Contesting French West Africa: Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900-1950

Contesting French West Africa: Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900-1950

Contesting French West Africa: Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900-1950

Contesting French West Africa: Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900-1950

Synopsis

After the turn of the twentieth century, schools played a pivotal role in the construction of French West Africa. But as this dynamic, deeply researched study reveals, the expanding school system also became the site of escalating conflicts. As French authorities worked to develop truncated schools for colonial "subjects," many African students and young elites framed educational projects of their own. Weaving together a complex narrative and rich variety of voices, Harry Gamble explores the high stakes of colonial education.

With the disruptions of World War II, contests soon took on new configurations. Seeking to forestall postwar challenges to colonial rule, French authorities showed a new willingness to envision broad reforms, in education as in other areas. Exploiting the new context of the Fourth Republic and the extension of citizenship, African politicians demanded an end to separate and inferior schools. Contesting French West Africa critically examines the move toward educational integration that took shape during the immediate postwar period. Growing linkages to the metropolitan school system ultimately had powerful impacts on the course of decolonization and the making of postcolonial Africa.

Excerpt

First founded in 1895, the sprawling Federation of French West Africa stretched from the tip of the Cap-Vert peninsula, on Senegal’s Atlantic coast, across the bulge of West Africa, all the way to the present-day country of Niger. the northern reaches of French West Africa (Afrique occidentale française, AOF) extended deep into the Sahara desert, while the federation’s densely forested southern fringes eventually ran into the Gulf of Guinea. Across the first half of the twentieth century French officials struggled to give solidity and purpose to this vast collection of conquered territories covering an area eight and a half times the size of metropolitan France. But despite these ongoing efforts, aof remained in many respects a deeply contested entity.

By the turn of the twentieth century the period of military conquest was winding down, and most, but not all, of the territory of French West Africa had come under civilian control. On the ground, however, there were still very few civilian institutions capable of making French rule a more concrete reality. Although a federal administration, or Government General, had been established in 1895, this inchoate entity initially remained fused with the more established administration of the Colony of Senegal. It was not until the first years of the new . . .

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