A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930

A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930

A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930

A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930

Synopsis

This book addresses a central but often ignored question in the history of modern France and modern colonialism: How did the Third Republic, highly regarded for its professed democratic values, allow itself to be seduced by the insidious and persistent appeal of a "civilizing" ideology with distinct racist overtones?

Excerpt

It is January 1985, and I have just arrived in Dakar, Senegal, to continue research on France's mission civilisatrice under the Third Republic. Dakar is a sprawling and dusty African city, not as modern as Abidjan, or so I am told. The financial and governmental center remains much as it was under colonial times, when Dakar was the capital of France's West African federation. At independence the gleaming white palace of the former governor general became, with only slight modification, the presidential palace. In this, the oldest planned part of the city dating back to the beginning of the century, streets still bear names such as Avenue Faidherbe, Avenue Roume (after French West Africa's third governor general), Rue Jules Ferry, Rue Victor Hugo, and Avenue Pasteur; outside the downtown, African names dominate: Avenue Lamine Gueye, Avenue Mohammed V. But the official city center has not bothered to divest itself of these markers of its former subjugation to republican France.

How should the modern historian read this particular postcolonial landscape? Are the French names signs of Senegalese indifference toward their former rulers, retained simply because no one has bothered to change them? Or, to the contrary, do they represent a continued "investment" on the part of the Senegalese government in a close relationship--cultural, economic, and diplomatic--with France? Do they evoke hostility? These questions are not easily answered, but they help get at issues that are at the heart of this book. At its most basic, the following study seeks to explore the illusions and justifications that lay behind the decision by French imperial-

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