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Black Africa and the French Union

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IN this second half of the twentieth century, a newcomer has made its appearance on the international scene: Black Africa. Strategists, politicians, economists are no longer indifferent to what happens in Dakar, in Abidjan, in Accra, in Lomé. Never has our old continent been honored by so many visitors of such high rank nor been the object of so much study. But since the era of colonialism is over, it is first of all the Africans themselves who must be consulted on the future evolution of Africa and on the relations between the former subject peoples and the former colonizers.

I am a man of the African soil, having lived constantly in the midst of our rural Negro masses, sharing their joys and their sorrows, and making their great hope of liberty my own. For ten consecutive years, they have elected me to represent them in the French Parliament. I am the leader of the most powerful African political movement--a movement which continues to this very day to denounce the abuses and errors of colonialism, and to call untiringly for justice and equality. For these reasons, I think I have the right to consider myself the authentic spokesman of the millions of African men and women who have chosen, in preference to the type of independence just acquired by the neighboring state of Ghana, a Franco-African community founded on liberty, equality and fraternity.

In considering where the real interests of the colored peoples of the French territories in Africa lie, we do not begin with a blank slate. The relations which prevail between Frenchmen of the mother country and Frenchmen of Africa already exist in an historical complex of events lived in common, in which good and bad memories mingle. I forget neither the good nor the bad, but I think that the bonds thus forged are, like childhood memories, understandable and emotionally significant only for the initiated, for those near to the events, for those whose lives these bonds have cast in the same mold. I will therefore examine only the present state of relations within the French Union, as they have evolved during the past ten years.

As a preliminary, we must remove the aura which the concept of independence holds in our imaginations. Why do we not demand independence? To answer this question, I can only ask another: What is independence? Industrial and technical revolutions are making peoples more and more dependent on one another. I asked my friend Mr. Nkrumah whether he was ready to leave the sterling zone now that Ghana was independent. "Not only will we remain in the sterling zone, but also in the Commonwealth," he answered immediately.

Indeed, who doubts that close and sustained economic relations are essential to a country which wants to raise its standard of living? What countries are self-sufficient? Not even the United States. Indeed, the countries of Europe in the Coal and Steel Community, in Euratom and in the Common Market are prepared to relinquish a part of their sovereignty, that is to say, a part of their national independence. Why, if not to bring about, by association and mutual aid, a more fully elaborated form of civilization which is more advantageous for their peoples and which transcends a nationalism that is too cramped, too dogmatic and by now out of date?

This is also our goal, because it is in our interest. We want to coöperate within this great aggregate which is the French Union, because it is there that we can safeguard the advantages and the interests of the black people of Africa.

I am a native of a territory whose development has scarcely begun. Between 1939 and 1955 the tonnage handled by the port of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast went from 231,250 tons to 930,000 tons. The population has increased tenfold in the space of a few years and this rate shows no sign of diminishing. The Ivory Coast could not, by itself, find the means of providing the investment monies needed to cope with this heavy and continuing expansion. For many more years--10? 20? 50?--it will require enough capital aid to allow its inhabitants to make up for the heavy handicaps which nature imposes on tropical countries.

This outside capital assistance is needed by all countries undergoing rapid expansion, whether they are nominally independent or not. We wish to remain in the French Union because it furnishes us this assistance and does it by an arrangement which seems to us the surest and best adapted to further the social and technical progress of our peoples.

The Investment Fund for the Economic and Social Development of the Overseas Territories (F.I.D.E.S.) was created in 1946 to centralize and coördinate, with the coöperation of the Central Fund for France Overseas, a major program of internal development. In the space of ten years, more than 600 billion francs of government funds have been devoted to territories whose area is 9,000,000 square kilometers but whose population does not exceed 30,000,000.

The Administrative Council of the Central Fund, which manages the F.I.D.E.S., is composed of representatives of the important bureaus of the government, and also of members appointed by Parliament and by the labor unions. Several of its members are Africans, who can thus keep a check on the use and apportionment of these government funds and make sure that the interests of the people are effectively safeguarded. It should be understood that we are speaking here of government funds provided by the mother country, leaving aside private investments on the one hand and local budgets on the other.

