The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization

The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization

The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization

The French Army and Its African Soldiers: The Years of Decolonization


As part of France's opposition to the independence of its former colonies in the years following World War II, its army remained deeply invested in preventing the decolonization of the territories comprising French West Africa (FWA). Even as late as the 1950s, the French Army clung to the hope that it was possible to retain FWA as a colony, believing that its relations with African soldiers could offer the perfect model for continued ties between France and its West African territories.

In The French Army and Its African Soldiers Ruth Ginio examines the French Army's attempts to win the hearts and souls of the local population at a time of turbulence and uncertainty regarding future relations between the colonizer and colony. Through the prism of the army's relationship with its African soldiers, Ginio considers how the army's activities and political position during FWA's decolonization laid the foundation for France's continued active presence in some of these territories after independence. This project is the first thorough examination of the French Army's involvement in West Africa before independence and provides the essential historical background to understanding France's complex postcolonial military relations with its former territories in Africa.


On April 15, 1974, Lt. Col. Seyni Kountche, an ex-sergeant in the French colonial army, committed a successful coup d’état against Niger’s president, Hamani Diori. Diori had been on good terms with the French government ever since he had imposed draconian measures against the African opposition parties, which had called for immediate independence during the 1950s. Despite this, the French units stationed in Niger did not intervene and allowed Seyni Kountche to take power. Diori’s request for assistance was refused because of his demand to renegotiate the price of uranium, which his country supplied to France. This insistence caused the French to take their chances with a new leader, one who had once been part of France’s colonial units and who they believed might be more accommodating.

This was not the first nor the last time in the postcolonial period that the French government instructed the military units stationed in its ex-colonies in Africa to choose sides according to its interests. the critics of this policy, known as Franceafrique, accused France of meddling in African conflicts in a manner that did not consider the welfare of the populations in these countries. in fact, after the end of French colonial rule in sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1960s, the French army intervened forty-eight times in various conflicts and crises on the continent within the context of this policy. the French support of the extreme Hutu government, which led the Genocide against the Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994, only intensified this criticism.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle and his advisor for African affairs, Jacques Foccart, initiated the policy of Franceafrique after de Gaulle’s return to power in 1958. Foccart was to become the most controversial figure related to France’s manipulations in its ex-African colonies. the term itself was actually borrowed from the first president of the Ivory Coast, Félix . . .

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