French Colonialism Unmasked: The Vichy Years in French West Africa

By Ruth Ginio | Go to book overview

Introduction

When the news of Germany’s conquest of France in June 1940 reached Dakar, the capital of the federation of French West Africa (fwa), many Africans, especially from the Western-educated elite, shed tears. Decades later Bara Diouf, then a young boy of eleven, tried to explain this reaction, which in retrospect seemed to him rather ridiculous: “You know, the sentiment we felt for France was beautiful, noble. What was it based on? I do not know, perhaps on a myth. Because we were all, more or less, prisoners of a myth of an admired republican France toward which we all felt great esteem.”1

The explanation Diouf gave for the African elite’s response to the news from France well summarizes the essence of the Vichy period in fwa. Soon after the debacle this federation fell into Vichy hands when, after he declared his support for Vichy, the new regime appointed Pierre Boisson as its governor-general there; until then Boisson had served as governorgeneral of the smaller and much less significant federation of French Equatorial Africa (FEA).

World War II in general and Vichy rule specifically shattered many myths for Africans, as well as for colonial subjects in other parts of the empire. This period paved the way for the challenging of colonial rule and the subsequent dissolution of the European empires in Africa and Asia.

It is widely accepted that World War II was a watershed in the decolonization process in Africa and elsewhere. But was this related only to the colonial powers’ loss of prestige or to the dramatic changes in the international arena after the war—notably the rise of two new powers, which were, at least in their rhetoric, anticolonial? To establish the claim that World War II was a decisive point in the history of colonialism, this period in the colonies themselves must be examined. In the French case the division of the empire between the Vichy regime and the Free French had a special significance. Although the British, like the French, experienced humiliating defeats during the war, some from non-Western peoples (e.g., the Japanese in Burma), their wartime situation did not even come close to that of the rival colonial power, France. Britain did not surrender to Germany, and its territory, although threatened, remained free. The colonial subjects of France witnessed their ruling nation being humiliatingly defeated and then occupied by another European power. And that was not all. Out of this defeat two Frances emerged—each claiming to be the

-xiii-

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French Colonialism Unmasked: The Vichy Years in French West Africa
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - French West Africa and Its Place in the Vichy Colonial Idea 1
  • 1 - Setting the Stage for Vichy 3
  • 2 - "A Source of Pride and Greatness" 11
  • Part II 23
  • 3 - Vichy Settles In- Administrative Changes and Continuity 25
  • 4 - Spreading the National Revolution in FWA 33
  • 5 - "Thinking Big" 59
  • Part III 87
  • 6 - Vichy and the "Products" of Assimilation 93
  • 7 - The Vichy Regime and the "Traditional" Elements of African Society 117
  • 8 - Vichy Colonialism and African Society 153
  • Part IV 159
  • 9 - Vichy Colonialism 161
  • 10 - Vichy''s Postwar Impact 173
  • Conclusions 183
  • Notes 191
  • Bibliography 213
  • Index 231
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