It has often been said that France has devoted more money to underdeveloped territories than any other country. I would add that France's accomplishments are even more praiseworthy if it is remembered that she has borne the impact of two wars and that in 1945 she had to reconstruct her own territory, ravaged by military campaigns and pillaged by four years of occupation. Nevertheless, the sums which France puts at the disposal of the overseas territories are not so extraordinary that they could not be duplicated. Why attach oneself to this single source?

The fact is that the manner in which money is given can be a guarantee of continuity and stability. Perhaps we will on occasion find some creditor, public or private, capable of loaning, if not of giving, the billions necessary for the industrial, technical and social development of the African territories. But what guarantee would we have that this aid would be forthcoming year after year? How could we control the allocation of the loans offered? For what would we be asked in exchange?

We know what France asks of us--to share in her institutions and to share in them as equals. The right of citizenship has been granted without restriction to all the inhabitants of the French Union, and all the electors, whatever their origin, are gathered in a single college. At one stroke universal suffrage has been instituted everywhere--a privilege that not even the state of Ghana nor British Nigeria has yet dared extend to the tribal regions of the interior. No racial or religious discrimination prohibits any activity, public or private. Opportunities are legally the same for all, and if inequalities exist they arise from circumstances or local conditions which the authorities are making every effort to eliminate.

Thus the democratic institutions of republican France have little by little been established in the overseas territories. During the past several months, free elections throughout French Africa have enabled the people to choose those who would direct communal, urban, rural or territorial institutions. As a result, Africans are now in a position to exercise their responsibilities and to assert their political personality. Municipal councils exercise sovereign power over local affairs. Territorial assemblies are endowed with broad deliberative powers allowing them to adopt autonomous laws distinct from legislation which applies to the mother country. They have an executive responsible to them, to whom is entrusted the direction of territorial affairs with the exception of foreign relations, defense and security, which remain in the hands of the central power. It is in some degree self-government, but it maintains essential links with the Republic, and is not without analogy to the federal structure of the United States of America.

What makes it certainly unique, however, among various relationships that have existed in modern times between a mother country and its dependencies is the participation of overseas populations in the central government of the Republic. There are, in the National Assembly and in the Council of the Republic, Negro deputies and senators, elected in the same way as their colleagues of the mother country. The fusion has succeeded so well, mutual courtesy and comprehension have developed so naturally, that no one in France finds it remarkable any longer that the third-ranking dignitary of the Republic, the President of the Senate, is a Negro--Mr. Monnerville. It will seem then just as unremarkable that other colored people have for several years played a part in the Government, and that I myself was able to represent France in the United Nations at the time of the debates on Togo.

It is not vanity which makes me emphasize the importance of the positions occupied by colored people in the highest functions of a great nation. It is simply to explain our attachment to the French Union as it is conceived. We feel at home in it. We participate in family discussions. Nothing is hidden from us--neither hopes nor dangers. How could we better preserve the interests of the Negro people who for so many years have put their confidence in us again and again? It is this awareness of a comprehensive interdependence of mutual interests which has permitted the creation of a Franco-African community based on equality. It is expressed by autonomy in the management of local affairs and intimate association in the management of the general interests of the Republic.

Since the French Union is dynamic, our evolution continues on the national level, and other ties are contemplated in a constitutional reform now being prepared and soon to be debated in the French Parliament. We took part in the preparations for this debate, maintaining as our guiding principle the idea of a federal community, freely joining the peoples of French language and culture. The specific terms by which the principle will be expressed must now be decided by French legislators--black and white.

Naturally, we cannot help but compare our own evolution with the experiment which Great Britain has just undertaken in granting independence to the state of Ghana. Actually, the terms of agreement do not differ greatly, although we have not asked for the type of independence which Mr. Nkrumah has just obtained. After much reflection, bearing in mind the highest interest of this Africa which we dearly love, the human relations existing between French and African, and the imperative of this century --the interdependence of nations--from which no power can claim to escape, we have preferred to try a different experiment, more difficult perhaps, but unique of its kind and unknown until now in the long history of nations--that of a community of peoples, equal and fraternal.

