South of the Sahara, French rule at its zenith covered a huge arc of territory stretching from Senegal east to Chad and thence south to near the Congo mouth. ( France's other African territories were Madagascar -- now Malagasy (35) -- and French Somaliland (12), which remains a dependency). The two great divisions were French West Africa (capital, Dakar) and French Equatorial Africa ( Brazzaville); Togo and Cameroon were attached to the system as trust territories (19, 21). Today, the area comprises 14 sovereign republics, with a total of 30 million inhabitants, and 14 seats in the United Nations Assembly. Independence has meant balkanization.
Guinea became independent in 1958, the other 13 in 1960. The sweeping change reflected a sharp break with the traditional French policy of assimilation. Although the franchise, for Africans, was limited to those who could speak French and obtain identification papers, deputies and senators elected by the African colonies held parliamentary seats in Paris from 1870 onwards; as African political parties were formed, they affiliated to French ones and used their voting power to win concessions; in later years, several Africans were ministers in French governments (notably Felix Houphouet-Boigny, now president of the Ivory Coast). In 1945 the colonial empire became the French Union, and in 1956 the African territories obtained more representation in Paris and more self-government. Houphouet- Boigny's party, the Rassemblement Démocratique Africain (RDA), once linked with the French communists, broke with them in 1950, and came to dominate French West African politics -- except in Senegal, where the leading African figure was Leopold Senghor, now president.
In 1958 General de Gaulle, having returned to power in France as a result of the Algerian conflict (3), boldly asked the African electorates to vote either for immediate independence or for self-government as republics in a new loose association, the French Community. Guinea (15) chose independence and at once became a sovereign state. The others chose the Community; but the urge for full independence soon eroded it. Although in 1960 France offered membership of the Community with full sovereignty, in 1961 only Senegal, Gabon, Congo, Chad, the Central African Republic and Madagascar were members. However, all the other republics except Guinea and Mali (15) employed French advisers and officials, received economic aid (and trading advantages from France's membership of the European Common Market), and agreed to the con