Rotten to the Core?
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"COLONIZATION seeks to establish a living balance among all the groups that constitute humanity." This definition by Jean Rémy Ayouné, a Negro intellectual from Brazzaville, in French Equatorial Africa, is imperfect but significant nevertheless. It is inadequate because other acts besides colonization aim at attaining the equilibrium mentioned -- war for instance; yet it reveals that in the eyes of a French African Negro the aim of France in colonizing his country has been to achieve a common level of civilization between the colonized and the colonizer. Each nation has its own civilizing genius; each advances on the road of human progress by its own particular methods. How does France intend to share her special genius with the peoples of her possessions? That is the question I shall try to answer.
But first let me recall a few familiar basic facts. France's colonizing experience dates back to the French states established in the Levant at the time of the first crusade, in 1099. The fifteenth century was a period of discoveries. The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the vast French undertakings in the Americas and the Indies. The colonial empire of the present day was founded under the Third Republic, mostly since 1875.
This empire is very diversified, embracing all races and the principal religions and spreading over all latitudes. In Africa, the French possessions stretch from the Mediterranean to the Congo. In the Indian Ocean are Madagascar, Djibouti and the Establishments of India; in the Pacific, Indo-China, New Caledonia, Tahiti and many other islands; in the western hemisphere, Guiana, the French West Indies, St. Pierre and Miquelon. The judicial status of these colonies differs. Algeria, a Government General, divided into three French departments, comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior. Morocco and Tunisia, international protectorates, are under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Numerous territories are colonial protectorates, and thus under the Ministry of the Colonies. Some of the colonies send elected representatives to the French Parliament. Members of the colored races have at all times sat in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and at least three have been Cabinet members.
My title states that I propose to describe a French colonial policy which is "new." I refer principally to the policy instituted in Central Africa by the late Governor General Eboué, in his instructions dated November 9, 1941. Today this policy is being pushed forward by René Pleven, Commissioner of Colonies since 1940, and by Governor Henri Laurentie, Director of Political Affairs in the Colonial Commissariat.
In recent years, French colonial policy in general has come to have a strongly liberal cast. General de Gaulle's address of December 12, 1943, promising French citizenship to Moslems, and General Catroux's declaration of June 9, 1941, clearing the way to independent statehood for Syria and Lebanon, are two examples of the trend. The remarkable loyalty which the colonial peoples have shown toward France since 1940 made a liberal policy of this sort inevitable. There was no revolt at the time of French weakness, and in Central Africa, indeed, the native peoples rose of their own accord against the Nazis. And such a liberal policy was warmly recognized as proper by the Free French who had continued to fight on the side of the Allies, inspired by the democratic ideal of human freedom which the Vichy régime denied. But the "new" policy, in a specific sense, is the one outlined by this Guiana Negro, raised by France, whom General de Gaulle appointed Governor General of French Equatorial Africa in Brazzaville -- Félix Eboué.
The new French colonial policy is this: a clearer realization than ever before that the colonizing nation's sole aim is to transform the colonized areas into states which will some day be its own equals. The policy seeks the vital equilibrium described by Mr. Ayouné. I do not know when the day of equality will arrive; but it is the ideal to be attained everywhere, and in some places it has in fact already been achieved. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations set equality as the goal. France alone among the mandatory nations has realized it by elevating Syria and Lebanon to the rank of independent states.
All French colonies must some day be freed from their link to France, if such is their wish. But France ought to do her utmost to render the link, while it lasts, both pleasant and helpful. This is why, voicing the opinion of the Overseas Commission, I proposed to the Provisional Consultative Assembly the formula of a French Federation. This also is why the Assembly recommended to the future French Constituent Assembly that a study be made as to how the next French constitution ought to strengthen the bonds between Metropolitan France and Overseas France and among all French territories.[i]
In order to have a country, one must first have citizens. But to make citizens, one must first make men. In Africa at the present time we have Negroes who are French citizens and who are represented in the French Chamber of Deputies, e.g. those born in the four counties of Senegal -- Dakar, St. Louis, Rufisque and Gorée. But we also have black feudal lords and their vassals, and we have groups which gave up cannibalism and slavery only very lately. How are we to create men out of those which are not yet men, and then to make citizens out of them and the others who are already more advanced in civilization? That is the dual task. For success in the second part of it we must understand what kind of citizens we want to make. French citizens? Cameroonians? Sudanese? Citizens of Tchad? Or Franco-African citizens?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not so difficult to "make a man." The primary requisite of manhood is ownership of one's own body. In an individualist society such as ours the first step toward civilization must be the abolition of slavery. This objective was systematically pursued by the early Frenchmen -- a few dozen men -- who conquered the center of Africa. I have read the treaties which were made with the local sultans, for instance that with Gaourang, Sultan of Baguirmi in 1905, or that with the small Sultan of Sila in 1912; Article 1 always abolishes slave-trading. After the suppression of the slave market comes the abolition of slavery, the ownership of one man by another.
