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French Foreign Legion
Case Study: Algeria


PAINFUL INDEPENDENCE
Algeria was the only French colony in Africa occupied by a white settler population. Known as the pieds noires they numbered nearly a million. They took the most fertile 23 per cent of the country's farmland, leaving seven million Algerians with the rest. The French government clung to the idea that Algeria was France. The Algerians were determined to be independent. The result was violence on an appalling scale, with widespread indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians.

Troops were even brought in from other parts of Africa to fight on the side of the French. In 1960, after six years of conflict, the French Government finally gave in and started to negotiate. In 1962, Ahmed Ben Bella, leader of one of the main factions fighting the French, led the country to independence.

A SENEGALESE VIEW OF THE ALGERIAN WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

"Fighting African people on behalf of the Europeans doesn't mean that I'm not proud of being black. I'm very proud of being black. But what I want to make clear is that I had no choice. As a French soldier, I had to obey the orders. I fought my African brothers, simply because I didn't have a choice.

I was under the orders of the French army. When we first arrived in Algeria, the Algerians didn't want to shoot us, because we were black people - we were their brothers. But when they realised that we were obliged to fight them, they didn't hesitate to shoot at us.

I lost many of my friends and relatives in Algeria. And even now sometimes, when I sleep at night, I can see them in my nightmares - just the way I'm seeing you. This is a very painful situation. I an old man here in Dakar who walks the streets saying, "I'm going mad, I'm going mad", because it's still a nightmare. In 1956, the French were also fighting the Vietnamese; people who fought that battle, even now are still having nightmares. Even when they are not sleeping, they too feel they are going mad. So it is a very painful experience.

I regret a lot of things of course, because I lost many of my friends and relatives in the war, and because I had to kill many people. One of my friends and I were going on patrol and he was shot down by an Algerian and he was killed. That shocked me. We were recruited on the same day. We went into the field for training together. After that, we came back here to Dakar then went on to France, to Marseilles. After Marseilles we went to Strasbourg, and from Strasbourg we left for Algeria. And when we arrived in Algeria, we were in the same company and his bed was over mine. I was sleeping under him. And he was killed when we were patrolling together.

When I just returned from Algeria, I used to see the fighting quite often in my dreams. I used to have nightmares. And even when I look at my photos, those sad memories come back to my mind and I'm sad. But since I've been a civilian for a long time, I'm used to thinking of those sad images without being affected by them."

Isidore Mandiouban. Former soldier in the French army.