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French Colonialism Unmasked

The Vichy Years in French West Africa

Ruth Ginio

Publication Year: 2006

Before the Vichy regime, there was ostensibly only one France and one form of colonialism for French West Africa (FWA). World War II and the division of France into two ideological camps, each asking for legitimacy from the colonized, opened for Africans numerous unprecedented options.

French Colonialism Unmasked analyzes three dramatic years in the history of FWA, from 1940 to 1943, in which the Vichy regime tried to impose the ideology of the National Revolution in the region. Ruth Ginio shows how this was a watershed period in the history of the region by providing an in-depth examination of the Vichy colonial visions and practices in fwa. She describes the intriguing encounters between the colonial regime and African society along with the responses of different sectors in the African population to the Vichy policy. Although French Colonialism Unmasked focuses on one region within the French Empire, it has relevance to French colonial history in general by providing one of the missing pieces in research on Vichy colonialism.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series


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pp. vii


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pp. viii

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pp. ix-xii

This book is the culmination of a long research project that started as a Ph.D. dissertation presented to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It all began in a conversation I had with Michel Abitbol, my advisor, who understood my deep and personal interest in the Vichy period and suggested that I dedicate my thesis to this period in French West Africa...

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pp. xiii-xviii

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...

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PART I: French West Africa and Its Place in the Vichy Colonial Idea

On 25 June 1940, immediately after signing the armistice with Germany, the new leader of France, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, made a speech to the nation in which he referred to the French empire: “I was no less concerned about our colonies than about metropolitan France. ...

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1. Setting the Stage for Vichy: French West Africa on the Eve of World War II

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pp. 3-9

The federation of fwa was officially established in 1895. However, French presence and some form of governance, at least in certain regions, had existed since the seventeenth century. The federation was composed of seven territories—Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, Dahomey (now Benin), French Sudan (now Mali), French Guinea, and Mauritania...

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2. “A Source of Pride and Greatness”: The Place of the Empire in Vichy Ideology

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pp. 11-21

Although the Vichy regime gradually lost its grip over most of the French empire, especially after the Allied landing in North Africa in November 1942, its place within the regime’s ideology and discourse was firm and central.While the loss to Prussia in 1871 and the consequent loss of Alsace and Lorraine encouraged some French politicians to seek compensation...

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PART II: The National Revolution in French West Africa

The place the Vichy regime accorded in its ideology to the empire in general and to FWA specifically was manifested in its treatment of the colonies as an integral part of France. Every decree and law that was published in France was immediately valid in the colonies as well. 1 ...

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3. Vichy Settles In: Administrative Changes and Continuity

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pp. 25-31

With the end of the battles in Africa between the Anglo-Gaullists and the pro-Vichy French it was time for Governor-General Boisson to enhance his grip on the vast territory that was now under Vichy rule. His aims were well defined. ...

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4.Spreading the National Revolution in FWA: Propaganda, Education, and Social Organizations

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pp. 33-57

The first part of this book addressed the important place held by the French empire, including FWA, in Vichy propaganda aimed at the French public. Propaganda in the colonies was no less important, and sometimes even more so. The defeat of the French colonial power by another European power and the emergence of two “Frances,” each fighting...

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5. “Thinking Big”: Vichy Economic Visions in FWA

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pp. 59-85

As in other areas, the Vichy regime aspired to introduce a new order to the French economy. However, it faced difficulties when trying to implement far-reaching reforms because of the circumstances of the war and the diversity of economic views and ideas among the regime’s politicians. ...

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PART III: Vichy Encounters with African Society

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pp. 87-91

The Vichy regime invested real efforts in importing the National Revolution to its French colonies in Africa. Through propaganda and education it tried not only to maintain the loyalty of the colonial subjects but also to win their hearts. ...

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6. Vichy and the “Products” of Assimilation: Citizens, Western-Educated Africans, and African Christians

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pp. 93-115

When in the 1880s the French government began to officially endorse colonization and view it as an important political goal of France, it had to decide upon a theory with which to rule its colonies. Until the last years of the nineteenth century the leading theory was that of assimilation. ...

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7. The Vichy Regime and the “Traditional” Elements of African Society: Chiefs, Soldiers, and Muslims

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pp. 117-152

There is no other African institution so closely related to the concept of “tradition” in the French colonial discourse than that of the African chief. From the outset of the colonial takeover of West Africa the administration vacillated on the question of the chiefs...

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8. Vichy Colonialism and African Society: Change and Continuity

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pp. 153-157

This examination of the ways in which the Vichy colonial regime interacted with the “modern” and “traditional” elites of FWA tends to reflect a large measure of continuity. In fact many of the ideas introduced by Vichy colonial theoreticians regarding the policies toward “old” and “new” elites existed before Vichy in the form of the policy of “association.” ...

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PART IV: The Long-Term Significance of the Vichy Period for West African History

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pp. 159-182

In French collective memory the Vichy period is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic and controversial. According to Éric Conan and Henry Rousso those four dark years—1940–44—occupy for the French a place that is disproportionate with respect to the context of their country’s history. ...

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9. Vichy Colonialism: A Comparative Perspective

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pp. 161-172

Vociferous opponents of the idea of assimilation often argued that the French empire covered a huge area replete with a range of cultures and peoples at different stages of evolution. Therefore it was totally illogical to implement the same policy and export the same metropolitan institutions to every corner of the empire. ...

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10. Vichy’s Postwar Impact: Decolonization in FWA

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pp. 173-182

Although assimilation never worked in FWA because, as Immanuel Wallerstein suggests, it was never tried, it remained a feature of French colonial discourse from the moment the French set foot in the region, in theory at least.1 Even after World War II assimilation was still needed to justify colonial rule, despite its impracticality and, indeed, danger for colonial administrators. ...

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pp. 183-189

In this extract from a 1945 poem entitled “Prière de paix” (A Prayer for Peace) Senghor, according to the Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, places himself as God and offers mercy and forgiveness to the colonizer-sinner. Soyinka even goes as far as to describe the poem as the confession of a “strange—one would almost say perverse—love affair.”1 ...


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pp. 191-212


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pp. 213-229


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pp. 231-243

E-ISBN-13: 9780803253803
E-ISBN-10: 080325380X

Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series