At the same time, private wars were prohibited. Incidentally, the trade in men had been one of the reasons for war between African tribes, numerous slaves being acquired in a profitable raid. Peace makes possible regular work, agriculture and the moving of flocks. "Since Frenchmen have been here, the children in our villages are no longer afraid," an old man of the Sara tribe in the Logone region told me. The next steps in colonization are the establishment of police security and the improvement of food supplies. Seeds are distributed, the growing of vegetables is encouraged -- in Central Africa, millet, manioc (a root from which tapioca is made), sweet potatoes, various spices -- and improvident tribes are taught the value of a granary.
By these stages we develop lands that are free from slavery and from the fear of war and famine. The people live, eat and reproduce: a human minimum has been realized. The achievement even of this minimum requires great and continuing efforts. What the results have been in the case of France are manifest in a territory like Algeria. It is fashionable now to speak ill of conditions there, but the fact remains that the native population has doubled in the last 40 years. In French West Africa peace brought about a sizeable increase in population within 20 years.
If men are to advance beyond what may be called the human minimum, the doctor and the schoolteacher must be brought in. This also has been done by the French. I am not writing an apology for French colonization in Africa. My purpose is merely to suggest, very briefly, the steps leading to the creation of a normal human being -- a man whose body moves in freedom, health and dignity. Before the war this antecedent condition of all political progress was by way of being realized.
We want these men to become members of "the city" in the large sense of the word -- citizens. But how bring this about?
We start from the principle which, to any Frenchman, is immutable: equality. All men, irrespective of their race, color or religion, are considered equal. This conception was stated metaphysically by Christianity in terms of the equality of souls and their susceptibility to salvation. It was resolved into a political formula and applied to practical life by the French Revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizens, which is also a preface to the first French constitution, begins "Men are born free and equal in rights." Once this principle has been accepted, does it follow that any man, regardless of his degree of civilization, is automatically entitled to the same judicial and political institutions possessed by individuals of a civilization more advanced than his own or different from his own? The answer to this question can be found only by making a careful distinction between the terms "advanced" and "different."
The old French colonial policy revolved about the conception of more and less advanced civilizations. The new policy revolves about the idea of different civilizations.
The French Revolution, and even more the Revolution of 1848 which gave universal suffrage to France, established the principle that any man, whoever he is, may enjoy the same political institutions that Frenchmen do. That was the source of the doctrine of "assimilation" in French colonial policy and the origin of the flattering reputation of Frenchmen as "assimilators." Following the tradition of 1789, every Frenchman was disposed to share with all colonized peoples the institutions he enjoyed himself. He considered that his highest moral duty was to transform Africans, Malgaches and Tonkinese into French citizens as rapidly as possible and to duplicate for them the political conditions of Metropolitan France. To give a few instances: Algeria was divided into departments, with general councils and elected deputies and senators; the French West Indies, Martinique and Guadeloupe, with their Negro population, were granted representatives in Parliament; so were Guiana, four counties of Senegal (since 1916), the Island of Reunion and the Establishments of India and Cochin-China (with a few slight reservations). Frenchmen are proud of this reputation as "assimilators;" and it was precisely because they were proud of their democratic institutions that they wished to share them.
There is another tendency in French colonial tradition, however, and it is from this that the new policy derives. Lyautey and his master Galliéni realized perfectly well that every group of men possesses a civilization of its own. It may be relative in value to others; but it is one to which the group clings and which, therefore, the colonizer must respect. Civilizations are not merely more or less backward, or more or less advanced. Types of civilization differ: there is a European civilization and there are others, and colonization brings them into contact and conflict. This truth, which Galliéni discovered first-hand in Indo-China and later in Madagascar, and which Lyautey learned from him there and then found for himself in Algeria and above all in Morocco, is the truth which Governor General Eboué stressed in Africa. Even in the "darkest" and most primitive parts of Africa, France has never found a political vacuum; everywhere are ancestral habits, political customs, a judicial or religious code -- all the elements of civilization. From this truth comes a colonial doctrine of inner progress patterned after nature, as opposed to the doctrine of assimilation with all that it entails of fabrication and artificiality. I cannot express it better than by repeating the words used by Fily Dabo Sissoko, a county chieftain of Niamba, French West Africa: "The basic elements of his [the native's] society, however rudimentary, constitute his personality and give him the same right as any other individual to trace his line of ascent leading to the Divine." I do not believe that Eboué had read these lines, written at some distance and under a different political régime, before he died; yet he would have felt happy to have heard such a noble echo of his own thought emanating from a Negro who, while raised by France as he was, had remained in his native Africa.
Here is a passage which well expresses Eboué's ideas, spoken at the Conference of African Governors and intended as a guide for their political thinking: "The more a native feels that he is at home, the greater will be his aptitude for progress. If we can induce him to develop his knowledge and his sense of responsibility within the framework of his own institutions, we shall have accomplished more for his happiness and for his moral conscience than if we offered him the hazards of individual civilization."
As this inquiry calls for facts, the reader will forgive me if I quote the instructions I drew up for the Tchad on April 20, 1942:
The basic approach for us Frenchmen, in our colonial policy, is a desire to recognize those traits in the natives that are common to all men.
