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French and British Colonial Styles


CONTRASTING PICTURES
People in Africa were burdened by colonial perceptions of who they were. The British believed Africans were essentially different from Europeans and would stay that way. This point of view invited racism, implying that Africans were not just different but also inferior.

The French, by comparison, were prepared to treat Africans as equals, but only if they learnt to speak French properly and adopted the values of French culture. If they reached a sufficient level of education Africans might be accepted as French citizens. To fall below the required level was to invite charges of racial inferiority.

France encouraged an increasing closeness with her colonies on the eve of independence and thereafter. Britain took the view that it would give limited support to its colonies as they moved into independence; for the British independence meant being independent of Britain.

Back in 1914 there was already an African politician in the French National Assembly (the equivalent of the British House of Commons). This was Blaise Diagne, representing Senegal. Another leading figure was Leopold Senghor. Before he became a politician, he was a teacher. In the 1930's he took the post of senior classics teacher at the Lycee in Tours, France. No British public school or grammar school at that time would have accepted an African as a teacher no matter how brilliant.

At a military level, there was a continued reliance on African soldiers by the French. Senegalese soldiers continued to be in the French army after World War II. This stands in contrast with the British, who immediately demobbed African soldiers after the war.

Acquiring the values and language of the French brought opportunities and prospects for people in the French colonies. But these were not enough for the growing number of nationalists.

In the 1950's African delegates in the French National Assembly came together to form the Rassemblement Democratique Africain (RDA) under the leadership of Felix Houphouet-Boigny from the Cote D'Ivoire. Senghor broke with the RDA in 1948 and formed the Bloc Democratique Senegalais, or BDS. He was determined that Senegal should be the leading political force in the region.

"I would like to assure the whites of our unshakable will to win our independence and that it would be stupid as well as dangerous for them to wish to make the clock march backwards. We are ready, if necessary as a last resort, to conquer liberty by any means, even violent ones."
Leopold Senghor talking in August 1946.


SOLDIER'S POINT OF VIEW
"I got into the French army during the colonial period...and first I was a private, then I became a sergeant in the army after four months....This was 26 July 1956. I really felt fine when I was in the French army...but unfortunately for me, after independence in my country, Senegal, our former Prime Minister, Mamadou Dia, asked us to leave the French army, but we didn't join our Senegalese army...instead I was sent to work in our ministry of finance.

I liked to be in the French army because it gave me more opportunities than the Senegalese army. With the French army, I could have easily become a captain, whereas with the Senegalese army that was not possible. This is why I really wanted to be a French citizen, because it gave me better prospects for my future.

I didn't become a French citizen because I was told at that time that if I became a French citizen I would no longer have the opportunity to see my family. This is the only reason why I decided not to become a French citizen and remain Senegalese."
Isidore Mandiouban, retired Senegalese soldier.

In 1960 independence came to most of the French colonies. In the same year Nigeria, the Gambia, Cameroun and Somalia became independent of British rule. Nigeria, because of its size and strong regional power bases, opted for a federal structure at independence.

Listen to Percy Nyayi on Gambia's independence

Sierra Leone was brought to independence under leadership of a Mende Prime Minister, Milton Margai, sending a message to the old Krio elite that their days were over.

Uganda's independence was affected by an uncomfortable alliance between the Kabaka (king) of Buganda and the Prime Minister, Milton Obote.

Under Nyerere and his party TANU (the Tanganyika African National Union) Tanganyika, (later Tanzania) swept to independence. Nyerere had the advantage of the Swahili language, which was an African lingua franca understood nationwide and beyond. This was a key element, along with his charismatic leadership, to the people of Tanganyika having a sense of national unity, despite the many ethnic groups in the country.

The neighbouring island of Zanzibar became independent of British rule, but remained under Arab domination until 1964.

FOUR CASE STUDIES OF INDEPENDENCE

Read about Guinea Conakry

Read about Algeria

Read about Congo

Read about Kenya