the African countries. The traditional groups and monarchies were forced to break down and share their territory with literally new people.

Thus multiple independent groups with each having their own history, culture, language and tradition were now belonging to one territory which would be ruled by one or more powers. Each ruling power was only looking for their own benefit. After a mass re division of the land, some parts were traded between the ruling countries to satisfy their own goals. Any kind of resistance by the native Africans was severely oppressed and made to die down by various Treaty and Conquest tactics.

Although the colonial rule was expected to go on for over a period of more than 100 years, the ruling powers lacked sufficient man power to take over administration, governance over the economic growth. Indirect rule was favored with African authorities and thus emerged a new class if intermediaries whose job was to make sure that the government orders were fully executed.

The pattern of economic activity started changing with commercial agriculture at a good pace. The countries started fair exports of these commodities as well as minerals. In certain parts of the continent, a given holding of a territory was declared as White Land.

The literacy and primary education introduced throughout Africa by the Christian Missionaries led to the elites espousing nationalist ambitions. But it didn’t result in anything at this point as the African countries had nothing among them which would or could hold them together against the colonizing powers. Africans were residing in mere geographical boundaries.

With the second World War, the game changed in Africa. All the new infrastructural developments and the rapid increase in agricultural production as well as the manufacture of other items that took place were to ensure the sustainability of the ruling European nations in the war. When the African troops were deputed for war, they learnt to a great deal about the freedom movements and struggles in the other parts of the world. When the war came to an end, just like the rest of the world, there was a lot of restlessness and frustration in Africa. Those who had served in the army were hoping to be rewarded by some share in the government of their country.

The standard of living by then was in complete shambles. No proper housing facilities, high prices, no jobs and the problems continued. In order to provide some relief which would benefit their own interest, the colonial powers carved a way to include some of the African people in the political game. But gradually, some African thinkers started to believe in the idea of ‘self-government’ and demanded the same from the colonial power ruling that particular country. When this freedom was granted, the upcoming African political leaders were not trained and capable enough to run a country. Thus policies and decisions were not suitable for the development which led to increased corruption.

Although no one really campaigned for independence, the political aspirations were centered on securing for the African population the same rights and privileges as those enjoyed by the fellow metropolitan people of the colonial power.

But gradually, the march towards independence started in Africa. Like in any revolution, there were revolts across countries, against the governments. But there was a very obvious difference between the type and intensity of revolts in countries ruled by Britain and those ruled by the French. This is more of a comparative understanding rather than an analytical one.

Here on, there is a sincere effort been made of following a timeline.

When the continent of Africa was being divided by lines pre decided by the colonial invaders, some territories were swapped to satisfy their purposes. The British were primarily interested maintaining secure communication lines to India which led to initial interest in Egypt and South Africa. Then they intended to establish a Cape-Cairo railway. The control of Nile was also viewed as a strategic and commercial advantage. France had two motivations for its colonisation. Firstly, it wanted to establish markets, strategic bases for the French military and trading fleets around the world. Secondly, it wanted to exploit the natural resources and cheap labour of the colonies. Britain traded parts of northern Nigeria with France for fishing rights. France exchanged parts of Cameroon with Germany in return for German recognition of the French protectorate over Morocco. At the end of all the exchanges, the French claimed 3.75 million square miles while the British claimed 2 million square miles.

Early African reaction to European intrusion into Africa in the late 19th century was not uniform. A few groups that had suffered from long-term warfare or slave raiding (such as in parts of East Africa) gave an uncertain welcome to European presence in their regions in hope that there would be peace. Other groups strongly resisted the coming of European political control. However, many people had no initial reaction to colonialism. This was because the early year’s colonialism had little impact on the lives of many rural African peoples. This situation changed as the impact of colonialism became more widespread and intense in the middle decades of the 20th century.

Until after the Second World War almost all the Africans living in the colonies of France were not citizens of France. Rather, they were “French Subjects”, lacking rights before the law, property ownership rights, rights to travel, dissent, or vote. Until after the Second World War almost all the Africans living in the colonies of France were not citizens of France. Rather, they were “French Subjects”, lacking rights before the law, property ownership rights, rights to travel, dissent, or vote.

