The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization?

The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization?

The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization?

The End of Empire in French West Africa: France's Successful Decolonization?


In an effort to restore its world-power status after the humiliation of defeat and occupation, France was eager to maintain its overseas empire at the end of the Second World War. Yet just fifteen years later France had decolonized, and by 1960 only a few small island territories remained under French control.The process of decolonization in Indochina and Algeria has been widely studied, but much less has been written about decolonization in France's largest colony, French West Africa. Here, the French approach was regarded as exemplary -- that is, a smooth transition successfully managed by well intentioned French politicians and enlightened African leaders. Overturning this received wisdom, Chafer argues that the rapid unfurling of events after the Second World War was a complex , piecemeal and unpredictable process, resulting in a 'successful decolonization' that was achieved largely by accident. At independence, the winners assumed the reins of political power, while the losers were often repressed, imprisoned or silenced.This important book challenges the traditional dichotomy between 'imperial' and 'colonial' history and will be of interest to students of imperial and French history, politics and international relations, development and post-colonial studies.


The original idea for this book was born in the early 1990s, while I was in Dakar doing research for my PhD thesis on the politics of education in French West Africa. As I sat working in the dusty surroundings of ‘le Building’, home of the Senegalese National Archives, it became increasingly clear to me that, buried in the documents I was consulting, there was a story, and a history, of decolonization in French West Africa that had not been told in the existing literature on the subject. This book is the product of that original idea.

In doing the research for it, I have visited archives and libraries in Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, France and Britain. I have interviewed over thirty people, many of whom were key actors in the decolonization process and are now quite elderly. Indeed, some of those interviewed have since died and, as this has happened, a living library of the period has also disappeared. Their testimony has been an invaluable complement to the written sources used in the preparation of this book.

Tracking down these people has sometimes been a challenge: on one memorable occasion, I was unable to leave Dakar because of an air traffic controllers' strike and as a result missed a series of interviews in Côte d'Ivoire that had taken months to organize. On another, I took a bus journey from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro to interview someone, only to find on arrival that the person in question had just left for Abidjan. In the end, however, the frustrations have been more than compensated for by the joys and discoveries.

During the book's long gestation period, many people have helped me. Some have given generously of their time to answer my questions: Thierno Bâ, Abdoulaye Fofana, Abdoulaye Gueye, Boubacar Ly, Souleymane Ndiaye, Assane Seck, Iba Der Thiam, Pierre Kipré, who found time in his busy schedule as Minister for Education to see me, Mme Dagri Diabaté, Thierno Ibrahima Barry, Monsieur Konaré, Assouan Usher and Joachim Bonny. I am most grateful to Joseph-Roger de Benoist, Paul Désalmand, the late Joseph Eyraud, Amadou Ndene Ndaw and Jean Suret-Canale for not only giving generously of their time but also for giving me access to their own personal archives. Chance encounters have . . .

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