The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930-1954/A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for the Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era

By Houngnikpo, Matthew | African Studies Review, September 2003 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930-1954/A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for the Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era


Houngnikpo, Matthew, African Studies Review


Jonathan K. Gosnell. The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria, 1930-1954. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2002. xii + 234 pp. Maps. Bibliography. Index. $75.00. Cloth.

Matthew Connelly. A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for the Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. xviii + 400 pp. Illustrations. Appendix. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $45.00. Cloth.

The decision by the wartime Allies to grant independence to the former colony of Libya in 1951, together with rising pressure on the British to end the vestiges of their control in Egypt, galvanized all North Africa. To quell nationalist tensions, the French, after several futile political maneuvers, yielded and granted independence to Morocco and Tunisia. However, for both domestic and international reasons, France was unwilling to set Algeria free. After 120 years as a French département, the métropole had too great a stake in Algeria to give it up. France's obstinacy and search for grandeur led to a protracted and violent war. In the end, the Accords d'Évian finally granted independence to Algeria. The books under review represent important contributions to the scholarship on the Algerian war. While The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria exposes France's stubbornness in projecting French cultural norms onto colonial territories and populations, A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for the Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era not only sheds important light on the former Allies' positions and attitudes vis-à-vis what some viewed as a fight for self-determination, but also disentangles marvelously, the "supreme paradox" of the Algerian tragedy (4).

After an enlightening introduction, the first chapter of The Politics of Frenchness in Colonial Algeria explores the notion of l'Algérie française at the apex of French influence. Chapter 2 demonstrates the importance of curricula and textbooks in establishing la Francisation in colonial Algeria. Chapters 3 and 4 dig through the French and colonial press to unveil respective perceptions of French and Algerians. Chapter 5 scrutinizes definitions of Frenchness with respect to various populations, and the last chapter sifts through various Algerian populations to expose a distinctly non-French Algerian colonial identity.

The importance of the colonial "periphery" to France's evolving postcolonial sense of self is beyond doubt, and colonial Algerian heterogeneity and the country's unique relationship to France put Frenchness to a test. As one of the oldest and largest settler colonies within the French Empire, Algeria was perceived of as the best experiment with France's assimilation policy. No other colony had been granted French departmental status and maintained such closes relationships with France. This study suggests that although Algeria had become officially French, l'Algerie française, even at the pinnacle of its acceptance, was more diverse and more contested than the French wanted to admit.

In November 1954, the Algerian war of independence began. It was the first armed struggle of any African people against European rule, and it would become a heroic milestone in the history of the decolonization of the Third World. The National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale-FLN) quickly gained the support of the vast majority of the native Algerian population and launched a guerrilla-style armed rebellion against the superior French forces. By 1958 it was clear that France was losing the war. Discredited by its failure to subdue the Algerian rebels, due government of the Fourth Republic was overthrown by General Charles de Gaulle. The colons, or pieds noirs, in Algeria hoped that, given the stakes, the nationalistic de Gaulle would uphold their claim to l'Algérie française, but they were soon disappointed. A pragmatic realist and mindful of French devastating defeat in Vietnam, de Gaulle quickly realized that a negotiated political setdement had to be found if France was to emerge with its military honor intact. …

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