The regretful law that made French more popular in Africa than in France

Mildred Europa Taylor March 20, 2019
A customary court in French West Africa

Until 1946, the major policy of French colonial governance in Africa was Assimilation. The main purpose of this policy was to turn the natives of Africa into French men by educating them in the language and French culture and subsequently making them become French citizens and equals.

Essentially, the policy, which has been described as worse than slavery itself, was aimed at erasing African tradition and culture and replacing them with the French.

Applied by French colonies such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Morocco, and Congo, one of the major reasons for introducing the policy was to cut down costs as France intended to replace French workers with Africans.

During the French revolution of 1789, the French believed that they were the superior race and hence their ideals of equality, liberty, and fraternity should be adopted by the whole world.

Assimilation was, therefore, imposed in various colonies, the notable one being Senegal’s Four Communes (Gorée, Dakar, Rufisque and Saint-Louis).

After slavery was abolished in 1848, the Four Communes were given voting rights and the right to elect a Deputy to the Assembly in Paris. Residents were then known as Originaires, who typically became French citizens.

One of those elites was Blaise Diagne, the first black deputy in the French assembly.

The regretful law that made French more popular in Africa than in France

A school in West Africa — Pinterest

The French basically opened schools in their respective colonies to teach natives both French culture and language, with the hopes that as they learned the French way of life, they would be more complacent under French rule.

Apart from undermining African culture, the policy of assimilation eroded the powers of traditional rulers and they became more like puppets of the French.

Their so-called civilization also implied that everything African was absurd and ungodly.

In terms of economics, colonies under this policy were made to produce raw materials to mainly feed French industries.

The French further plundered the resources of these colonies and were calling the shots as to what should be done in terms of finance and the economy to serve their interest and their citizens at the expense of the colonies.

On the social side, the policy dehumanized natives into the infamous system of Indigénat in which French administrators could beat Africans in public and imprison them for up to 2 years.

By 1930, only 80,000 Africans became French citizens and 78,000 of them only qualified because they were born in one of the four communes. The varied African cultures made it difficult for them to be absorbed into the French culture

Apart from being expensive, the French were not willing anymore to give all the African natives in the various colonies citizenship as they feared competition.

As a result, assimilation was abandoned and Association policy was introduced, which largely respected the culture of Africans.

Nevertheless, it is believed that the remnants of Assimilation are still being felt today, especially in Francophone countries, with many of them lacking good governance and infrastructure as compared to the English speaking countries.

Last Edited by:Victor Ativie Updated: April 8, 2020


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