But the foundation on which this policy rests must be an understanding of the relation between such universality and the nature of things distinctively African -- in other words, a perception of the inner differences to be found in men, in their degree of civilization, in their ancestral customs, in their traditional commandments.
There can be no question of transforming a native of Central Africa into a Frenchman of Central France at one stroke. . . .
Whenever a new civilization appears next to a civilization which is different, even if it does not try to force itself upon the old and is satisfied to remain discreetly alongside, it nevertheless causes profound repercussions that are dangerous for the equilibrium of the old environment. It matters little that the new civilization is bringing to the old one things which a higher society considers beneficial; the presence of men who are at another stage of development is bound to disturb the old social order.
It is our duty to restore the balance of these indigenous societies which our presence has unstabilized. We wanted these primitive or feudal peoples to attain at once the level of institutions that had been evolving for several centuries. In order to bring about this change we disregarded native institutions and shocked individuals by using means that were our own. From now on, without abandoning our ideal, we intend to lead the native societies on their way to a higher plane by means that are their own. . . .
Thus our present colonial policy is based not on the principle of a colonizing civilization, but on the reality of an existing civilization in the colonies. Instead of bending over something loved yet slightly despised, however gently and paternally, Frenchmen now start from the primitive and solid foundation which they find in the colonies and elevate it together with themselves. The whole moral value of this new policy is defined by this change in attitude.
The native needs to feel that he is at home in his own country; and as for us, we must accept that country as it is, once it has been rid of slavery, war, famine and tortures. We are convinced that the native can acquire a sense of civic duty. The source of the idea of civic duty is love for one's country and a sense of responsibility toward it; obviously, it can develop only in a man who is not cut off from his emotional and traditional roots.
But some natives are certain to be drawn from their natural environment by our presence, however unobtrusive. What should be our attitude toward them? Félix Eboué says: "Such an individual . . . if he is no longer satisfied with his usual life, if he tries to emulate us, will find an organization within his reach in which he can progressively learn and grow, and we shall see that the responsibilities placed upon his shoulders are the test of the rights and honors that will be conferred upon him."
The goal is to change the African into a citizen of Africa. Many distinctions must of course be made among Africans. The native of the brush, still a primitive, must be distinguished from the native of the towns, already developed; and in our policy we must differentiate also between the man whose intelligence has been awakened and the one who is already a "man of position," a notable, someone who is responsible. A decree of July 19, 1942, determined the status of a man of position, and might almost be considered as the preliminary first draft giving the outline of what local African citizenship may be some day.
The consequences of such a French colonial policy are far-reaching and can be suggested here only summarily. The necessity of including the French possessions within the general terms of the constitution by means of a federation may be one result, as I have already said. A second is that the new policy makes "indirect" administration in the colonies imperative.[ii] It implies important developments in education, not only as regards primary schooling, but also civic education and the revival of liberal education: letters, arts, sciences. Economic consequences will be significant. We shall not be able to continue to look upon the colonies merely as a reservoir of raw material to be exchanged for the manufactured products of Metropolitan France. The political and intellectual evolution of the population depends not only on an improvement in economic conditions, but above all on the degree to which such improvement is a result of direct participation by the natives. That means, for example, the development of communications, of handicrafts, of trade unions and of a native capacity for the management of business and industry.
A final product of the new policy will be the most difficult to perfect, yet it is the one from which all the others derive: changed relationships between natives and Europeans. Europeans will be coming to Africa in ever-increasing numbers. All parts of it have been made accessible by air transport; and science has improved living conditions in the colonies with its vitamins, electric refrigerators, air-conditioning devices and so on. For a long time Europeans will be indispensable in administrative units and in developing industry, exploring natural resources and improving agriculture. European capital, mechanical aptitude and inventive turn of mind are needed in Africa. But the principle now underlying commercial concessions will doubtless be gradually discarded to make room for a system of partnership within coöperative enterprises called sociétés de prévoyance. These societies will perhaps work in association with native communities or even with the government.[iii]
France began to create an Africa for the Africans as early as 1940, before the Atlantic Charter was drawn up. She did it during the terrible and lonely years when the soul of occupied France seemed to have taken refuge in Africa. Since then a good deal has also been written and spoken about the idea of French Empire citizenship. Progress has been made in that direction, but the idea is still mainly in the stage of theory.
The new colonial policy has already left its mark on the soil of Africa, however. Its objective is to raise the people to the high road on which we are traveling, but to let them follow their own way up instead of separating them from their roots. It hopes to use the sap of these deep-seated roots to invigorate the consciousness these people have of their own country and of their own poetry. And it wishes their future course to develop in harmony with the fundamental liberties of man. Under such a policy, France is sure that to the ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity the colonial peoples will add a fourth -- loyalty to France.
[i] Cf. Journal Officiel de la République Française. Analytical minutes of proceedings of the Provisional Consultative Assembly, Session of January 13, 1944.
[ii] It has already been instituted in Tchad, for example. Because of the existing sultanates and other local governments this territory has always been the one in French Equatorial Africa which has lent itself best to indirect rule.
[iii] See the recommendations of the Brazzaville Conference of February 1944.