But post WW2, France started regarding their colonies not as separate territories but as a part of ‘La Plus Grande France’ But Britain’s strategy of pacifying all the nationalist ideas was different. They started by introducing new constituencies, providing for elections for a handful of members of the legislative councils.

In the 1950’s, violence broke out in Algeria as France refused to grant Independence. The Algerian war started with the insurrection organised by the National Liberation Front (FLN), on November 1st, 1954, and lasted until 1962 when Algeria became independent. During those eight years one million Algerians died. In 1954 there were 200,000 Algerians living in France. Of those 150,000 were working, the majority in the building or steel industries. Slowly but surely the FLN began to organise Algerians in France. It was Algerians in France that were to finance the war. Tunisia and Morocco were granted independence and the rest 14 territories that France had under its wing, remained loyal to them.

In British West Africa, everyone who was politically conscious was deemed to be a nationalist. On the other hand in French West Africa, there are Catholics and anti- clericals, Communists and Gaullists, Socialists, Syndicalist and Existentialists. Leopold Sedar Senghor was the first President of Senegal and the first African to be elected as a member of the French Academy. He wanted to not just stay in the French Union but the French Republic. Thus, he advocated political federation rather than independence between France and Africa.

Post World War 2, the French Government bore a considerable amount of the administrative costs and provided subsidies for export crops. Until 1958, majority of the public investment and a sizeable amount of annual running costs plus vast sums of infrastructure were financed by France.

When a new constitution was being drafted in the French ruled countries, except for Guinea, all other countries voted for a Franco-African community. But this did not last long and the African rulers demanded greater control. France then reached the conclusion that all territories under them would have to be launched as independent states. Meanwhile, in all the Britain ruled countries, the violence had been reaching a boiling point forcing England to jettison all long term plans of independence.

Throughout the period of colonization, the French, no doubt ruthless colonisers, seem to have been more willing to consider the people of Africa a part of their culture and nation rather than believing in the principle of the ruler and the ruled upon as followed by Britain to a large extent.

The French also wanted to see the fruits of their anti-slavery efforts in West Africa.

Assimilation was one ideological basis of the French colonial policy. In contrast with British imperial policy, the French taught their subjects that, by adopting French language and culture, they could eventually become French. The famous ‘Four Communes’ in Senegal can be seen as proof of this. And probably the only proof of the same. Here Africans were, in theory, afforded all the rights of French citizens.

The French Assimilation concept was based on the idea of expanding French culture to the colonies outside of France in the 19th and 20th century. Natives of these colonies were considered French citizens as long as the culture and customs were adopted. This also meant they would have the rights and duties of French citizens.

The French appeared to understand fully, even at an early stage, that assimilation of West Africans under tier control was not in the offing. Both the cost of implementing such a program and the tenacity of the indigenous populations prevented full-scale assimilation. Instead, the French sought to control the West African populations. By contrast, in the British colonies the approach was the opposite: they used local power holders rather than installing a whole new administration. Each system aimed to benefit the colonizers. The French were rather harsh in their administration and their attempts to increase their economic footholds, utilizing such means as forced labor and imprisonment to maintain and expand their interests.

One of the most important aspects of the French colonization of West Africa was the requirement placed on the colony to pay its own way as a colony. The French administration sought to increase productivity and extract valuable resources. They fostered production of groundnuts and cotton where appropriate conditions were present and imposed taxation as a means of inducing participation in the cash economy. Where crops could not be grown, they encouraged migration to wage- earning areas. The French colonial encounter in West Africa was driven by commercial interests and, perhaps to a lesser degree, a civilizing mission. The political administration and the economic interests were fairly uniform throughout the colonial period. Little was done to improve the lives of West Africans, although attempts were made to provide minimal health and educational services. Whereas in the British areas of West Africa some portion of the economic gain accrued to an African middle class, no such dynamic occurred in the French context.











-Shalmali Ghaisas