Should we turn away from this community, made possible by recent political, economic and social reforms? Should we demand our total independence, as so many other countries have? No major African political party has thought so, and none has put independence into its platform.

Today, no nation, however powerful, can pretend to impose its absolute will on another for long. By doing so, it would irremediably compromise its own future as a great nation. France knows this. Its own best interests no less than its sensitivity to human values and the absence of any racist feelings among its people have led it voluntarily to renounce force as an instrument of policy in Black Africa and to seek new political arrangements with us, actively and sincerely.

Those arrangements which we have chosen, and which are going into effect now, offer assurance of stability and security-- conditions that are indispensable to the creation of an economic and social environment in which the African people can attain a standard of living comparable to that of the peoples of the great modern nations. These institutional arrangements are such as to attract investments in all forms--imports of capital, technicians and methods--which are indispensable to our territories. They allow us to prove our maturity, within the forms and modes of thought to which our culture has accustomed us.

As our evolution continues simultaneously at the international level, other bonds are to be created through the reorganization of the franc zone. Moreover, in recent international negotiations, the French Government has proposed that the overseas territories be included in the European Common Market. This proposal has now been incorporated into the treaty which has just been signed by the representatives of the six member states.

At the request of Premier Mollet, I took part in the Brussels discussions and in the negotiations which preceded the writing of the definitive text of this treaty. Since my colleagues from metropolitan France were no less eager than myself to defend the interests of the African territories, we succeeded together in overcoming a number of reservations which no territory acting individually could have dispelled. Thanks to the Franco-African community, our territories will enter the Common Market with more guarantees for their future than they could possibly have achieved if they were independent. We can continue to enjoy our liberties without fear that some economic enterprise will interfere in our political life, causing us to degenerate into neo-feudalism, as in the Middle East, or into dictatorship, as in Egypt.

Some of us, of course, have had to fight so that France would not impose on us certain abusive forms of its sovereignty which are associated with the term colonialism. Many well remember the battle waged for emancipation. But I can say, as a member of this group, that despite the violence of some of the encounters, very few of us still feel bitterness.

The presence of the French in Africa is the result of military conquests or of peaceful penetrations which go back to the end of the last century. France has suppressed slavery wherever it existed and has put an end to the quarrels which set different ethnic groups against one another; it has given its education to the African masses and its culture to an élite; it has instituted sanitary and medical improvements without precedent. In French ranks, in turn, we have poured out our blood on the battlefields for the defense of liberty, and we have won a place in the history of France and of the free world. We do not want to abandon this recent heritage by trying to go back to our origins.

Moreover, we have, in common with the French, qualities which have facilitated our relations with them: good sense, realism, discrimination, which are as widespread among the black peasants of Africa as in the rural sections of France. In difficult times these qualities have enabled us to establish distinctions between colonization and the abuses of colonization. They enable us to understand today that in a world where interdependence has become the supreme rule, outbreaks of fanaticism and nationalism accomplish nothing and run the risk of merely increasing misery.

The example of the young state of Ghana is very tempting. The seizure of power has something exciting about it, we know. But the exercise of this power in a fashion consonant with national and human dignity is difficult. There doubtless are powerful nations which would provide us with the means to overcome our material difficulties. But which of them would allow us to join them in equality and fraternity? The modern world offers so many examples of barriers to race or class which pen in human beings that we cannot help but want to respond to France's loyalty and humane conduct in like fashion. It is important that the Franco-African community--egalitarian, humane and fraternal--appear to all nations not only as an example to be emulated but also as an element of international stability on which a sure future can be built.

In our view, that community is an act of faith in this future and also an act of human solidarity. It enables us to bring our stone to the world edifice without losing either our national identity or the French citizenship which we have earned and acquired worthily. And it constitutes a home we wish to keep, as in the definition which Robert Frost gave of it:

Home is the place where When you have to go there, They have to take you in.

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